Thursday, May 5, 2016

Guns, Guns, Guns

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 disconcerting.

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?