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Better than Guns
“Speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important. . . Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous, Americans are counting on you. Thank you.” Gabby Gifford
I do not mock Gabby here; I join her in desperate vulnerability.
We’re all vulnerable. We’re vulnerable to a whole host of problems before and beyond guns – job loss, viruses, weather extremes, terrorist anger, fellow citizen anger. Anger is all the rage lately. Say almost anything and there are those ready to pounce. Irate indignation and insulting ridicule peppers what usually was, and will become again, civil discourse. And what is under anger? Often, fear.
I was physically afraid after I sent in a letter to the editor recently complaining about the sheriffs of my Jackson County and of this county for publically declaring they would not enforce those parts of any federal gun control laws they deemed to be unconstitutional. It’s risky business to take one sheriff, much more two. I’m vulnerable to any resentment or reprisals they may have for me. I complained that enabling irate gun-owners angrily “defending their rights” imposes a sort of culture war into our once-peaceful society. It is rash to take a complicated, volatile issue and back a side, especially when that one side has been armoring up and threatening to use them.
Before Gabby Gifford was shot in the head, some politicians were putting scope sights on the photos of their opponents, “targeting” them for defeat. Swaggering gun-toters have begun showing up in all sorts of public places, brandishing their guns, claiming, astonishingly, that they are there to defend themselves and their right to have any gun, no questions asked, and no limits imposed.
This is what I call “attacking with defensiveness.” Accuse others of doing what you are doing to them. Freud and Jung called it projection – we tend to see in others what we can’t or won’t admit about ourselves.
Nationally, we’re familiar with the tactic, even if we remain unconscious of it. We attacked “savages” savagely. The Gulf of Tonkin incident was an accident, which justified invading Vietnam. We created “no-fly” zones in Iraq that only we flew in. We invaded Iraq with millions of actual weapons to “defend” ourselves from their imaginary ones. What we used to call the Department of War we now call the Department of Defense. We fund it with as much money as all the rest of the world spends together. What is our worry, that they’ll all attack us at once?
Missing from this frame of mind is any admitting that our provocations make others feel defensive. The same sort of social logic fueled the recent SUV craze. A huge, heavy car is safer in crashes than a small, light one. Our defensive purchase then becomes threats to everyone else, who likely also buy a big, heavy car. Quickly, enormous cars block our view and threaten anything smaller. Follow that trend and we’d all be driving tanks. It’s survival of the fattest.
Similarly with guns, wary people defend themselves but threaten others. Follow this trend and we’ll all have to carry guns. And not just little ones. Others might have big ones with more bullets. If we’re to use guns to protect ourselves from our own government we should have firepower equal to theirs. I’m not saying we should all carry atomic bombs, but bazookas would be prudent and an attack helicopter in the yard might come in handy. Even just secretly carrying a gun isn’t enough. What if people behind you are ready to attack? We won’t be safe until everyone wears a hat with guns pointing in all directions. Then we’ll have peace.
Poor Americans, we get all our dopamine quasi-pleasure from anxiety and anger. We can’t live in an erotic society, so we end up in a neurotic one. We’ve got collective PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) except the “P” stands for Past, Present, and Possible. Our mid-brain is frequently stressed and pushed into reactiveness by the nightly news, and our TV shows, and our movies, and our video games, and our politicians, and lately, by our own neighbors with guns.
Every contributing aspect of our culture’s rampant violence denies responsibility, saying ‘this one thing doesn’t cause it.’ Guns are innocent, we’re assured. Wild insults and paranoid accusations are just free speech, we’re told. Gory murders in movies are mere art. They say, ‘artists don’t steer culture; they reflect it.’
But isn’t it a cycle? Quentin Tarrantino made only one movie with any integrity towards violence: “Reservoir Dogs.” The violence in it makes you wince. All the rest of his movies, from “Pulp Fiction” to “Django Unchained,” glorify violence, make it funny, amusing. When asked about this recently, he replied, “It’s none of your damn business,” and “I’m shutting your butt down.” I’d like to shut his butt down. Taking a cue from his movie “Kill Bill,” where he dwells on beating women and killing them, I’d like to see a new effort, “Kill Quentin.” Maybe if some of the violence he claims he isn’t causing was directed at him, he’d take his artistic function more responsibly. (This isn’t actual, Quentin; it’s mere art, like yours.)
