Recently, I have ruminated on the pervasiveness of violence in the American culture and have wondered if the legislative approach is appropriate or effective. By ‘the legislative approach,’ I mean those efforts to enact legislation to curb violence — usually gun violence — by banning a type of gun, prohibiting where guns are allowed, or even taxing the sale of guns. Proponents engage in such tactics to limit as much as possible the accumulation of guns without setting up a potential Second Amendment verdict from the Supreme Court that may or may not go in their favor. Opponents, on the other hand, cling to the brief wording in the amendment as if it were the only rule on which to base one’s life — and the life of a nation. Herein lies the problem: the Second Amendment isn’t likely to go away, and no matter how it is interpreted by those on the bench, in Congress, or in the Oval Office, the “right to bear arms” will continue to cause a rift in society.
I find it strange that some gun advocates call owning a gun a God-given right. As a former seminary student, I have never found such evidence nor proof that guns existed in biblical times. Instead, I find a nonviolent Jesus and admonitions such as love one another and do not kill. It is therefore even more baffling that churches and certain other religious institutions would lend their weight behind gun-rights advocacy. What is the religious point to owning a gun or engaging in violence?
There also exists this notion that owning weapons provides protection. It seems to me, though, that such an argument is based on fantasy as presented in films and television. Yes, incidents have occurred in which people have scared off or otherwise defended their home from an intruder using a gun or some other weapon. However, would-be intruders have also been deterred due to dogs or an alarm or a homeowner brandishing a baseball bat. At the heart of this argument really rests the idea of an easy way out of harm. People think that brawn will triumph over brains or common sense. But a brain is always better than brawn.
An often-overlooked problem in discussions about violence and gun rights is how non-weapon violence fuels the violent episodes broadcast on the news and the desire to own a gun. Such violence includes policies that further the gap between rich and poor, institutional racism, and fear-based politics that create and sustain an us-versus-them mentality. When these types of violence are reduced and the needs of society’s citizens are met, crimes and violent acts will go down. As crimes and violence decrease, people will have less of a need to protect themselves.
Such is the problem with the legislative approach to limit guns and reduce violence: it does not address people’s perceived need for a weapon. In my mind, the better approach starts with focusing on the non-weapon violence that pervades society — which better treats the cause — instead of finding ways to cut gun sales — which just treats the symptom. Don’t get me wrong; I detest guns and wish that they were not such a nuisance. I long for the day that stories of violence (war included) do not fill the news cycles. But limiting access to guns and other weapons should involve changing people’s desire for such violent paraphernalia. Legislators have long focused on the question of how to keep guns out of people’s hands instead of the more important question of why they want guns in the first place. Answering the ‘why’ question will lead to policy changes, but not in the way that we might think. Rather, society will become more equal, just, and peaceful. Then, and only then, will guns become an artifact of the past.