If We Can't Ban Guns, We Need to Love One Another
The last several months have offered the casual observer tragic evidence of the absurdity, cruelty and insanity of America’s gun culture. In November, a woman went to the door of a Michigan home seeking help after a car accident; instead of opening the door, the homeowner opened fire with a shotgun, killing the woman on the other side of his locked door. In January a man shot another man to death in a Florida movie theater because he was texting during the previews. On Feb. 23, a Michigan man shot himself in the head to demonstrate to his girlfriend that his guns were safe. (Missed that one? Read the story here). On Feb. 15, an Arkansas man shot and killed a 15-year-old girl who had vandalized his son’s car as revenge for a prank by the son. And although the killing happened 16 months ago, this month we watched the mistrial of Michael Dunn on first-degree murder charges in the shooting of teenager Jordan Davis because his music was too loud.
Each of these deaths was avoidable by any number of alternative reactions. But in each of these cases a law-abiding person, including a retired police officer, was armed. The gun lobby offers the constant refrain that such people are not a threat to public safety. That’s true until they shoot someone. Then they are no longer law-abiding citizens. It is axiomatic — the more guns we have the more shootings we will have.
Let’s look at how easily each of these tragedies could have had a peaceful ending. The homeowner who shot the woman could have called the police and waited for officers to arrive to assist the distressed woman. After all, she was outside, not inside his house. The shooting in the theater is even more disturbing in terms of how easily it could have been avoided. The first thing I noticed when watching the video of the shooting was how absolutely empty the theater was. In fact, the shooter left his seat at one point to complain to management about the texting patron. If only he and his wife had both gotten up and moved to one of the 100 or so empty seats. After all, it was only the previews! The man who fatally shot himself in the head had been drinking most of the day. Enough said. The Arkansas father could have run outside not with his gun but with a cellphone camera to record the license plate and description of the fleeing vehicle. Finally, Dunn could have simply moved his car to another parking spot in the gas station.
If only each of these shooters had taken a moment to reflect before he pulled the trigger. For whatever perceived insult, slight or disrespect they felt, with just a small amount of grace, each of these lives could have been saved. But the initial thought was always to shoot first and reflect later. The retired police officer had never shot anyone during his career. But why he felt it necessary to carry a gun into a movie theater I’ll never understand. The National Rifle Association said that if someone besides shooter James Holmes had had a gun at the theater in Aurora, Colo., in 2012, lives there could have been saved. But the Florida shooting only puts the lie to that logic. The reality is that poor decisions under stress are as likely as good decisions, even from trained professionals like retired police officers. Unfortunately, in the wake of these shootings the nation is not coming together to pass new anti-gun violence legislation. Ironically, we find ourselves facing a dramatic rise in applications for concealed-carry permits. This month, a federal appeals court overturned California laws allowing counties to impose restrictions on concealed-carry permits.
I don’t think that laws are the best route to reducing gun violence. Guns are legal and are likely to be so for the foreseeable future in this country. Our hope lies in a culture that comes to understand that the spiritual risk and moral responsibility of using a gun far outweigh the false sense of security gun users gain for themselves. It is simply not a loving act that builds community for some to carry a gun for personal safety at mortal risk to us all.
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