Gun control is only one aspect of an overall need to address our society’s national neurosis about violence. How many murdered children does it take to wake us up? Gabby got the first bullet. It tore through her brain and left her impaired. A nine year old got the 13th. 33 were fired, killing six and wounding 18. Violence on TV is up by 75% since 1998, with over four instances per hour on average. Over half of these depict death. Actual violent crime is way down. We know that the more violence children watch early in life, the more likely they are to commit it later. We’re so used to it, we don’t realize what we’re doing to ourselves.
In 2008, a man possibly suffering from bi-polar disorder had lost his job and his food stamps. He grew angrier and angrier, reading Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly. He hated liberals, Democrats, African Americans, and homosexuals. He took what he considered revenge into a UU church in Knoxville, Tennessee, killing two innocent people and wounding others with his 12 gauge shotgun. He had 76 shells with him, but his gun only held a few. Greg McKendry stood in his way and died. The murderer was subdued by parishioners. He is serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole.
While I have never lacked that fierce pride that comes with membership in my chosen community, never before have I felt the fire of the Chalice in my own heart burn as bright as it does now in my grief and admiration. I grieve for those lost. I admire how bravely they have lived. A man came to our church thinking his hate and anger would put out our love and compassion. He has failed.
On the local paper’s blog, posted by Abuliam (UU member)
The UUA issued a statement, “Our Doors and our Hearts will remain Open.”
The title of this sermon is “Better than Guns.” It comes from our renting this building right here on the main street across from the Court House when the only other prospective renter would have been a gun shop. We’re better than guns. We provide safe community to all the ordinary people and odd balls that want to come. We try to live up to mutual respect. We try to bring intelligence and care to the challenges and directions of our time. We’re of a tradition that often takes on the difficult issues of the day. We’re not much for just praying; we also engage each other and our community with responsible attention and inclusive dialog. It calls on us sometimes to be brave, just like Gabby pleaded. Unpopular ideas about volatile issues sometimes need to be put into public discourse. Suffrage, emancipation, civil rights for all races and sexual orientations are slow to settle in culture, but they have to start somewhere. Where better than in church?
This robe I am wearing was given to me as a graduation present by Norman Bennett in North Carolina. Norman wasn’t a Universalist; he was Southern Baptist, but he liked our Red Hill Universalist Church and me. He also gave me a single-shot 12 gauge shotgun. It fit me real good and I’ve shot a few clay targets with it. Other than shooting it off about fifteen years ago on New Year’s Eve (like lots of people used to do back in Michigan) it goes unused. I didn’t bring it. I keep it in case I ever really need it, which I hope is never. As an ambulance driver and embalmer, I’ve seen what guns really do, so I know I don’t want to do that – to anybody, not even a bad guy. But neither would I let a bad guy kill an innocent if I could prevent it. I’d be the good guy. However, I no longer trust the NRA to be.
Full disclosure: I do have two other guns out in my trunk right now – squirt guns still there from a summer outing to the Illinois River.
It is the non-gun-wielding public that is brave. They walk, protected only with their vulnerability. Gun-wielders show how fearful and edgy they are. You can’t outgun such a trend. If the old international arms race were to come home it would be good for the gun business and the baby casket business – Jobs! – but not for our social comity. Ghandi outsmarted violence with peaceful, persistent truth-speaking. We’re going to need that here. But it’s tricky. I grant the complexity of the challenge and that not all NRA-types want civil warfare as our way to peace. The issue isn’t all or none; it’s which and how.
I grant the right to self-defense. I just worry that everyone’s defensiveness is becoming offensive. I can imagine defending my house. My mind races with a tense scenario, me innocent, skilled, and heroic. That’s probably what many gun owners imagine. Or maybe then imagine shooting liberal Democratic black gays, or perhaps out-of-control fascist police. Trouble is, such imagination, coupled with ample firepower at-the-ready tends to stupid moves, accidents, and suicides. Only about 4% of violence comes from the mentally deranged. As noted in the 1976 General Resolution in the UUA, for every one robber stopped with a gun, four homeowners or members of their family are killed in gun accidents. There are about 30 killings a day in our country, some 23,000 in the last two years! About 18 vets kill themselves a day. Poor guys, they live with both ghosts and demons. So, yes, we have the right to self-defense. But we shouldn’t let that be the cause of its need, creating mounting mayhem ripe with impending tragedy.
