Guns

Antoinette Tuff: Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Peace illustration, jdwfoto / Shutterstock.com
Peace illustration, jdwfoto / Shutterstock.com

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons [and daughters] of God.” Matthew 5:9

The news cycle, the blogosphere, and social justice advocates often focus upon crisis, tragedy, and pain. Moments of freedom, of healing and hope are often drowned out by the cacophonous sounds of self-interest, fear and danger. Today I’d like to silence that cacophony and trumpet loudly about the brave and humble Antoinette Tuff, a peacemaker filled with the Spirit of God, who faced a gunman with her arsenal of love and compassion and saved a school full of children.

Antoinette Tuff’s faith and courage changed the outcome of history on Tuesday, Aug. 20. It is a day that will not live in infamy. Unlike other days that started on a similar path to violence, families did not grieve the loss of their children to the would-be mass gunman who walked into an elementary school with almost 500 rounds of ammunition. Police were scrambled to the scene, but did not have to evacuate classrooms of frightened children watching for a shooter. In fact, despite the heavily armed suspect and a heavily armed law enforcement response, not one person lost their life.

The Color of Justice

Scales of Justice,  tlegend / Shutterstock.com
Scales of Justice, tlegend / Shutterstock.com

Oddly, I wasn't there the night George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. I wasn't in the jury box either. Some commentators, like Ezra Klein and Ta-Nahesi Coates, are saying the not guilty verdict was appropriate according to Florida's "stand your ground" law. (Note that they are not saying that the Florida law is appropriate; Klein uses the word outrageous).

If this verdict was appropriate, though, what about verdicts in cases that were similar except for the color of the defendant? What happened to the "stand your ground" law when the jury reached its verdict against Marissa Alexander — an African American woman from Jacksonville, Fla.?

And anyway, why should fear of attack justify shooting to kill? It didn't in the case of  John White — an African American man from Long Island, N.Y. — who shot a (white) teenager in 2006 (accidentally, he says, when the boy was trying to grab his gun).

John White, it appears, had good reason to fear the boys who showed up on his doorstep that night. That's probably why the governor commuted his sentence after he had served five months. And White no doubt should have served some time, according to New York law — his gun was unregistered, and if he hadn't been holding it when he went to the door, a scuffle probably wouldn't have escalated into manslaughter.

But, some say, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Is this true?

Love One Another (some restrictions apply)

Designed by Ken Davis

NOTHING MOVES ME more than a heartfelt tweet. Seriously. Don’t think I’m making fun here. I understand that the Twitter universe (“Twitterverse”? “World o’ Twits”?) is the current preferred method for connecting with the most people in the shortest amount of time. It’s certainly preferable to my generation’s method of communicating, which was to spray-paint the sides of barns.

But if the inspirational tweet is from a member of Congress—taking time away from doing the nation’s business in the most powerful city in the world, depending on where the Koch brothers are living at the time—I can get really choked up.

“My thoughts and prayers are with those in Oklahoma affected by the tragic tornado outbreak.”

Oozing with empathy and originality, this tweet was sent out by Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn a few hours after the extreme weather event in May that ravaged the town of Moore. What the tweet did not include—and his office quickly added, lest survivors searching through the rubble for loved ones got the wrong impression—was that the senator would not support federal relief funding unless it was offset elsewhere. If it’s not in the budget, according to Coburn’s long-standing philosophy, it’s not happening.

But let’s be fair: With a tweet you only get 140 characters, so in addition to the words “thoughts” and “prayers,” there’s barely enough room left over to express the important concepts of “freedom,” “liberty,” and “bootstraps,” three concepts people just love to think about when they’re crawling from under what used to be their house. Coburn’s point seems to be that when you’re covered with sheetrock, torn family photographs, and spray-painted sides of barns, the last thing you want is some government bureaucrat arriving with a meddlesome helping hand.

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"Only Fools Rush In ..."

Designed by Ken Davis

WITH SO MANY of our sacred institutions collapsing from within, it was a relief to hear that all charges have been dropped against an Elvis impersonator from Mississippi, thus sparing his worthy avocation from disrepute. Paul Kevin Curtis had been accused of sending poisoned letters to officials in Washington, D.C., but FBI officials soon came to their senses and realized that anyone who spends time impersonating a celebrity who’s definitely left the building probably couldn’t make a salad dressing with vinegar and oil, much less extract lethal chemicals from exotic plants.

Ricin was the poison in question, and seems to be the current compound of choice for disgruntled letter terrorists. Before that it was anthrax, an easy-to-produce material which, as it turns out, is what happens when you make salad dressing and get the ingredients wrong. A little too much balsamic, a couple nosy neighbors, and pretty soon the FBI wants to chat.

Fortunately, this man was absolved of all wrongdoing, guilty of nothing except the single act that sets him apart as a hallowed foundation of our society, the one institution that has consistently contributed to Americans’ self-esteem. Because as long as there are Elvis impersonators around, the rest of us will always feel happy and fulfilled. All of our important life decisions—some made in haste, others made in desperation, and each one now regretted—seem steadfast and well-considered, because they have kept us from going down the path of a celebrity impersonator.

Not to say they aren’t amusing—these men dressed like Liberace at a rodeo on the Fourth of July—and worthy of a moment’s nod of recognition. But then we turn and walk away, shuddering reflexively, happy that our lives of suffocating tedium are still better than a guy who regularly accuses people of being “nothing but a hound dog,” and then, in a display of unnecessary gratitude, chants “thangyou, thangyouverymush.”

