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Friday, October 02, 2015

Why Guns?

A few months ago, we held a retreat for all our Africa-based teams, on the coast in Kenya.  As I planned, I was asked often about safety.  Kenya is on a travel-restriction list from the USA, due to the repeated terrorism of groups like Al Shabbab.  So I did a bit of math, and realized that statistically one was more likely to be shot in an American school than anywhere in Kenya.  

That sobering reality hit the news again this week.  Another school, another shooter, another group of lives interrupted irrevocably.

The President spoke last night with frustration, emotion, and conviction.  It is hard to imagine anyone objecting to a president who reacts to the senseless death of young people, but people did, as if the world depended upon Americans owning more guns, with fewer restrictions.  Why?

I suppose living for a couple of decades on the outside changes one's perspective.  In Africa we struggle against death.  Death by malaria and hunger.  Death by obstructed labor and hemorrhage.  Death by horribly unsafe roads and reckless drivers.  And occasionally, death by armed conflict.  We have mentally ill people, too many, with too few resources.  Sometimes they harm themselves, or one or two others.  But we don't have non-combatants buying assault weapons, semi-automatic rifles, concealed pistols, high-caliber ammo.  We don't have depressed and isolated young people walking into schools and killing their peers.  We don't have average citizens deciding to take out dozens of random strangers for no reason.  Or perhaps we have citizens who want to but they would never access the means.  When Kenyans died in a school, it was an act of war, horrible and evil and dealt with militarily.  No one shrugged their shoulders and said "not much we can do about terrorists."

I don't know the answer to this madness, but I wish we could have a rational discussion.  Why do so many people feel threatened by the possibility of laws about guns that would be considered NORMAL in most of the world?  Why is it so controversial to require background checks so that guns are not sold to people with criminal records or mental illness?  Who is making so much money from the way things are that they resist change?  True confession: my family has always owned guns.  They are locked in a safe, and used for target shooting.  My relatives go hunting.  These guns shoot slowly and laboriously.  They are not subtle.  They are also relatively low-impact, so you would have to aim very well to cause damage.  They could still be used in domestic violence; they could still claim the life of a child if not stored with care.  But it would be difficult to use this kind of hunting weapon in a school.  And if it would help keep children everywhere safe, wouldn't we gladly forgo any further sport shooting? Even though we own guns, I am very ready to listen to evidence-based arguments for limits to gun ownership.  Limits to who can own guns, or what type. I know that people kill people, but they can kill a lot more people more efficiently with a gun.  Given the fact that there are mentally ill people, and evil people, shouldn't we try to limit their access to weapons of mass destruction?  Why does anyone need to shoot a .50 caliber gun, or carry a concealed one?  Can anyone possibly think this issue is about defending our country from tyranny?

My book came out this week, and in some ways a children's story seems a world removed from a school shootings and vitriolic politics.  But a gun figures prominently in the saddest chapter of this book too.  Because isolation distorts thinking, and allows evil to grow unchecked.  Because we need community and the power of hope and a different story lest we risk our young men, and women, falling back on the easy solution of violence to their problems.  Because we need to talk, and stories let us open the discussion, why guns?


James M Starr said...

Thanks Jennifer. This is a life and death issue, and after 20 years myself on the "outside," enjoying "domestic tranquility," and "the blessing of liberty" from random shootings, it's hard to understand our resistance to any and all preventative steps. Some powerful groups must be making money from the status quo, at the expense of American citizens. We can do more to "establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty" (words we memorised in school).

Dave said...

When you see a response from the President that is emotional, you may assume that the counter arguments are also emotional. Actually, the history of the right to bear arms is foundational to our country. We were founded by soldiers who used their own guns, when the government fought them by trying to take their guns. Revolution 101, it is our cultural heritage. Just please accept this explanation as reasoned and thoughtful not emotional. Fear and emotions are present on both sides of the argument, but these are not merely emotional expressions, nor greedy conspiracies. There are thoughtful serious people on both sides of the issue, considering carefully which regulations are reasonable and which regulations are oppressive. Guns are necessary, historically and currently. There are greater risks with the centralization of power. That's also fundamental to the Christian perspectives which formed our country. Balance of powers in governance and availability of guns distributes power on the streets. There are misuses of power in governance still and there are misuses of power in our communities. It's a cost of enjoying freedom and self governance. There are restrictions on gun ownership. These restrictions are not perfect, nor are they meant to be. There is a very sound reason that we as Americans are thoughtful about this issue.