Changing the Conversation: 7 Ways to End Violence While Keeping Your Guns

Changing the Conversation: 7 Ways to End Violence While Keeping Your Guns April 14, 2014

I’m tired of hearing “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people!”

I’m tired of conversations full of soundbites from everyone’s favorite pro/anti organization or polarizing media outlet.

And I’m tired of saying “God is present with us in tragedy and loss of life… we grieve with the families of the victims… we hope for a day in which God’s peace may be known on the earth and blah blah blah…” For love of ALL THAT IS, I am tired of preaching that sermon.

Is it true? That God is with us in the midst of tragedy? Of course it is. But I’m tired of having to say it so much. If I’m tired of having to say it, I’d venture that God is hella tired of having to ‘show up’ in this way, so very often.

We are weary.

The other day, a guy walked by me in a restaurant.  His shirt had a gun on it, and beneath the picture were the words, “out of my cold dead hands.” Everything about this man’s carriage and demeanor seemed hostile. Maybe it was in my head. But to a hippie peacenik like me, he was making a confrontational statement with his whole body. I mean, I didn’t ASK him how he felt about guns. And yet, his shirt implies that I need to know. That without knowing his name or his occupation or the first thing about him, I NEED TO KNOW that he would rather die than give up his weapons. Got it.

I wondered, ‘when and where will it be, next time? The next senseless, horrific act of violence against innocent, unarmed people… all because of this t-shirt sentiment that has somehow become the mark of patriotism?’

Turns out, the ‘when’ was two days later, and the ‘where’ was just down the street.

Am I eerily prophetic? No. The violence is just all too common. We are no longer shocked, or even mildly surprised, when this stuff goes down. In fact, we’ve come to expect it. We’ve maybe even got our next sermon/blog post ready in response. “God is present with us in times of tragedy and loss… we grieve with the families of the victims. May God’s peace be known on earth…”

I can’t even. I can’t preach that sermon again.

I’ve never addressed the gun stuff in my writing, and here’s why—I love some people who disagree with me on this.  I like to engage edgy things in a way that allows for civil discourse, even amongst those who disagree. And let’s be honest, when it comes to guns and stuff, there is no such thing as civil engagement. There is insult slinging, name calling, sound-bite parroting, and constitution-invoking. But no conversation.

I’m done with that. Why shouldn’t we be able to talk about this? Because the NRA says freedom is non-negotiable, and freedom is all about firearms? I call BS.  They’re not the boss of us. We can talk about this like grown-ups. At least, here’s trying: No name-calling, no litany of statistics, and no hyper-emotional rambling. Both ways. Deal?

In the aftermath of yesterday’s tragedy in Overland Park, the wheels of the pro-gun camps are already in motion. Gearing up to protect guns from the people who want to regulate guns.

Do you see how this goes? They’re protecting the GUNS. And we’re going after the GUNS. It’s no use. Nobody ever changed the world by fighting over inanimate objects. At least, not for the better.

I am for common sense regulation: Background checks; Licensing; Waiting periods. All those reasonable things that you have to do to, say, drive a car in this country. Heck, you want people to get a drug test to pick up their welfare check? How about take a drug test before you can BUY A DANG GUN. It’s not asking too much that my ex-con/racist/history of violence neighbor not be able to go and buy an assault rifle at a neighborhood yard sale. (Which—I learned this in Arizona—is totally legit and legal). I say regulate the hell out of them and make the acquisition just a LITTLE bit of effort. Just enough to deter the people who are too dysfunctional to fill out paper work…

But you know, and I know, that 1) that conversation is a non-starter around here, and 2) that doesn’t solve the problem. My ex-con/racist/history of violence neighbor is still going to find his crazy self a gun.

According to the gospel of Don Draper: If you don’t like what the other guys are saying about you…change the conversation.

When it comes to guns, nobody likes what the other side is saying. And I think we can all agree, it is WAY past time to change the conversation.  So let’s stop talking about inanimate objects and start talking about people.

Let’s stop working to PROTECT inanimate objects when (I promised no statistics) those objects destroy life far more often than they save it.

