By now, you know there has been another shooting at a school. This time at a community college in Oregon. It’s tragic. The questions will start to come fast and furious – they will all start with why? And there won’t be good rational answers that we want, that we say we need. In the end, it will still make no sense.
Then there will be calls for action to prevent something similar from happening again. Will the country erupt into another debate over guns?
We’ll try to do something without understanding why that something happens at all.
The problem, as I see it, is that we’ll attack the problem in our usual way – going primarily after the stuff that allows things like to happen – ie guns. And that’s not to say that the guns shouldn’t be a part of the conversation or the solution. The challenge is preventing the focus from being solely on guns.
One example of this are these wonderful signs:
I get the intent here – put up a sign for all the rational people who agree that a weapon is unnecessary at an institution of learning. We’ll all feel better about ourselves and think we’ve done something to combat the violence in the world.
The reality is that an area remains gun free until someone comes on campus with a gun. The sign didn’t do anything to stop that person. The sign is nothing more than shallow political spin. The focus of the sign and the intent was for people who had no intention of ever bringing a gun on campus and probably don’t even own a gun. They can feel good about themselves that they are following the rule and feel safe.
The problem is a sign like this tries to push reality in the world to the side. It says – we don’t want to deal with the fact that there is violence in the world. We want to feel safe and facing violence head on doesn’t feel safe. So we’d rather ignore reality. That may sound harsh. But the reality of violence in the world isn’t pleasant and isn’t something to be brushed aside in an “I close my eyes, so I can’t see it, so it doesn’t exist” fashion.
This reminds me in a way of this Sunday’s Gospel reading. It’s about the Pharisees testing Jesus about divorce. On the surface, the Scripture passage sounds like bad-ass Jesus slamming the book at anyone who is divorced. Yet, the context shows this is not the case. The Pharisees, being good religious lawyers, are testing Jesus, trying to trap him in asking him if it is legal for a man to divorce. They see the whole situation as a game – a word game – kind of like the sign above. Jesus gets pissed off at them, turns the tables on them and then adds something new – it’s called respect for people. Jesus knows that divorce is legal and a reality in his time and he rightly states that the law was written by Moses because of the people’s hard-heartedness. Crap’s going to happen. Relationships are going to be broken – that’s a part of humanity. It’s not ideal. Jesus is essentially saying that the law isn’t a word game – people’s lives are at stake here – vulnerable lives.
So often when something bad happens, we focus on the stuff involved. We want to ban stuff, as if that will solve the problem once and for all. We ignore the intangible – the person and what goes on inside of people who would cause them to carry out such violence. That’s more difficult and more painful. It’s easy to label stuff as bad. It’s much more difficult to label a person with a name, or ways of thinking, or cultural attributes, or other contributors that stem from people because we might just fall into these categories ourselves when we dig down deep enough. Wouldn’t want that to happen, now would we? Stuff can’t talk back. Stuff is inhuman and can be easily labeled as evil.
Another law will not prevent another shooting from happening. Banning all guns will not prevent violence from happening again either. Yes, I know that Britain banned all guns and doesn’t have a gun problem. Britain isn’t the US. There is a different culture, different relationships, different level of trust between people and institutions. Picking up something that works there and assuming that it would work the same here is a recipe for disaster. Policies work because of the people under those policies and implementing those policies. Let me clarify – another law that just deals with stuff, won’t prevent more violence from happening.
I don’t pretend to know the answer. I know this much – focusing only on the guns is a mistake. It’s avoiding the painful reality that violence is a huge part of our American culture. Violence is glorified and seen as a legitimate solution to our problems here. Should guns be a part of the conversation – yup. But I certainly hope the conversation goes wider than that. Because even if we banned all guns and found a way to destroy every single gun on the planet, there would still be violence in this country. Can we talk about this? Can we actually address the violence in our culture in a way that might actually stem it? Or are we going to get caught up and be puppets in yet another political debate that politicians use to stir emotions, raise money, divide people and ultimately yield votes for their own empowerment without actually doing anything about the problem? I hope we choose a different path.