The Common Good

The Courage to Reject our Culture of Violence

Much has been said, since the massacre at Newtown, Conn., about our American culture of violence. It is no exaggeration. In 2012, the United States had three mass shootings within six months. According to a study published in the Washington Post, our nation’s gun murder rate is roughly 20 times the average of all other developed countries.

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Participants with One Million Moms for Gun Control march across the Brooklyn Bridge on January 21. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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We should not be surprised. Not only have we created a culture of violence, we glorify violence in our movies, television shows, and video games. Even in pro sports, players increasingly settle disagreements on the court or field with physical altercations, reinforced by the cheers of raved fans.  

The huge surge in gun sales, after President Barack Obama announced his intent to have Vice President Joe Biden make recommendations to curb gun violence, attests to the misguided fears of many Americans. 

We have a paranoid citizenry who, like Sen. Rand Paul (R – Ky.), mistakenly falls into the delusion that arming more people with guns is the answer.  

So here America is, coping with this assault on our sensibility, at a time during the year when we celebrate the teaching of the great civil rights leader the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was King who successfully applied the force of nonviolent resistance to end segregation in America, and it is his voice we must listen to in this time of increasing violence in our culture.  

In his acceptance speech for the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of “the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.” He then went on to say, that “Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. . . . Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation.”

In his response to the assassination of his rival, Malcolm X, King correctly stated that violence “only leads to new and more complex social problems.”

On this backdrop of wisdom we have the blatantly false generalization spoken by Wayne LaPierre, the Vice President of the National Rifle Association, that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” In fact, there are countless times when counselors, family members, and police have disarmed criminals and ended confrontations with words or appeals from friends and loved ones. In one well-publicized case, a woman in Atlanta named Ashley Smith, who was taken hostage, calmed her captor by reading to him from Pastor Rick Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life

David Keene, the current NRA President, rejects a ban on military style assault rifles and on setting limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines. He even rejects universal registration and background checks on individuals who desire to purchase a gun. His extremist position runs counter to a CBS/New York Times poll which found that 85 percent of households with an NRA member are in favor of universal background checks. 

It is time for both David Keene and Wayne LaPierre to resign their leadership positions in the NRA. Responsible gun owners deserve more representative and informed spokespersons.

With regard to ammunition magazines, it is Sen. Patrick Leahy (D – Vt.) whose words carry the day. His home state of Vermont, which supports gun rights, sets limits to six rounds for those hunting deer with semiautomatic rifles. In the words of Sen. Leahy, "Are we really, as a nation, saying we're going to be more protective of the deer than we are of our children? I think not."

Today we have a president who recognizes that he stands on the shoulders of Martin Luther King, Jr. Thank God he has common sense and the courage to stand up to the NRA leadership. But if we, the people, are to be the beacon of light President Obama calls us collectively to be, we must have the courage to reject our culture of violence.

George Wolfe is the Coordinator of Outreach Programs for Ball State University’s Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, is a trained mediator, and is the author of The Spiritual Power of Nonviolence: Interfaith Understanding for a Future Without War.

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