When I remember that slavery was as entrenched in US culture in the 1830s as gun ownership is now, I also remember that it was ordinary folks who kept the dissent alive with daily conversation. Of course, public figures championed abolition with speeches and publications, but ordinary folks were busy, too. And when I remember that many of those ordinary folks were Quakers, I get a little encouraged by their successes, little and large. With that encouragement, I know what to say to my children and my community about gun control: Say your truth as you see it as often as you feel called to speak it.
I was raised with a variety of guns hanging on a rack in the living room. I didn’t like them much, but I think I shot a shotgun once. My father hunted wild fowl on our farm and elsewhere, and we actually did eat them. My dad also had his WWII service revolver hanging from the gun rack which I found pretty scary, and the ammunition was not exactly locked away. So my truth is that I was raised in gun culture, I didn’t like it, and I didn’t adopt it.
But I do understand that people like their culture and don’t like being told that their culture is wrong. I startled when my nephew came to greet me at age 12 with an orange vest on and a shotgun in his arms, proud and ready for his first hunt. No point in me putting him down; this was a rite passage for him as part of my family’s culture. Instead, I said a prayer for his safe return. I don’t think I would have made much headway if I had protested on the spot and given a little lecture, do you? I also knew that if he had a successful hunt, his dad would help him prepare anything edible and his mom would cook it. So another one of my truths is that I hold my tongue in situations that are not likely to be fruitful.
Gun culture is real and homey and about family for a lot of folks. And while our country has a great confusion of views about the relationship between gun ownership, constitutional rights, and war weapons, I am not going to be very successful in limiting the number of guns or ammunition rounds or types of guns if I don’t connect with the perspective and humanity of the people I disagree with. So another truth is that I must wait until I see that of God in everyone before I start talking about gun control.
- Build relationships with people who disagree with you so that you can eventually have their ear.
- Stay informed about gun control issues – informed, not just inflamed.
- Write and call your legislators. Eventually they will have a reason to change our laws – and no, I can’t imagine what it will take if the shootings in Orlando didn’t do it.
- When you have an opening to express your desire for gun control, take it. You might want to pray first. Then speak with love and compassion, and speak your truth as you see it.
I have been accused of working my favorite topics into any conversation. I once wrote a puff piece about Mother’s Day for a monthly paper and explained its pacifist roots while suggesting spa days for mothers. Now I see ways to work gun control into conversations about child safety, our history of lawlessness during the reign of Al Capone (which provoked gun control), the Supreme Court and constitutional amendments, airport security measures, and gardening tools (made out of guns). I imagine my Quaker predecessors did the same with abolition. Some Friends were outspoken and fought publicly, but thousands of others went about neighborly convincement, once they themselves were convinced. So I encourage anyone to know their truth about gun control, see God in their audience, and speak their truth as they see it. It works for me.