Let’s stop operating from places of fear and scarcity, and work from the desire for abundant life.

Here’s what I suggest. If you are a person who loves guns, and who equates guns with freedom—fine. Get your guns. Keep your guns.

But you’ve also got to help. You’ve got to help us address the myriad issues that run so deep in our culture and perpetuate chronic violence. Keep your guns. But take the energy you put into protecting your rights, and put some of that into protecting people. For instance:

1. Get to the forefront of mental health reform, and Medicaid expansion for the working poor. When people fall through the cracks and don’t get the care they need, they become a danger to themselves and others. If we aren’t going to make it harder for them to get a gun, make it easier for them to get the help they need.

2. Mentor at-risk youth who are most vulnerable to gang recruitment. Or be a Big Brother/Big Sister for those who need a friend and advocate. Kids who feel connected and supported are far less likely to go on a shooting rampage. (no statistics needed)

3.Write to your representatives and ask them to re-examine Stand Your Ground (and similar loopholes); these laws enable anybody (white men) to shoot anybody (non-white kids) and call ‘self-defense’ with no proof of any real threat to their safety. And while you’re at it, you could

4. Support organizations that address systemic racism. Or anti-semitism. Or homophobia, Islamaphobia, pink-hair-a-phobia, I don’t know what all… But work with the people in your community that are trying actually build community, and eliminate the fear-of-other that so often ends in murder.

5. Also, call Hollywood. Call the network tv stations. Call the people who make video games. Call anybody who makes big piles of money by making death look so dang entertaining, and tell them to ease up a bit. Tell them that they are way too prudish about the human body, and not nearly conservative enough when it comes to blowing up buildings, shooting cops, and strangling prostitutes in the back of stolen cars. Yes, these are kids’ games we’re talking about. And JUST THE COMMERCIALS for primetime tv. Oh and, of course, the news.

And while you’re busy tackling the entertainment industry,

6. Write to the folks making “biblical” movies with heavy “JEWS KILLED JESUS” plotlines, and remind them that, among other things, Jesus WAS Jewish. Let them know that they are contributing to a harmful anti-Semitic narrative that still plays out in frightening ways. Most recently, in our backyard.

7. One last thing… stop talking about gun ownership as a ‘right,’ and start addressing it as the privilege that it is. Stop hoarding weapons any time you sense a regulatory standard in the offing. At the heart of all this bloodshed is a frightening sense of entitlement. Those who feel privileged to have something will be more likely to consider their role in responsibility, and the safety of others.

I could go on. Poverty. Addiction. Bullying. All these things contribute to rampant violence, putting us all at risk. Work to curb these societal ills, and you’re working to end the shooting sprees.

Politicians and lobbyists have hijacked the conversation for far too long and made it all about OUR stuff, OUR freedom, OUR rights. We are so very good at the us/them kinds of things. But this is an everybody problem, and it needs an everybody solution. We are not quite as good at those everybody things. But we’re trying.

In the meantime, God is with us in the wrenching loss of life. May God’s peace be made known upon the earth. Until then… well, if you must keep your guns, then keep them. But in some small way, help make the world less eager to use them.


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  • kcbrewster

    (slow, steady clap) Beautifully said Pastor.

    • Erin Smallwood Wathen

      wow, i have never gotten a slow clap before! thanks!

  • garybachman

    Thank you for this.

    Firearms proponents will certainly argue THEIR right to self-defense. But let me offer an opposing perspective:

    What about MY “right to life,” (threatened by perhaps well intended people who may not understand the nature of any particular threat) “liberty” (intimidated and silenced by armed class mates who may possibly see my politics, sexual orientation or religion, as a threat) and “the pursuit of happiness” squashed by the implicit sense of threat and dread provoked by the arming of classmates and faculty against any potential, anonymous, unidentified, and as yet only a speculative threat. Who wins when ones’ rights violate another’s?

    In church recently, our opening hymn included the verse,

    “God, teach us peacemaking in every role.
    In each relationship make peace our goal.
    Yet give us insight that keeps us aware
    Justice and mercy in balance to share.”

