Our national defense budget is between five and six times more than any other country on the planet. What we spend on our military eclipses that of other top six countries combined according to some reports. According to others, we outspend the other top ten nations.*
And yet we have gaping vulnerabilities.
We have enough guns to arms every man, woman and child on our entire country.
And yet, lone gunmen still attack us, and someone is a fatal victim of gun violence in the U.S. every 48 minutes of every day, on average.
When is there enough to actually make us safe?
The argument I hear most often for why we need to continue arming ourselves is that the only solution for bad guys with guns is good guys with guns.
So remind me: the bad guys always wear big, black hats and a “bad guy” badge, and the good guys have white hats and perfect teeth, right?
Meanwhile, we bombed a hospital this week filled with innocent doctors and civilians in Afghanistan. Are we still the good guys?
And what about the eight-year-old who shot their eleven-year-old friend when they got in a fight over a puppy? Was the shooter a bad guy? Was the parent who bought and kept the gun in the house? If they were, why didn’t we know ahead of time and not give them a gun? See your rule above about only “good guys with guns.”
Now, I do agree that just getting rid of guns isn’t enough. I showed my son a video of an event where I spoke in which the hosts melted down guns used in murders and forged them into gardening tools. “But dad,” he said, innocently, “you can still kill someone with a shovel, if you want to badly enough.”
This doesn’t mean we don’t still need to place stricter controls of firearm possession. Part of changing the human heart and conscience is changing the norms of the culture it’s within. And one step of that is creating a “new normal,” in which guns are at least harder to get and possess than a passport.
But as I wrote in my book, postChristian, “the human heart should be registered as a concealed weapon. The mind may hatch the schemes and formulate the justifications, the hands may build the bombs and wield the swords, but the heart, driven supposedly by love, is the match to the fuse that sets the whole damned thing in motion.”
By the time another tragedy strikes, and we’re left asking why it happened and what we should do, it’s too late. We have to start today, right now. We have to work actively and personally to cultivate and live out compassion in every relationship we have. As my friend and author Sarah Thebarge says, that requires more than sympathy (feeling bad for someone else’s struggle or suffering), and even more than empathy (identifying with someone else’s suffering). Compassion requires investing our whole selves in that other person, to the point of suffering and struggling alongside them, even when it’s hard.
We also have to take heed from Walter Wink and strive to creatively and nonviolently systems of dominance, oppression, violence and intolerance all around us. The world tells us that we have two choices when faced with these: do nothing “in the name of peace,” or respond in kind (our first basic, primal tendency). But as Wink says, Jesus teachings of nonviolence aren’t the same as being a doormat and letting people simply walk over us. It also doesn’t mean that violence justifies a violent response, as such behavior changes only the rulers, but not the rules.
(For an example of both working in real time together, read my previous article about my wife engaging disruptive protesters outside our church. One gentleman went from joining his peers in praying for her death and wishing our children to hell, to coming back to the church an hour later without his friends and asking us to help him.)
It takes intentional, contemplative imagination. It requires us to resist our instinct to strike back. But it also requires more courage than doing nothing and hoping things change on their own. It’s been done with tremendous success throughout history, time and again, and yet we fail to believe it’s possible for us too.
But it’s time. Right now. For everyone asking why, for everyone asking what they can do, this is it. It’s hard, it will take a lifetime, and you may never see the fruits of your efforts. But ultimately, I’m convinced that it’s the only two-fold path the the peace we claim to want so desperately.
*According to a Washington Post article from 2013 we spent more than the top 13 countries combined, but our defense budget has decreased slightly since then.