Gun Control, Now!

Volutin - "Gun deaths over time in the US and Australia." Image obtained via Wikimedia Commons.

    When I read about the Uvalde elementary school shooting on Tuesday, my first thought was, “why must a school be a warzone?” 

    I am sure many of you, liberals or conservatives, gun users or abhorrers, thought the same, well before the empty, shallow “thoughts and prayers” rushed to yours and all your fellow Americans’ minds. You, I am sure, were shocked, appalled, utterly horrified, thinking that elementary school-aged students, many not even a decade old, were brutally murdered by an eighteen-year-old possessing an AR-15.

    For some, shock evolved into anger - even bitterness - at Congress, Greg Abbott, and the NRA. For some, the shock grew to stunning, heartbreaking silence. The angry now scream such phrases as “policy and change” and “get rid of the filibuster.” The silent respond not to the calls of the angered, a reflection of the very American tendency of “politics over people” - gun rights over the lives of nineteen children.

    It is obvious today that I must address both of these factions. To those who remain silent: I must challenge your silence, emphasize the disastrousness of your political evils, and prove that your interpretation of the Second Amendment is flawed. To those who act with bitterness or hatred: I must persuade you to refine - but not hamper - your activism, show you the successful method of love and understanding, and inspire you to transform your anger into consistent, unyielding action.

Message to the Silent

    To the silent: your silence is perhaps the most pervasive, pathogenic facet of America’s reaction to this most execrable horror.

    I speak to you, Greg Abbott: you condemned the murderer, acknowledged the tragedy, and chose not to attend in-person the NRA convention - I commend you for that. Yet, when a fellow Texan confronted you over the gun rights legislation you have helped to perpetrate - which led directly to the deaths of nineteen elementary school students - you remained silent. You emphasized that mental health led to the shooting - even though people with serious mental illnesses commit less than 10% of homicides in the United States; even though the shooter had no history of mental health issues - while remaining silent on the weapon that did the shooting.

    I speak to you, my brothers and sisters who accord themselves to the National Rifle Association: in your advocacy for gun rights, you have forgotten the natural supremacy of human rights; instead of honoring the natural rights of the people, you have held bullet over being, firearm over flesh, handgun over human.

    And I speak to you, my friends and siblings who support an unregulated system of weapons. You support the weapon that killed twenty-one people at Robb Elementary. You support the weapon that killed seventeen people at Stoneman Douglas High School. You support the weapon that killed twenty-six people at Sandy Hook. You support the weapon that killed nine people, ten people, and nineteen people in hatred-inspired mass shootings throughout the country. You have told America that “guns do not kill people - people do” while rejecting the assertion that guns give people the vehicle - the most effective vehicle - to kill people. I tell you, my brothers and sisters, that America is too strong and prosperous a country to be crippling under the weapons of its own citizens; America is too rich and developed a country for our children to walk into school fearing that they will never walk out, or for our fellow Americans to walk in a store - like in Buffalo - or go to church - like in Charleston - without fearing that a murderer will keep them from buying their groceries or praying to their god.

    I tell you that your emphasis on gun rights over human rights violates the grounds on which we base our Constitution and our Declaration of Independence. In John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government and in our Declaration of Independence, “life” is the most important natural right - if liberty, property, or the pursuit of happiness hampers the existence of life, each should forgo itself for life. If your liberty to possess weapons of war kills nineteen children in a school shooting and ten black shoppers in a racist shooting, you should forgo that liberty to bear it.

    I tell you also, my friends, that your interpretation of the Second Amendment is dangerous. The Second Amendment states, word-for-word, “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.” The NRA, Greg Abbott, and gun rights activists seem to forget the words well regulated. Responsible gun control measures aim to regulate guns, not ban them; irresponsible gun rights measures are unconstitutional and deadly, based on a perniciously flawed interpretation of the Constitution.    

    I plead with you, my fellow Americans: reconsider and sympathize with the murdered - the only way to sympathize with them is to act to prevent what happened to them from happening in the future. Your “thoughts and prayers” attempt to stop the bullets of injustice with a sheet of paper; you must use boulders - the boulders of change, the boulders of love and justice for the victims of our repetitious mass shootings - to stop them.

Message to the Angry

    My message to you, the angry and the bitter, is simple: continue to work - without respite, compromise, or despair - with the faith that the suffering of our people will prosper change, rather than keep us in desperate stagnation; let your anger evolve into action, rather than bitterness; love your enemies, even the most passionate stalwarts of deadly gun rights; and let the candle of your sympathy continue to burn into every election that follows.

    The characteristic trait of American protest is reactionism: in the immediate aftermath of the moment - tragedy, evil, etc. - the people rise up, reach the streets, protest for a few weeks, only to gradually return to their homes, distant from the issue, silent until the next tragedy.

    It is obvious, however, that only sustained protest and advocacy effectively prosper change. The Montgomery Bus Boycotts were sustained for 381 days, for example. The widespread protests following the murder of George Floyd, which achieved more than any other 21st-century civil rights movement, lasted for several months. 

    To all of you who stand iron-fisted before the palace of justice: you must first pass through the entrance to enter; you must push, struggle, heave, day after day, month after month, year after year, unremittingly. You may grow exhausted, desperate, hopeless, ready to give up. But I tell you, my friends: you must not give up, you must not stop, you must not grow tired until America adopts gun control policy on par with the rest of the developed world. The children of this country rely on you to help save them.