    Insight and awareness is invaluable. That is what we should be arming our children and families, students and faculty with. Not Glocks and Rugers and Smith & Wesson’s.

    When I reduce all of my own opposition (to the proliferation of high capacity – rapid fire weaponry, campus concealed carry and the arming of educators) down to its essence, there are two key elements that remain; one, the blood and horror I have personally SEEN and experienced in the ER and; two, the sense that there is a better, smarter, larger, more meaningful solution to violence in our
    society. From the depth of my soul is the belief that to give-in to the fear and to resign ourselves to carrying concealed firearms or high-powered assault style weapons (as a solution too and) in anticipation of any uncertain threat, is a personal and societal failure of grand scale. It’s a short cut that doesn’t remotely address the core issues.

    • wfcollins

      “Who wins when ones’ rights violate another’s?” The overwhelming majority of gun owners exercise their rights their entire lives without violating anyone else’s rights. Why should the majority be punished for what a small segment are responsible for?

      And what is a high powered assault rifle? The problem is that there are no features of any rifle that can be characterized as being more dangerous. It is why none of the bans on them can possibly be effective.

      • garybachman

        I am one of those majority of gun owners who has exercised my right to “keep and bear arms” for over 50 years. I’ve three firearms within 12 feet of where I sit writing this in my home. Each safely secured but accessable.
        I suggest you might re-read my post. And actually think about what it says before going off half-cocked.
        It is only self serving (and small minded) rhetoric that would characterize the prohibition of carrying loaded firearms into the shopping mall or university classroom as punishment. What you need to arm yourself with is a more intellegent argument.
        Similarly your lamentation of misinformation regarding the descriptors of particular firearms is laughable. Historically, the editors of “The American Rifleman”(published by the NRA,) Guns & Ammo and Guns magazines have interchangibly differentiated between .22 rimfire and center-fire / “high power” rounds. (Although technically only a lowly .9mm firing handgun manufactured by Browning has ever carried the name “High Power.”)
        Would you also want to argue the difference between “clips” and “magazines.” (Yes I’ve fired ’03 springfields, M1 Garands and M-16s, and while I can differentiate the fine details, the terms are in fact used interchangibly by the gods & generals at the NRA as well as the NEA.)
        There are indeed many variations of danger: the single shot 45.70 that Custers troopers carried onto the Little big Horn had great knockdown power but poor range coudn’t compete with the generally smaller but rapid fire Henrys and Winchesters of their foe. And then the lowly .22 ( that we ALL grew up shooting or teaching our kids to shoot with) is in “Long Rifle Hollow Point,” supposedly a favorite for clandestine use in (up close and personal) assasinations. Tap Tap.
        And that now overwhelmingly popular 5.56 round (for the AR-15 /M-16 / M1 ) was sorely and soundly condemned by almost every firearms affectioando when it was first introduced. ( As was the M–16, particularly in comparrison to the M-14. I personally prefererred the Ithica Model 37 shotgun for tight spaces…) Lets be honest here: the AR-15 is fun to shoot. It’s looks cool, it catches peoples attention, it makes “a statement” and there are even rumors that just owning one elevates ones testosterone level. But that rumor is of course, just like the suggestion that it is some form of punishment to have to leave your highpowered toy locked in the trunk, BULL SHIT. And you know it.

  • bigDrew2003

    According to the CDC, an impartial government entity, guns are used at least as often to save someone as they are used criminally. On the high end, they are estimated to be used 25 times more often to protect than for crime. Those are the facts. They also found that people that used a gun in self defense were less likely to be injured than those that attempted to use other forms of self defense.
    Self defense is a right. Self defense is not a privilege. Guns happen to be excellent tools for self defense. Guns also happen to be mention in the Bill of Rights(not privileges) as a fundamental right.
    Stand your ground laws have a purpose. When used correctly they are to protect a victim of a crime that was protecting themselves from being held criminally and civilly liable.

    • Jay Mulligan

      Thank you for sharing your view bigDrew2003. I would suggest that your statement about ’25 times’ more likely to protect is not supported by the CDC’s report from 2013.

