Maybe it’s time to stop talking about guns and address the real issue. Maybe it’s time to talk about fear.
I’ve been trying (not always successfully) to stay out of the discussion about handgun and assault gun ownership. It’s another argument that tends to produce more heat than light, and frankly some of these people scare me. Sometimes I find that when an argument pulls me in with the tentacles of emotion it’s best to move back for a while and look at the bigger picture.
A post a friend made about the Swiss being required to have a gun in the home, yet having a low rate of use made me think.
Some people have insisted that gun ownership is not the issue; it’s gun usership. Last night, as I lay awake, it struck me that neither gun ownership nor gun control may be the issue. Perhaps the real issue is the underlying factor that motivates both sides: fear.
After some thought I had to admit my reasons for being against gun ownership were also motivated by fear. I have never heard of a case of crime thwarted by a gun owned by a private citizen in my neck of the woods. I have however, met far too many grieving people whose loved ones used a gun on themselves in a fit of despair or self-loathing. They had no chance to change their minds and call an ambulance. (When I was going through the hell of depression I could easily have been one of them if my husband had kept guns.)
I know regretful families, in agony, now raising children who shot their little sisters or favourite cousins while playing with a temporarily unguarded firearm. A friend’s son once shot our boy at point blank range in the chest with a beebee gun while the rest of us chatted over dessert inside. (He thought it wasn’t loaded.) It caught a rib, and I thank God with all my heart that it wasn’t a more powerful weapon.
We also have a family member who was accosted in her bedroom by an intruder who had already found her handgun. It did not turn out well for her.
My rejection of guns designed to kill people (and not just for hunting purposes where people actually depend on wild game) is based on experience, but it is indeed, based on fear.
When I was a kid I knew it was dangerous to get between Grandpa and the late news on TV (and not because he had a gun). In fact he had been an unarmed security guard for a meat packing plant for 25 years. I never realized until he was suffering from dementia that he spent every one of those 25 years in fear. Grandma had promised not to put him in “the home” but when he started sleeping with knives under the pillow and bats under the bed she had no choice. Sometimes in his confusion he mistook her for a burglar. Nothing is more dangerous than a cornered, confused, fearful person with a weapon.
The news Grandpa watched was usually the same news he had seen at six o’clock, but nothing interrupted his late night news. I think it made him feel more in control somehow to keep on top of what was happening outside his locked doors. The difference between then and now is that the news then was mostly local news and included reports of milk chute coin thefts and fender benders. Now the news plays all day and night and includes detailed footage of horrendous crime from around the world and can seem as threatening as if blood was flowing in our own neighbourhoods. The fear ante has gone up.
Then there are all the talking heads, prophesying fiasco and speculating ”unsubstantiated reports.” Their amplifiers, the social media, can spread fear, rumour and conspiracy theories that go around as rapidly as winter cold germs in a kindergarten.
But what does fear feed on? Well, bad guys, of course, but I wonder if, deep down, one of our greatest fears is that other people will treat us the way we have treated them. I wonder if the secret hates we harbour in our hearts, or the unspoken guilt over the innocents killed by “collateral damage,” or the third world labourers we have exploited to maintain “our way of life”, or even the people we have cut off in traffic or sold shoddy goods to, give fear something to grow on. I wonder of the god we created in our own image, the vengeful and punishing god-helps-those-who-help-themselves god, is unreliable, if our distrust of ourselves and disappointment in the many fathers who left this generation to fend for themselves, is projected onto him as well. (The statement, “God helps those who help themselves is not in the Bible; in fact it teaches quite the opposite.)
One person told me recently that although he thinks children should be taught the Bible in school, and all teachers (whether they disdain faith in God or not) should be required to lead prayers to him anyway (as if the kids won’t pick up that attitude), “when all else fails” he has a gun and knows how to use it -and he intends to teach his kids too. I’ve got to wonder if making preparation for the failure of his god to meet his needs speaks more loudly than all the prayers in school ever will and he is teaching his children more about fear than faith.
Perhaps it is too late to turn our swords into plowshares. Perhaps the only thing that will deter fearful people with weapons is more fearful people aiming equally powerful weapons back at them. Perhaps there is no way out of this stand-off.
But perhaps, this is what this season is all about. Perhaps the message that the angels gave the terrified shepherds is what we need to hear most.
“Fear not! For I bring you news of great joy. A Saviour has been born –for you.”