    In our fight for effective and sensible gun control, let us not bite from the bread of bitterness or hatred. We must walk the good road and fight the good fight. 

    It is evident that 21st-century civil rights and human rights movements have consistently failed to embrace the successful messages of nonviolence, humility, and agape

Violent protests, though encompassing a minority of protests, draw the headlines and promote a damaging narrative to the movement; a violent protest gives the countermovement a weapon of political mass destruction - it can shout “lawlessness” and “self-serving radicalism,” shutting out all opportunity of positive change. When the dominant faction - the still Republican Senate of now, for example - is opposed to your view, you must seek to persuade them with love and understanding, not anger and vitriol. The simple means is to promote rigid nonviolence.

There must, too, be an unyielding adherence to humility. We must not shout - or even imply - our “superiority” to those who promote gun rights; we must not insult those who disagree with us; we must never raise our middle finger or say “hate” to even the most fervid NRA member or leader; we must never promote distrust, disrespect, or detestation at our conservative siblings. These are hard principles to follow, but they lead consistently to the most effective results. Great power to influence change requires a great emphasis on humility and unity.

We must highlight the importance of the Greek word and the biblical principle known as agape. Martin Luther King Jr. discussed this concept dozens of times in his many essays, including in Love, Law, and Civil Disobedience, when he said, “Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive, good will to all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return… it is the love of God operating in the human heart.” Agape is the Greek word for “brotherly love.” 

Holding to our hearts this philosophy, we love all our brothers, sisters, and siblings; we understand even our fiercest enemies, even those who seek to kill us, beleaguer us, or defame us; and we recognize the unity of the human spirit, the fact that all of us are related - our destinies are tied with all others’ destinies, and our freedoms and lives are connected to all others’ freedoms and lives. Only with love can we achieve gun control legislation: sympathy toward the victims of gun violence; understanding toward the filibustering Republicans and regressive conservatives; love toward all our siblings, even those who shout at you, beat you as you protest, or insult you as you speak. Agape will lead you from the dark valleys of insult and vitriol and to the golden hour atop the mountain of change - away from hatred and to love, change.

Embracing nonviolence, humility, and love will lead to gun control legislation. Embracing hatred, anger, and disrespect will lead to symbolic change, perhaps, but not to any solid foundation of gun control.

I say to you today, my friends: forget not your anger, your sadness, your sympathies. Bring your frustration with the filibuster, the stagnation of responsible gun control legislation, and the continuity of minority rule straight to the polls on November 8th of 2022, November 5th of 2024, and every first Tuesday after the first Monday of every election month until you can vote no longer.

Each time you travel to the polling place to consider the gun rights champion or the gun control stalwart, remember the faces of the children who were murdered by an unregulated firearm last Tuesday. Remember, too, the faces of our black siblings, organizers of food pantries in disadvantaged neighborhoods, soup kitchen volunteers and altruistic grocers, grandmothers and granddaughters, role models for all the members of this nation, who were murdered at the hands of a white supremacist possessing an AR-15 style rifle.

Bring to the polls the burden of human life. Vote not for the candidate who is proud of gun deaths; vote for the candidate who seeks to mitigate them.

Message to All Americans - and to All Policymakers

You will ask the gun control activists of this nation: “What do you want?” The policies I consider to be the most effective are the simplest to implement:

  • To achieve any of this, we must first end the filibuster. All it takes is a simple change in Senate rules: get rid of cloture or establish debate time limits.

  • Universal background checks for all weapons, from a handgun to an assault rifle; even existing gun owners must pass another background check to obtain another weapon.

  • Mental health evaluation requirement: no hopeful gun owner can obtain a weapon unless they pass a mental health evaluation (similar to the health evaluations for obtaining a driver’s license)

  • Requirement that every American firearm is registered with both the state and the federal government: only .27% of America’s civilian firearms are registered - most remain unregistered with any government, despite the fact that they are machines of war.

  • Yearly maintenance checks on every registered firearm (like an emissions test) to ensure that weapons are not illegally modified or altered.

    This list is a simple start, but it, too, does not fully address the epidemic of gun violence in this country. 

    It will begin a long path to the perfect dichotomy: the promised land of gun control; a land that no longer sits silent after gun rights resulted in murder; a land that no longer shouts “it is my Second Amendment right!” based upon one sentence thereof, rather than the entire amendment; a land that no longer disregards the role of weapons as a vehicle for murder, even if people themselves were responsible for the murder. 

    I can see the day, perhaps soon, perhaps distant, where gun control and gun rights coalesce into a brighter day devoid of rampant gun violence. I can see the day when every student, every shopper, every churchgoer can walk into their school, their grocery store, and their church without the worry that they will not walk out. I can see the day when all of the children of this world can enter their school with excitement, without fear, with a passion for learning, and without the interposition of lockdown. I can see the day, my friends, when even the NRA, with its vicious defense of the weapons of murder, will transform into the gun safety organization it once was. I can see the day, finally, that this country will grow to the majestic heights of safety and nonviolence - no longer soaking with the blood of the victims of murder and suicide.

    Gun control is a requirement for us to achieve that day. Without it, we will continue driving this deadly ship, sinking into the ocean of tragedy in Uvalde, Buffalo, and the hundreds of beleaguered communities that will follow.