Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why We Need Gun Controls - And A Whole Lot More

The gun enthusiasts, led by the NRA, are frothing at the mouth again, rabid in their determination to, in the words of Senator Mitch McConnell, “do out” any Congressman who votes for even the slightest modification of the right to buy and possess guns.

As long as they have Senator McConnell, and others of like loyalty, in their employ the gun lobby can successfully block any legislation that might add a little sanity to our gun-crazed culture.

Recently – since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy – spokespersons for the NRA have suggested that legislators should be going after movies and video games that glorify violence and should support the detection and treatment of mental illness rather than seek to keep guns from being sold. That we should do. To paraphrase a statement Jesus made in a different context, we should do the former and not neglect to do the latter as well.  Are we supposed to imagine that the gun lobby would not suddenly oppose any legislation that suggests that the depiction of gun violence in movies and video games bleeds over into the behaviors in society? Their most vocal argument is that “guns don’t kill.” Why then would they support a ban on depicting guns in any but a beneficent light?

The gun lobby (the NRA) rightly argues that the banning of certain types of guns and requirements for background checks or gun registration will not keep determined criminals or mentally ill persons from committing mayhem, with or without guns. Gun sellers have seen to it over the years that our society is super saturated with enough guns for every adult to have a pair strapped to their hips. So gun purchase background checks are not going to make a dent in gun ownership. Besides, the bill about to be debated in the Senate, still allows guns to be sold and transferred privately without any restrictions. It is almost worse than nothing.

What gun control legislation will accomplish however – over time – is an admission that guns play too big a role in the culture; that they are not safe toys that can be made available without restriction. In other words we can begin to build the notion that guns should be owned only by responsible people only for use in legitimate pursuits that are approved by society and that do not endanger the lives of innocent people. We must begin to build a consensus that weapons whose only purpose is to perpetrate massive wholesale slaughter have no business in the hands of ordinary citizens.

But gun purchase restrictions are not enough. Our culture will never curb its violent tendencies until it ceases to portray violence in glamorous and heroic terms. Our Constitution guarantees that, except in particularly egregious situations, laws cannot be passed that inhibit those who callously offer the public violent movies and video games or who promote violence in other forms of “entertainment.” So any change in those areas will need to be voluntary. But that is not impossible to imagine. Perhaps as much as half of the population of the United States professes to be Christian in belief and practice; as many as half of that number call themselves “born again Christian” or evangelical Christian. If just those people would chose to eliminate from their lives all things that promote or glorify violence – movies, books, magazines, video games, sporting events, slanderous e-mails, and ordinary conversation – we would become a dramatically less violent society overnight. If those same people destroyed all their guns – except those useful for hunting or, in special cases, self-defense – we would suddenly become a far less gun-sodden society.

I favor gun restriction legislation because I believe that the laws we pass help define the kind of people we aspire to be. But I am not so na├»ve as to believe that laws prevent any particular individual from engaging in behaviors that are dangerous to their neighbors. It will require far more than legislation to curb the violence we all profess to abhor. Prominent societal leaders – ministers, legislators, entertainers, and the gun industry itself – must begin to speak out against the belligerence that says, “you’ll have to claw my gun out of my dead hand if you want to take it from me.” They will need to speak against violence in our “entertainment” media. And they will need to be willing to support laws that put reasonably restrictions on the ownership of guns of all kinds.

The NRA and its surrogates like to argue that more guns in the hands of citizens make us safer. If that is true then we should not, as national policy, be attempting to restrict the spread of nuclear weapons in places like the Middle East or Asia. If guns in every citizen’s hands promotes peace in our cities then a nuke in the hands of every nation should make the world safer too. Rather than stopping Iran and North Korea from obtaining nuclear weapons, it should be the policy of our government to sell (or give) nuclear arms to every country in those regions. If everyone has nuclear capabilities the world will be a safer place to live.

Of course, when we put it in those terms, most thoughtful people shudder to think of the consequences of such proliferation. We ought to be shuddering at the thought that every man or woman we meet each day could be “packing heat” – an interesting, violence-glorifying term that gun advocates love to use – capable of ending our life in an instant.

The Peaceable Kingdom, predicted by the prophets of Israel and John the Apostle, and depicted in Edward Hicks’ famous painting, is one in which swords and spears (guns in our day) will have been made into plowshares. Instruments of destruction and death turned to peaceful and productive use. That should be the desire of every human being but we will not get there by following the path we are on.

There is a vast majority in this country, made up of those who claim as their spiritual leader, One who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” Let us stand up and declare ourselves for peace – against violence in all its forms. If we do so, we win. If we don’t the “curse of Cain” will continue to haunt us and our children to the fourth and fifth generations, if our race survives that long.

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