The NRA opposes almost any hindrance to anyone getting any sort of gun with any capacity of rounds. Bird hunters get three. Hunters of deer, bears, and lions are restricted to, I believe, five rounds. Mass murderers can have a hundred. On MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell put the spokesman for the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, on the spot, as he should be put on the spot. Where are the sensible members of the NRA and the Republican Party lately? Do they do the bidding of the gun sellers who are enabling mass murderers? LaPierre once backed a limit on magazine capacities, but then helped reverse Diane Feinstein’s 1994 limit. So when the killer at the movie theater in Colorado killed 12 and wounded 58, he was using a 100 round magazine and had 3,000 more ready to go. (He also had a 12 gauge shotgun, which he emptied before turning to his AR-15, which is modeled on the M-16 military assault rifle. It shoots a .223 caliber bullet that travels three times the speed of sound, tumbling upon entry so as to tear out organs as it exits.) There used to be armed guards at banks. No more. It’s too dangerous, and bystanders get hit. Trained police only manage to hit one of five shots when under fire. Yet the NRA wants armed guards in all our schools. Why not theaters and churches too? One of the board members of the NRA makes and sells a .50 caliber sniper rifle shooting armor-piercing bullets effective at one mile. These are for self-defense? I would think even the police would worry about those. In fact, many police, especially in cities, favor stricter gun controls.
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Some would pretend the whole first clause, which justifies the second, isn’t there. No “well regulated” impositions of riled mid-brain rages of fear and hate by pesky fore-brain sensible thinking. Nor would they admit the Preamble’s purpose, “. . . to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense . . .” The NRA says the 2nd Amendment is the only one that is absolute, with no basis in history or law. No thinking allowed when it comes to the most dangerous and tragic trend in our American society. No rules. No liability. No restraint. No laws. No care for what this does.
Tomorrow, February 4th, is the Interfaith Calling to Prevent Gun Violence Day. Go to faithscalling.org to see what they request, including universal background checks, banning high-capacity magazines, regulating gun trafficking, and improving access to mental health services. It’s your call, but I urge you to call our representatives and senators, then our county supervisors and sheriffs. Call the NRA; they’re living in a bubble and need to hear from regular folk.
This issue is as old as humanity. When we let fear and anger organize us, we end up creating a fearful, hateful society. Jesus advised we turn our cheek 490 times. I ask our largely Christian society, which gun would Jesus use? I agree with the new Brady Campaign slogan: “We’re better than this.” I don’t mean just UU’s here. Americans are better than this. This UU Fellowship isn’t a gun shop. This is far, far better. Better for us. Better for this town. Better for the way culture should go.
Rev. Brad Carrier
For the Unitarian Universalists of Grants Pass
Grants Pass, Oregon
© February 3, 2013
Dear Editor of the Tidings and the Tribune,
The sheriffs of our two counties have announced they will not enforce federal gun laws, claiming they’re “defending our constitution.” Both seem decent guys, and they probably think they’re acting nobly to save us.
But I wonder, have they scratched the words “promote domestic tranquility,” and “well-regulated” from their version of our constitution? Do they favor ever more guns on our streets? Have they no obedience in their office and the law, no loyalty to the political and legislative processes of our common society?
Did they stand up to the multi-agency invasions on hippies growing pot, or help organize it? Flowers leading to giggles got swat squads. Fearful, angry people imposing weapons of war on to our streets, strutting about with guns, as if their right and the right thing to do? They’re enabled. How is this not a culture war, complete with one side arming up? And how is that not a war on culture?
These gentlemen have spoken rashly. Many citizens want fewer guns, not more. Instead, we endure a growing menace of fearful, angry gun-wielding people, which serves the gun-sellers who profit by making it worse. We deserve an apology. If they won’t offer that, they deserve reprimand or dismissal. What trust, respect, and support do we owe our sheriffs (and the counties that should supervise them) if they reflexively pick a side of a sensitive, complicated, and volatile issue and impose it?