Gun Rights and the Virtue of Forbearance: The Act of Refraining from Exercising a Legal Right

“My message to lawmakers in Congress is: Please! Take action. Ideas are great. Ideas are wonderful, and they help you get re-elected and everything. But what’s more important is actual action, and pertinent action that results in saving thousands of children’s lives … We can say, yes, we’re going to do all these things… thoughts and prayers. What we need more than that is action. Please! This is the eighteenth one [school shooting] this year. That’s unacceptable! We’re children. You guys, like, are the adults. You need to take some action, and play a role. Work together. Come over your politics, and get something done.”

– David Hogg, survivor of M.S. Douglas High School mass shooting.

This is a clip from CNN of a High School Journalism student interviewed by a CNN correspondent. He is a survivor of the M.S. Douglas High School mass shooting that killed 17 of his schoolmates and changed his life forever. He’s a sharp and articulate young man, and his admonishment is prescient and powerful.

In the first two months of 2018 we’ve seen:

  • 1826 gun deaths
  • 30 mass shootings
  • 402 children killed

In this moment, I don’t know how to defend this situation to a young man as sharp and articulate as David Hogg. I don’t know how to defend our decisions around guns to the kids in our youth group, to my own kids. We are failing them in order to assert our “rights”.

We’re stuck in this sick, morbid pattern: A shooting happens in our schools. We watch the coverage on CNN. We cry and lament. Then we look to our leaders who spout the same platitudes: thoughts & prayers … now’s not the time to talk about gun control… it’s not about guns, it’s about mental health… 

Part of what really bothers me is that this is such a distinctly American problem. No other country in the world even comes close to the same kind of gun violence we see in America. We see this not because we’re more violent or homicidal, but because of our weird relationship to guns, and the fetishization of 2nd amendment rights.

If we do nothing:

If we do nothing, then nothing will change. Shootings like the one yesterday in Florida are going to keep happening until we enact common sense gun restrictions. I’m talking about a sustained effort over the course of decades to enact gun regulations that functionally change the American relationship to firearms. Our model should be the regulation of the automobile industry with regard to safety. What we did with cars, we can do with guns.

If we end up doing nothing, and shootings still continue, then this is the reason why: The gun industry is a $43 billion a year economic machine with one of the most effective political action committees ever created (NRA) protecting their interests. Politicians are more afraid of the NRA than they are of you and me, or David Hogg. They confuse and conflate the right to bear arms with unlimited gun rights.

The Power of Forbearance

I’ve been thinking a lot about the right to bear arms… this word bear. It has me thinking about a related word:

Forbearance: [for·bear·ance / fawr-bair-uh ns]; noun; the action of refraining from exercising a legal right, abstaining from the enforcement of a right; patient endurance; self-control.

To forbear is to do without. Yes the constitution guarantees me the right to BEAR arms. But I will gladly forbear that right in order to stop mass shootings. I will gladly refrain from exercising that right to the full, so that my children can not be killed at school. I will abstain from enforcing my right to bear arms for the sake of the greater good. Just a little forbearance–some patient endurance and self-control–and we could start to get to work on regulating guns in common sense ways that will slowly make our society safer and better.

I don’t know if card carrying NRA members will ever exercise forbearance. But our politicians and elected leaders are going to have to. Politicians need to hear from us. We need to ask them to reinstate the ban on assault rifles. We need to ask them to make high-round magazines, silencers, bump stocks, and automatic weapons illegal to sell and possess. We need to get to work on changing our relationship to guns and it starts with forbearance.


My friend David Spaite posted this on Twitter. It’s from the book of Isaiah, and it’s where my heart is today:

“Your thoughts and prayers my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them… your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves… learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Adapted Is 1:14-17 NRSV

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