I have written this piece several times now. In the first draft, I wrote from the point of view of being a person of faith — specifically, a Christian. It revolved around what I see as dissonance in one who follows Christ owning a firearm for protection. I explored the deep tension in following the Prince of Peace whose radically non-violent, enemy-loving, other-cheek-turning love seems deeply inconsistent with the Christian who owns a gun and is ready to kill another child of God if they feel threatened.
The second draft I wrote from a Black Lives Matter paradigm, attempting to frame our nation's deep struggle with gun violence and our ineptitude to do much about it through the under explored racial aspect of a gun industry that disproportionately effects black lives. In the U.S., black lives make up only 13 percent of the population yet account for 55 percent of gun homicide victims. Research is clear that in states with greater gun control laws, the number of deaths by gun violence is lower. Yet for various reasons, particularly a very strong gun lobby, legislative leaders seem reluctant to act. The inaction of state and federal lawmakers (bodies that are primarily white) coupled with the influence of the NRA (also mostly white) around this issue, the burden of which is borne by black communities, seems very much like a Black Lives Matter conversation.
I have been sitting on this piece for weeks, encountering a writer's block in a way that I have rarely if ever experienced. It became so frustrating that I ended up speaking with my spiritual director about it. As she and I were talking, I had what I can only describe as a vision: I saw myself sitting at a large wooden desk, writing. On that desk was a physical block that stretched to each end of the room and up to the ceiling. This block was translucent, and light shined through it. In the vision I found myself standing up and tapping on the block, and suddenly falling through it to the world on the other side. I saw a family walking. I began to walk around as well. I was aware that the place wasn't perfect — it wasn't heaven, but it was a cleaner, safer, and more peaceful world. I kept walking and soon, after turning around a corner, I looked up at a billboard that caught my eyes. On it were the words “Gun-Free World.”
I rarely share dreams or things like this with others. But a part of what I got out of it was that this is not just an issue for the Christian or the religious world. Nor is this just for black folks in the world to tackle. This is something that we each need to address. With nearly 34,000 gun-related deaths a year — that’s more than 93 gun deaths a day — we must do something. And what if we didn’t simply work for increased gun violence prevention — which might be the appropriate next step — but instead worked to move to a gun-free world?
I recently read this article by Karen Swallow Prior, about how we can and should move to a nuclear-free world. She wrote of how nuclear weapons are not only awfully destructive and terror inducing in ways that kill and traumatize multiple generations, but also of how clumsy of weapons they are.
She goes on to say:
“Most civilized people likely wish that atomic bomb had never been invented…While technology can’t be un-invented, it can be made obsolete — usually by better technology, but in some cases, by shifts in culturally shaped desires. After the iPod was invented, no one wanted a boom box. After the Reign of Terror, the guillotine lost its charm. In the midst of the Cold War, negotiation was desired infinitely more than war. The desire to be peacemakers transforms our very way of thinking, being, and acting.”
The same can, and I believe will, be true of gun violence. We can't go back in time and un-invent the gun, but we can phase it out with new technology and with a growing cultural shift around gun ownership and a desire for peace. Moving to a gun-free world is possible. It's not far at all. It's just a few steps away.
So how do we get there?
One thing that we can all do: if you have a gun in home, get rid of it. You don't need it — we don't need it. I’m not talking here about guns for hunting or recreational shooting, but rather the guns folks have “just in case.” There is freedom when you do not rely on a weapon for protection. Nothing can guarantee our safety or assurance that nothing bad will happen, but disarming helps us take one big step, one gun at a time, towards a new world. If security is an issue, as it is for many, investing in a security system is far more effective and safe than having a gun in a shoe box, under a pillow, or on a night stand.
And if/when you get rid of your gun, make sure to safely get rid of it in a way that takes it out of circulation. It can be melted down or transitioned to another useful tool, in the spirit of beating swords into plowshares.
And we can each offer critical refusals of guns with love and courage, and share that with others. This is voicing a critique of why you are choosing to opt out of what has become the norm in many of our communities. That critique might be based off the fact that a home becomes more dangerous with a gun in it, and your desire for communal disarmament. Or your critique might be a religious or ethical one. Whatever has moved your heart and mind, share that with others somehow. With upwards of 42 percent of homes in America having guns in them, we have to muster the courage to engage people in our lives around this issue.
It's hard to see it, but I truly believe we'll get there. This, I think, is one of the great gifts of our world religions. Each religion's prophets helped to paint a vision so that adherents might be able to live in a new way, and a new world, of peace, salvation, enlightenment, and holiness — even while still inhabiting this world. In my own tradition, Jesus came not only to save and give eternal life, but also to invite believers to take up residence in what he called the Kingdom of God. This was a profound calling — to move to a world where enemies were loved, where peace reigned, and where all were valued equally as children of God, even while still living in Rome.
This notion of moving to a gun-free world is not a new religion. In so many ways it's simply a reminder of the invitation(s) already extended. We too can move to a different world even while still living in this one. It's just over there. I believe we will get there.