A Constitutional Right to Shoot Oneself?

Philadelphiaspeaks.com
Philadelphiaspeaks.com

My friend Rob has been talking about his tough neighborhood 50 years ago in Philadelphia, where fistfights, dares, taunts, and threats were all too common. Still, he says, “we all walked away.”

What he means is that there were no guns–boys and young men fought, they acted ugly to each other, but they did not kill each other.

No guns. What a concept! Think how different today’s Baltimore, or D.C., or Philadephia or New York or Detroit would be.

That would be my ideal world. No guns on the streets except for police when absolutely needed to stop crime. Indeed no guns in the forests or woodlands either (I am a vegetarian and don’t want animals killed for our food) except for those legally empowered to protect us from marauding, dangerous wild animals (similar to police protecting us from marauding, dangerous human animals).

Still, I know that is unrealistic, especially in the United States.

associatesinfamilymedicine.com
associatesinfamilymedicine.com

Still, something must be done. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in much of the nation today, deaths from gunshots now outnumber deaths from traffic accidents, and overall a person in the United States is as likely to die from gunshot as from auto accidents. This is a new situation, an indicator of two things:

  • how much has been done over the past several decades to make cars, highways, and driving safer (as well as improved medical treatment)
  • and how little has been done to make guns safer to use and to restrict their use by people not properly equipped to do so.

Gun-related deaths did decline in the 1990s but the numbers have since remained steady. And homicides by gunshot have declined, while suicides committed with guns have risen.

Thus, it feels to me that at least some of the rhetoric about Second Amendment rights is saying that people have a constitutional right to kill themselves with guns. And I suppose I agree (although I do not know if the Supreme Court agrees).

tenthamendmentcenter.com
tenthamendmentcenter.com

However, I am not sure I agree that it is an unlimited right. Can we not better protect people in the midst of mental health crises from killing themselves (as well as others)? Is that not a matter of protecting the public health (especially when unstable people have access to guns in order to kill others)?

Three things can be done.

  • First, we can make guns safer by mandating various safety locks and mechanisms so people (including children) cannot just pick up a gun and shoot.
  • Second, we can insist on background checks on all gun buyers and every purchase. No exceptions.
  • Third, Congress must remove the ban on many types of federal gun research–so we can be smarter about how to prevent gun deaths without denying the right of people to own guns. Much of the decrease in automobile-related deaths is traceable to extensive federal research, often undertaken in cooperation with the auto industry. The NRA and the gun industry could learn from this. Fewer gun deaths would make the cause of gun ownership less toxic in our culture.

There is another set of factors to consider here. Like much else in our nation, gun-related deaths reveal underlying racial and class divisions. For example, Black Americans are significantly more likely to be victims of homicide even though only 1 in 5 Black households has guns. In contrast, more than 2 in 5 Americans who call themselves white have guns in their households, but gun violence is more likely there to be from suicide.  Both sets of numbers make changing some of the rules imperative.

slideshare.net
slideshare.net

It feels to me that a culture of violence is growing our nation–verbal violence in our politics, gun violence on our streets, visual violence in the world of video games and even the traditional and social media. Of course, ISIS and the Taliban and other violently radical groups cause great anxiety–especially in light of San Bernardino–and many people seem to be trying to ratchet it higher.

The bottom line is that violence in response to violence does not increase safety or peace ultimately. Instead, it simply multiplies the overall level of violence. Hatred begets hatred, violence begets violence.

My friend Rob’s old Philadelphia neighborhood sounds almost idyllic–boys being boys, men or about-to-be men being men, contesting for territory and badges of masculinity but staying alive to shoot hoops or chase girls or just hang out and talk big.

It seems hard to believe that old days may have been less violent, and yet in some ways and places that may be true. We are often blinded by thinking that technological progress is the same as moral progress (though improved gun technology could lower the odds for gun deaths), but it ain’t necessarily so.

Making Peace More Possible?

Violence is on my mind these days.

I doubt the world is any more violent now than in former times, but somehow it feels ever more close and intimate–probably because the  means of sharing it  is so immediate and in-your-face.

gun violence
sciencenutshell.com

I speak here of more than what we usually identify as physical violence against others–war, bombing, shootings, arson, vandalism, assault, murder, rape–by including other forms of violence against the bodies of others–hunger, malnutrition, lack of medical care, homelessness and lack of basic body protections.

police violence
flockforward.com

I mean social violence, too, including ugly words spoken to and about others, individually and in groupings–exclusion and threats to exclude people from groups based on irrelevant characteristics such as skin color, gender and gender expression, religion, sexual orientation, nationality and ethnicity, age–in person and on social media, hateful words spoken in hushed tones behind the back of the despised, the silences when those who hear the ugliness fail to speak up to offer correction or objection, as well as the violence that arises when two people, or a family or group of close friends, erupt in ugly words, and sometimes strike out physically, aimed at each other.

domestic violence 1
begun.case.edu

There also is psychic and emotional violence which can sometimes be cold and wordless, holding another or others hostage through spoken and unspoken threats of bodily harm, or eternal damnation or disgrace, if the object person even thinks what has been defined as wrong or evil or just dares to exist.