      Also in that report: “Two-thirds of homicides of ex- and current spouses were committed [with] firearms,” the report observes. “In locations where individuals under restraining orders to stay away from current or ex-partners are prohibited from access to firearms, female partner homicide is reduced by 7 percent.”

      And this: “From 2000 to 2010, “firearm-related suicides significantly outnumbered homicides for all age groups, annually accounting for 61 percent of the more than 335,600 people who died from firearm-related violence in the United States,” says the report. Firearm sales are often a warning: Two studies found that “a small but significant fraction of gun suicides are committed within days to weeks after the purchase of a handgun, and both also indicate that gun purchasers have an elevated risk of suicide for many years after the purchase of the gun.”

      Constitutional rights come with responsibility. Join me to find the common ground.

      • bigDrew2003

        The common ground is that guns are used more often to protect than they are to harm. In terms of prohibiting gun purchases when on a restraining order, I am against that. No one should be able to remove another’s constitutional rights without due process. There is very little burden of proof to get a restraining order on someone and quite a bit of work to try to get it removed.
        I am sure we agree that domestic violence is terrible. Some people however are unjustly charged with domestic violence. I am not standing up for those that cause harm to anyone else. There are cases though of people being charged with domestic violence for yelling at their spouse. In no time should a persons rights be stripped away because of yelling(not threatening, but yelling).

        I think it would make perfect sense to also educate those that have been abused and have placed restraining orders on spouses that a piece of paper ultimately will not protect them if that spouse becomes violent again and that they should think of other methods of protecting themselves should the negative situation occur.

        The “25 times” estimate comes from a study other than the CDC. The link is from a pro-gun website, yes, but there are links to the sources.

        • Erin Smallwood Wathen

          i think we could go round and round about legislation. it might help, it might not. but the larger point i’m trying to make is that a significant part of responsible gun ownership should have to do with trying–REALLy trying–to make the world an all around less violent place.

          • D Lowrey

            Have a question. As a Follower of Christ and people of peace…when did Matthew 26:52 go out of style for American Christians? Seems like the real question we need to be asking is how do guns/weapons fit into the Christ-centered life we claim to follow?

  • Jon Fermin

    there is a certain kind of Semi-Pelagianism within some currents of the Christian left that insists that if we but legislate a certain way, that human suffering will come to an end. that by our works we may be saved from the truth of humanity’s own penchant for brutality and sin. It’s a hopeful thought, but not a realistic one. so long as we posses free will, we posses the will to do evil. this is not only logically coherent, it is also as it has been from the very beginning. We can’t all be special snowflakes or indigo children, we are sinners. we must examine our hearts first and our laws second, and have no illusions that acting on the latter will perfect the former. we as imperfect beings of the human species will **** up, repent and then die… and I pray hopefully in that order. with that said a few short notes on the points mentioned.

    points 1 and 2 are not very controversial, I think most people can agree with them generally.

    point 3 would seem more legitimate if it were not oozing with identity politics polemics. conceptually speaking, in a fight situation where one party is armed and there is a reasonable chance of one party getting knocked out this does constitute a reasonable circumstance for self defense even to the point of firing the gun. anyone who has ever gotten into a serious fight knows this. In the Trayvon Martin case, the jury came to the same logical conclusion, looking at the objective evidence despite the personal flaws of the defendant as was their duty as jurors.

    point 4, the best thing the left can do to end systemic racism is to end their own balkanization of the American sociopolitical landscape (see point 3 for an example)

    point 5. Harvey Weinstein, open mouth, insert foot

    point 6. the passion of the Christ was literally a decade ago, please get over it. stating the historical fact that the Sanhedrin were the principle driving force behind the execution of Jesus does not make one anti semitic, it makes them historically literate.

    point 7. the 2nd amendment is a right, no scare quotes are necessary. in fact some of the most safe and responsible gun owners i have ever met were also some of the 2nd amendment’s strongest proponents.

  • irena mangone

    Thank you for this article now to put it into action