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Temptations in addressing gun culture

Temptations in addressing gun culture

We live in a gun culture. There are millions of people in this country who own guns, who regularly shoot guns in safe and supervised situations, and who insist on their right to carry guns for their protection. I don’t really know that culture. I have never owned a gun. I never wanted to, nor felt that I needed to. If I remember correctly, I have used a gun twice – once at a skeet range when I was at Boy Scout camp, and another time in northern Wisconsin in a secluded area under careful adult supervision. My friend and I shot at an empty coffee can about 50 yards away. I was about ten.

Whether we are fully engaged in and supportive of the gun culture – or have no connection to it, we are all affected by the scourge of gun violence. The shooting in Parkland, Florida brought it to the fore yet again. It is life-taking, heartbreaking and, increasingly, soul-numbing. And depending on whether you live “inside” the gun culture or “outside” it, the responses to mass shootings are becoming rather predictable: gun rights people want more access to firearms and greater freedom to bring them into public spaces; and gun safety people want to restrict their access, limit their presence and monitor their use.

As one who has always lived outside the gun culture, I support actions and marches, lamentations and legislation that reduces the potential for gun violence. Since the Sandy Hook murders over five years ago, I have been passionate about reducing gun violence. I have helped to organize Bishops United Against Gun Violence, now 75 strong. I have witnessed. I have prayed. I wear orange, which has become the color of gun safety. I have repeatedly tried to make the case that restricting the use of guns is not about the second amendment, but is primarily a public health issue. I will continue to do all these things.

But with this growing commitment to reduce gun violence, which for the moment is being led, thank God, by fired-up high school students, there is the temptation to let anger and indignation grow into arrogance, which then self-righteously shames the gun culture. I certainly have felt that in myself. That attitude won’t work, because it only serves to deepen the divide, reinforces entrenched positions and solidifies the stalemate on guns.

Lent is a season set aside to confront temptations. This year, during this seemingly endless epidemic of gun violence, on the one hand there is the temptation to sit it out because it is felt that nothing can be done – that we just need to accept the fact that mass shootings are an inescapable part of the American landscape. And on the other hand there is the temptation to claim moral superiority, and to disrespect – if not despise, people who claim an opposing position.

If you say you don’t have these or other temptations about the raging gun debate, think again. Face the temptations. Own them. Denying these temptations just makes them stronger. By confronting them, and working and praying through them, the dynamics of the debate can shift, and we then have a chance to reform our gun culture.


There is an aspect to these shootings that goes beyond guns themselves.  We could have a gun culture where guns are tools for sport, for play and self-discipline and personal achievement.  The other aspect is the cowboy-movie attitude.  In that culture, problems are solved by vanquishing the opposition.  Thus, all shootings are "TO KILL".  If police would shoot only to wound, we'd be safer.  If we allowed Law to rule, instead of taking the law into our own hands, we'd be safer.  If we believe the Rule of Law expresses the rule of God - as well as we can, so far - we'd be safer.  If we weren't afraid of each other, we'd be safer.

 This in an eminently sensible approach to a problem that intensifies -and perhaps epitomizes- our country's polarization. Normal and natural self-righteousness well get us exactly nowhere.

Janice, ask any law enforcement professional, and he or she will tell you that the only goal when a cop shoots at someone is to eliminate a threat. They are taught to aim for center-body mass, not because they're "shooting to kill," but because that's the easiest target to hit. Even a highly trained, veteran cop can become terrified in the face of a lethal threat, and between the shakes and the inherent difficulty in shooting accurately with a pistol, it would be madness to aim for a leg.