There is so much violence. And that is undoubtedly an incomplete list.

riots violence
canvas.brown.edu

Where there is violence there will be no peace. It has been said many times that peace is not the mere absence of violence. But such absence is the ground on which peace may grow.

Why do we so often resort to violence when doing so merely increases, or escalates, the level of violence? Is violence ever a good response to violence?

Few people doubt that Hitler and the Nazis could have been stopped without violence. Is that enough to justify its use in every day life, in political discourse in the land of the free and home of the brave, as the template for so much that passes for international relations?

domestic violence
calgarysun.com

I have no good answers. All I know to do in this moment of my life is to begin to observe my own violence, and the violence I experience around me, and the violence I learn about in larger social realms.

I want to understand more fully the role of violence in my life and in the lives of those around me, and in my community, state, nation and world. Naming it is the beginning, cataloging it, labeling it, help, too.

Perhaps what I am proposing is a violence inventory or index, admittedly not a pleasant thought and task, but still I think necessary if we want, as I do, a more peaceful, loving world. (you can read a UN report on violence here)

violence against children poverty
unicef.org

Will you join me? Will you commit with me to looking clearly at the violence in our lives, describing it and our feelings, owning the times when we are the agents of violence or at least complicit in it, as well as the ways and times we see others acting as purveyors of violence–in the hope we can change ourselves, and contribute to wider change, making peace more possible?

On this Solstice, when the dark lasts longest in the 24 hours, let us go deep into ourselves and into our world to hold up, examine, and discard and disown some bit of violence.

 

 

 

 

Guns Kill People, People Kill Gun Control

The latest ugliness of assault and murder against a group of people–the attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino CA–results in more calls for reasonable gun control by many.

woodtv.com
woodtv.com

But here’s the deal. No one in the Republican leadership–Congress or the Presidential candidates–is saying anything about control. They express sympathy for the community, and those who grieve the loss of loved ones, but not a word about doing something to stem the tide.

And you know what is really outrageous? Congress has not even given terror-fighting agencies the authority to deny guns to those on the nation’s no-fly list. What’s more, they have refused for decades to put any funding into research on gun violence.

That’s the power of the gun lobby, particularly the NRA (National Rifle Association). They claim to represent gun owners and hunters. I have known a lot of hunters in my lifetime, and I feel certain that most of them would agree that denying guns to people our government, for security reasons, doesn’t let fly around the country is a reasonable measure. And I believe most of them would think that research into ways to deal with, and respond to, gun violence is a reasonable measure.

NRABut the NRA and others have terrorized the GOP, and some Democrats, into thinking that any departure from gun lobby orthodoxy is political suicide. I want to blame the NRA because they bear great responsibility.

But the ones I really blame are the spineless legislators and leaders who refuse to act, again and again, in the face of rising violence through the ready availability of hand guns and assault rifles. There are so many different types of people who commit these horrific acts–mentally unstable, angry religious extremists, sullen former spouses and employees, abortion haters–but they all have one thing in common.They can easily get their hands on guns. Guns are the common denominator. In the case of San Bernardino, these included assault weapons.

Why can anyone other than police and soldiers get access to assault rifles? Why is everyone who wants to buy a gun not subject to a background check?  Such checks will not prevent law-abiding people from getting guns, but they can help make sure others do not.

I don’t like to call people names, and certainly not whole groups of people. So I won’t use a label on these leaders who fail to lead, but I will name their behavior: cowardice.

freedomoutpost.com
freedomoutpost.com

I don’t know how many of them actually own guns, or use them, but what I see are people who are supposed to be out front leading who are, instead, standing behind cover provided by the political guns of the NRA.

In my book, that’s cowardice.

How many more of these horrific situations–how many more school children, college students, public employees (including police of course), people with developmental disabilities (as in San Bernardino), ordinary citizens, mothers and fathers, will we have to lose before they find their spines?

I am praying that one of them, just one, breaks ranks and moves from cowardice into bravery–maybe even acting with courage and conviction like the police officers and emergency personnel, and many civilians who reach out to help, who have to respond when yet another gun-toting killer strikes.

That’s called leadership.