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A Mother’s Day for Peace in our Cities

Image: Julia Ward Howe, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Image: Julia Ward Howe, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Julia Ward Howe, best known for writing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in 1862, began working to heal the wounds of the Civil War once the war ended. By 1870 Howe had become convinced that working for peace was just as important as her efforts working for equality as an abolitionist and suffragette. In that year she penned her "Mother's Day Proclamation," exhorting women to:

“Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by
irrelevant agencies.

Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking
with carnage, for caresses and applause.

Our sons shall not be
taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach
them of charity, mercy and patience.

We women of one country will be too tender of those of another
country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.

From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says "Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance
of justice.’"

In Guns We Trust

Sojourners' bumper sticker
Sojourners' bumper sticker

When the really hard stuff happens, when we witness the true face of evil, Americans have a predictable habit. Even as cameras feed the latest bubble-shattering violence into our family rooms, we start looking for someone or something — anything — other than the actual perpetrators to stone. We panic for a scapegoat.

We hunt tirelessly for the person (a parent, an educator, a cop) who didn't catch the warning signs, who failed to read a memo — anyone on whose shoulders we can cast our collective fear — then rush as many measures into place as possible, no matter the cost in treasure or freedoms, to regain an illusion of safety and impenetrability.

One iteration of that really hard stuff happened at Sandy Hook. The backstory is eerily familiar. A young man, left to stew in our culture's juices, fleshes out the nightmare in his broken soul, and deals out tragedy in living color as if the holy innocents of Newtown were mere pixels on a screen, points in a twisted "shooter." Now, just four months later, it's a swept-away moment of terror and sadness that everyone just wants to forget because it's unthinkable to think on it any longer.

Virginia Tech, Aurora, and Newtown each stopped the nation in its tracks but we eventually moved on, and before anyone might guess, well over 3,000 more have died by gun violence in America since December.

It Is Time to Honor the Spirit of the Republic

Bill of Rights, Cheryl Casey/ Shutterstock.com
Bill of Rights, Cheryl Casey/ Shutterstock.com

Meaning happens when the purposes of the writer come together with what the reader thinks is important. Since all aspects of any one thing cannot be perceived all at once, we focus our attention on this or that aspect of a thing depending upon what we want to achieve. This is why we can read a particular text many times and find new insights each time.

This is also why we cannot agree on what the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution means. The amendment reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Many of us who support restriction on the kind of guns and the size of ammunition magazines that private citizens can own focus attention on the clause, “a well regulated Militia.” On the other hand, many who do not support restrictions on the kinds of guns private citizens may own focus attention on the clause “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

Shooting Down Easter

Angel statue, Malgorzata Kistryn / Shutterstock.com
Angel statue, Malgorzata Kistryn / Shutterstock.com

The conversation yelling match around gun control is exhausting — both in terms of the ethical boundaries each side will breach to advance its cause, and the way our rhetoric has turned into an exercise in “crash-testing:” we always hit a wall in talking our good sense to the Dissenters, but are content to back up, add force, and try again. Because “One day, THEY will see the light. One day, THEY will become US”…

… crash!

The more gun violence we experience as a nation correlates to our panic in pursuit of the common good, however we define it. And get too many panicky people in a room – people who are certain they are right – and watch how skillfully they evade progress. I am a pastor in Chicago and I speak on behalf of all who serve in neighborhoods where violence has become the rule and not the exception: I am tired of you hitting the wall.

This course of action and righteous disrespect of Those-With-Their-Heads-You-Know-Where will not make us masters or better neighbors. It has made us dummies. And while we are arguing, our children are losing. In Chicago, and Baltimore, and Detroit, and Newtown, and in Washington. They are losing because we are competing to see who can make the wall topple over the other first. Because we are arguing over rights from the wrong perspective.

The Real Reason Americans Love Guns

THE DAY BEFORE President Obama's second inauguration (campaign code name: "Neener, neener, neener!"), Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell sent an email to constituents with a message somewhat lacking in a spirit of new beginnings: "The gun-grabbers in the Senate are about to launch an all-out assault on the Second Amendment. They're coming for your guns."

This is disturbing. I don't have any guns, but I'm looking for places to hide them. And without guns, how will I protect my family from the coming assault? Can I hold off federal agents by flinging small appliances at them? Those I've got. In fact, I just got a new hand mixer. It's black and sleek, like the helicopters that will soon be circling over our homes. (Helicopter tip: Make sure the rotor blades have completely stopped before licking off the icing.)

Under Obama's new proposals, I'll probably have to register my appliances, or at least submit to a background check before I buy another one. Although I've heard you can avoid that if you get them at private appliance shows.

This latest attention to gun control prompted National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre to take the stage and, looking directly into the eyes of the American people, vehemently deny that he is French. Additionally, he helpfully pointed out that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Or was it the other way around? To be honest I'm not sure what he said, because I got distracted by the wild look in his eyes, and the bits of saliva that gather in the corners of his mouth whenever he talks about guns. This guy really likes guns.

What I would ask Mr. "LaPierre" [giggle]—while keeping both hands out where he could see them—is this: How do you stop a good guy with a gun who's having a bad day? Or what if he's really depressed or angry at his boss for not allowing him to wear camouflage clothing to staff meetings?

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