The majority of the 30% of Americans who "keep and bear arms" do not cause any problems. The minority causes serious harm, not only to those that get killed or injured, but the law-abiding, non-trouble-making gun owners because we are reminded that guns have the purpose of killing people (even target shooters fire at human shaped targets looking to score kill-shots). As a veteran, I have borne arms and I’m not afraid of the hardware because I know it is neutral. However, I am wary of those who are not responsible gun owners, the ones who nurse their grudges and see the only solution as lashing out with their weapons to make some kind of “point” or avenge some real or perceived wrong. My take is that allowing the first clause of the second amendment to be ignored by the states is a large part of the problem we have today. That "well-regulated militia" makes gun owners come together for screening, training, qualification, as well as socialization. Those who have committed the murders that happen almost every day have a common characteristic - they are social isolates with real and imagined problems that would stand out in any militia meeting. Since the state would have liability for what the militia members do there would be an incentive to weed-out the malefactors before they do harm or at least make sure that their arsenals are sequestered until they no longer show lethal tendencies. What gun advocates and gun lobbyists do not understand is that each-and-every one of the killings, regardless of the news coverage, turns more-and-more of the 70% of Americans who aren’t armed against guns and gun owners. Responsible gun ownership is more than just asserting your second amendment rights, it is also time to practice your second amendment responsibilities. It is time to reinstate the Citizen Militia as the second amendment calls for and regulate the militia and thereby the problems will be lessened.

With freedom comes responsibility--they are inseparable.  We're hearing that any attempt to curb the sale of automatic weapons is infringing upon freedom of gun owners and those who sell them.  When I made my marriage vows, I limited my freedom to seek other romantic relationships.  When I had children, I limited my freedom to do what I want when I want to.  Responsibility and freedom are intertwined.  Will gun owners and sellers limit their freedom to use or sell guns that are only appropriate for sport and for defending themselves?  The AR-15 and other automatic weapons are designed for mass killing.  Is giving people access to these automatic weapons going beyond a moral boundary?  Can this be considered an abuse of freedom?  I believe it is.  Our national and state lawmakers and gun sellers need to seriously consider this entire issue as a moral one.

Dear Sirs:

Young students from Stoneman Douglas School are having to take the killings at their school into their own hands because adults have been wavering and refusing to come forward with solutions.   One likely starting point is to agree to discuss gun violence, sernsible precautionary initiatives and the evolving phenomenon of mental and emotional instability as all part of the same subject.   To the extent church people can discuss these inter-woven challenges without becoming arrogant or shrill, we can hope to contribute to solutions.

If it may be true that the different versions of the 2nd Amendment have led to immensely partisan opinions, what is much less subject to confirmation bias is the open question of mental health.   The wit of George Bernard Shaw is important here: "All the world is queer save thee and me; and even thee's a little queer."  Why don't we put on our Lenten thinking caps and take this particular challenge to every parish in New Jersey and find out where there is common ground on this part of the problem?

Do we not owe it to the hardiness of children who have seen their own classmates taken down to bring the major part of this conversation, along, inevitabily, with the chaos that arises from mass incarceration, to every kitchen table in New Jersey?

P..A..R..K..S.. (Paterson Affirms Restoring Kids' Safety) is happy to accept an invitation to any parish in our diocese to open up conversations spanning some 500 years starting with vagabonds and "Upright Men" in Tudor England to the story of Cadillac Man, here in America.   Every summer, in Paterson, we see groups of upwards of twenty unsupervised teenagers whose legally encouraged talents are begging to be explored and developed before the school-to-jail pipeline comes into play.   Most of us are not totally healthy mentally all the time; NOR totally unhealthy all the time.   General Sherman, who hated slavery, famously said after his 'scorched earth' march to the sea, “In these times it is hard to say who are sane and who are insane.’ 

As Episcopalians, we can honor the feisty Stoneman Douglas high-schoolers by quietly entering into respectful discussions that show our love for the Lord.   We can also chuckle over GBS and Sherman while thinking of ways to promote a sense of purpose and restraint among many whose early life has not been easy.

Tim Evans, Executive Director,

P..A..R..K..S.. (Paterson Affirms Restoring Kids' Safety) CORP.




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