It’s not complicated. Less guns equals less murders. There are some exceptions to this rule in lawless or failed states, where nothing equals less murders. But how can we not know that civil society is only possible if we agree, as a society, to “check the guns” as we enter “town,” to borrow a moral from most western movies dated before World War II. Indeed, I watched Destry Rides Again, with Jimmy Stewart and Marlene Dietrich, last night. The hero wins all the civil arguments with the bad guys while disarmed. When force must be applied, he mobilizes the whole town, not just himself, to get the job done. How vastly different from the extra-legal fantasies of bulletproof Ahhnold or Dirty Harry taking care of business with some super-weapon and a bad attitude.
The following sums up my understanding of civilization: It begins with the surrender of violence to a democratic state and prevails when the state itself becomes disarmed. There are strong scientific and philosophical arguments for this understanding.
This is an important moment in the history of our country. Given the inequalities, injustices and inequities ravaging the United States, the time is now, 50 years after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, to re-ignite an important flame in that dream – nonviolence. Nonviolence as not just as a preference, not just a tactic, but a condition of any human civilization whose historical arc bends toward justice.
Proving that self-government is preferable to barbarism would seem to be an easy argument. But arms sales are through the roof now, as Congress considers the president’s entirely worthy proposals.
Can we live in peace? If we, as a country, learn to live and let live, check our guns at the edge of civilization, and turn away from, not toward, arms, then paths to peaceful conflict resolution can appear on every level of life that otherwise fears will darken.
I attend a Quaker meeting near my hometown in West Virginia. The meeting adopted a “minute” – Quakerese for a resolution – on gun violence. It was not an easy process, even for Quakers, to come to consensus on this matter. In the end the message that was adopted spoke more in moral than in expressly political terms. But the most important thing was not the particulars of the resolution, but the process in finding unity, of listening to each other, of seeking common ground. Why? Because before the process, most doubted that unity could be achieved!
The sense of empowerment and new life in genuine unity is the big payback when it comes to taking effective action. Now other parishes in the community are undertaking the discussion, a civil discussion, proving that a civil discussion about disarmament can take place. What can we learn from the terrible losses suffered under the scourge of violence horrifically branded on our memories, forever, in the Newtown, Conn., tragedy?
We agreed. We feel right about it. So can many more. Essence of the resolution: “Do not remain silent on this matter.” Talk. Don’t shoot.
Photo: Sheila Steel/Flickr