Wednesday, December 12, 2012
America, Its Guns and Our Problem
For the second time in a year a mass shooting has taken place in a crowded, public place. Another gunman has terrorized defenseless Americans, only this time it happened at a shopping mall. Last night in Clackamas, Oregon, a teenage gunman wearing a mask opened fire on Christmas shoppers. First, it was Aurora, CO and now, this. Something has to change.
I remember when Columbine took place in '99; it was the first of its kind of news. Sure, shootings took place before Columbine, even at schools, but nothing matched its scale. Two shooters used semi-automatic weapons, shotguns and homemade explosives to kill 13 people and injure 21. Then, like some bad dream that you keep having night after night, shootings appeared all over the news.
Schools of all kinds, shopping malls, workplaces and movie theaters, at one time or another, have all somehow been twisted into fear-filled shooting galleries. So what can we do? We know the problem of mass, public shootings in America isn't getting any better. What will turn the tide against our nation's gun-violence epidimic? Will legislation, counseling or even a mitigation of violent films?
First, politicians and lawmakers must reengage the gun control issue. While Mitt Romney was running for President, he was asked by Brian Williams about his record on gun legislation and what our government should do in the wake of the Aurora, CO shootings (Video - start at about 1:30 min). "I don't happen to believe America needs new gun laws," Romney argued. At this time in our country's history, I couldn't disagree more.
If the role of the government is to protect its citizens from all threats, foreign and domestic, then we need the government to step up and make it more difficult to purchase semi-automatic weapons, fully automatic weapons and assault weapons. In Mitt Romney's own words, "these guns are not made for recreation or self-defense, they are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people." If not new gun laws, amendments and careful reconsideration of the ones we have are what we need now, more than ever before.
But what about my right to bear arms (the second amendment)? Great question! I'm not arguing for a removal of the second amendment from the constitution or a revoking of private gun licenses. I am calling for stricter measures to be drafted by our lawmakers to make it harder for people to purchase arsenals of weapons that should only be possessed by trained military or law-enforcement personnel. Furthermore, I hardly believe our forefathers envisaged an America where every man, woman and child could purchase an AR-15 at a gun show. We have wrongfully inflated the right to bear arms to be stretched far beyond its intended purpose.
Guns don't kill people, people kill people. Though this makes a good point about focusing on the people who buy guns, as a matter of fact both guns and people kill people. It's true, as Mitt Romney argues, that we should pursue dangerous people who desire to use guns for taking lives. It's also true that pursuing said personalities alone will not and has not made things better. I would argue for a two-pronged approach: (1) Tougher gun laws (including measures that drastically restrict what's purchased online and at gun shows) and (2) a wake-up call to the American conscious.
To the latter, we as Americans need to get a clue. We are the most violent nation on the planet and we export it gladly to other countries. Changing a few laws will not curb this violent trend, to that end Mr. Romney and I wholeheartedly agree. The heart must also be pursued and changed. So, how does that happen?
The first step is to recognize there is a problem. "Hi, I'm the United States of America and I'm addicted to violence." And what is at the heart of all addictions? We are self-medicating through violence, exercising our hate and frustration in the unhealthiest ways. I'll admit it, it feels good to imagine myself laying into the guy who cut me off; it feels good to berate the waiter who ruined my $15 dinner; it feels good when a bully picks on another; it feels good to be angry. The problem is, hate and anger are secondary emotions that don't get at the core of what's going on.
What's really going on is this: Americans are angry. We Americans need to do some hard thinking and feeling, to dig deep and discover why we love to hate. And this starts on the micro-level, with you and me. Then, we find genuine healing for our hearts and seek restoration for ourselves and with our neighbors. Next, we tell our story of recovery. "Hi, I'm John and I'm a hate-aholic." By sharing our recovery from hate addiction, we invite others to examine their own hearts and minds. At the very least, all of this creates momentum for more conversation.
In the same way Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to convict the American conscious with the gospel of Jesus as it relates to Civil Rights, America needs a catalyst for a conversation about hate and gun rights. You could be that person or I could be that person. Either way, our gun control laws and approaches to addressing hate in this country aren't working.
Simply legislating more won't change our predicament. Simply pursuing people to change their hearts won't resolve it either--not on a nationwide scale. We need a two-pronged approach, each with its own scope. Law is terrible for changing hearts, but great for ensuring justice and safety. More introspection and counseling won't stop all people from breaking the law, but it will help them understand why they desire to do so. Politicians should do the hard work of legislation for our safety; counselors, pastors, educators and parents should do the hard work of reconciliation within and without. We're all in this together. We need all hands on deck because the holes in our hull are many and it's going to take a monumental effort to ensure we don't go under.