I've had an aversion to guns all my life. One of my first quasi-memories is of Robert Kennedy lying on the floor of the kitchen of the LA hotel. I've never owned a gun, or even (I'm pretty sure) fired one. My first letter to the editor was on this subject in the New York Post, I must have been 12 or 13. And one of the formative experiences of my youth was the shooting death of John Lennon, when I was a senior in high school.
This is an area that is unquestionably worse now than it ever
before. After Reagan was shot there was a flurry of gun control
activity, and during the Clinton Administration semi-automatic
weapons were banned. Yet today we are awash with more guns than ever.
Of course, the fact that I live in Kansas is significant also.
Kansas is a "guns everywhere" state; a person no longer has
to have any kind of permit or even training to own or carry a gun.
The politics of the issue are horrible – the legislature passes
another gun-loosening law every year and the margins are huge. I once
criticized one of the Democratic representatives on Twitter for
co-sponsoring a guns-everywhere bills, and I was upbraided
immediately by one of my Democratic activist friends, who told me
that this particular representative would lose his next election if
he was on the wrong side of this issue. I have another friend, an
electrical-lineman who is active in his union, who tells me that, no
matter what the impact of the economic or social policies of any
particular candidate on his co-workers, if they perceive the Dem to
be anti-gun, they'll vote against him. So that's the context.
When the biggest guns-everywhere bill was passed, some of the
pastors I know were pretty upset. As of now houses of worship are
allowed to ban guns from the premises, and they wanted some
assurances that that would continue to be the case. The Lawrence
representative told them not to say anything, because if the
legislative leadership figured out that they had exempted churches
they were more likely to remove the exemption than to codify it.
When we started Interfaith Action, we saw two particular niches we
could fill on any particular issue: a) as the faith component of a
larger coalition, or b) as the prophetic voice speaking out when the politics don't allow anyone else to speak out. (I had previously
filled both these roles, at different times, when discussing climate
change.) So we were perfectly comfortable serving as the voice in the
wilderness on the gun issue.
As it turns out, the approach that's most promising is "campus
carry", which has already passed here and will go into effect in
June of 2017. It has elicited a pretty strong backlash. We're working
with a number of groups on this issue, which you can follow over on
the KIFA page.
But this is my personal blog, so I'm talking about how this
affects me personally. I've been spending more time working on and
thinking about this issue, because of meetings we've had about campus
carry and because we're having an event on Sunday (Mother's Day March
Against Gun Violence). I also happen to be taking a course in
nonviolence studies through the Metta Center.
To me, the proliferation of guns is represents the very antithesis
of the kind of nonviolent, caring, concern-for-the-other world that I
would like to live in, and help to build. I mean, you can't get much
less nonviolent than a gun.
The other piece that comes up for me is the horrible level of
political discourse in the country right now. The presidential
campaign is particularly disheartening; but even leaving that aside,
people are coming at each other from such polarized points of view
that it's hard to even hear what each other is saying.
This applies especially to the gun issue. If you have ever used
social media to comment on this issue you know any mention
immediately elicits a horde of nameless, faceless gun advocates (I
will try not to call them "gun nuts"). It's very
There is also the sometime-implicit, sometimes-explicit threat
that if we made any progress on this issue the other side would
resort to force of arms. And with 300 million guns in this country,
and only (at most) about 40% of the country owning any at all, that
means the other side is quite heavily armed, which can't help but impact on the discourse, which is one of the reasons we don't want so many guns in circulation in the first place!
Like most radical right-wing political positions, there is an
unmistakable racist subtext here too.
So we've got an issue which is the antithesis of the world we're
trying to build, where the other side has all the political power and
all the guns and are violently disinclined to accept or hear the
arguments of those who don't think having guns everywhere, carried by
anyone, is any kind of problem at all.
Care to give me a pep talk, or talk me through the nonviolent
approach to this?