It’s a violent world…


“First, let me ask you a question… What do you think about gun control?”
This is how a dear friend began a new part of our recent three hour conversation. I found her asking ironic, because just that day, I decided that I was due for a blogging date, and felt I had something to write. Strangely, I have no readily formed argument for or against guns. I am reminded of a scene in Jane Eyre’s Mansfield Park, where Edmund asks Fanny for her opinion on something and she answers, “I do not have a ready opinion on it.” He responds teasingly, “Oh Fanny, I suspect you are almost entirely composed of ready opinions not shared!” (Please forgive any misquotes, as I am writing from memory).

So, what do I think about gun control? I am conscious that my pacifist leanings should lend a readily-available response, but I don’t believe guns are inherently wrong. I think they are misused, and I struggle to imagine a peaceful purpose for owning or firing one. As a pacifist, I believe that there is always a potentially appropriate non-violent response to a situation. But, I also believe that while I am entitled to this belief, but I am not entitled to compel others to agree or act upon that belief. Guns are objects that in themselves call forth visceral responses of fear and respect. People love and want them in part because they offer a sense of power and control that few other weapons so readily bestow. But they are weapons. Guns will always be weapons… intended to harm, whether they are aimed at an inanimate target, dinner, or a perceived threat. When used well, a gun is a tool for the destruction of its shooter’s target.

I married a Marine. Yes. Irony upon irony, I am the pacifist-leaning wife or a Marine. Go ahead, you can laugh. Anyway – that’s not my point here.

Recently, as a break (read ‘escape’) from the heaviness of my work, I took a drive. During that drive, I was surprised by my visceral reaction to a news story regarding a teenager shooting three other teens outside of a school in Pittsburgh. My visceral response intrigued me. I am a bit of a news junkie, and began to wonder about why this particular story elicited the response it did from me. I am mindful of the sheer number of news stories involving gun violence I have seen or heard recently. Here’s a smattering of the stories that have recently touched my eyes/ears:
Teens shot near Pittsburgh school
Prep School gun on campus
LA Airport Shooting
NV Middle School Shooting
In-school suicide

Perhaps my response is exacerbated by my husband’s recent narrative regarding a gunshot in a neighborhood. By his report, others present apparently had been so desensitized to the sound of gun-shots that they just continued whatever they were doing. I find that sad… and perplexing.

I recognize that our 24-hour news cycle contributes to the availability and dissemination of stories of violence. But… wow.

We live in a violent and broken world.

Once we get a taste of the immediate sense of power holding a gun gives us, it becomes difficult to remember the ways we previously handled conflict, or met our needs.

I work with mentally ill individuals. I believe that in some cases, mental illness leads someone to do harm either to themselves or others. I am aware that many are calling for background checks that include searches for mental health treatment and diagnoses. There are other things that influence and or drive people’s choices to perpetrate violence with guns; things like a culture of violence, feelings of powerlessness, and previous victimizations.  In this most recent story, it is easy to imagine where the alleged shooter learned the possibility of gun violence as a solution to his reported earlier conflict with the victims,  but where could he have learned other, less violent possible responses? Who in his life could have empowered him to use his mind, his words, and any other available non-violent resources to deal with his situation? Are there voices, influential people in his life that could have helped him to think through other possible responses? Where were those resources? Did they try? Why did it not work in his particular case? Is it just too easy for someone to yield to and accept the sense of power that holding a firearm gives?

Non-violent responses often take more time, and more mental work on the front-end. They can leave us vulnerable, and I am unsure whether some people will ever believe the payoff vulnerability offers is worth the cost. It is my opinion that our larger cultural concept of vulnerability needs adjusting. Without vulnerability, intimacy does not exist. Depression rates are increasing, and with all of our technical connectedness and social networks, many people feel more fragmented in their relationships than in the past. Brene Brown, PhD teaches that those who do vulnerability well struggle less with shame, and have more fulfilling relationships than those who spend more of their energy defending against vulnerability. Life and liberty are at stake here, but not just life and liberty – happiness, fulfillment, a sense of being a whole person… being loveable – warts and all.

As a parent, I am aware that I am raising my children in a violent world. I am disturbed by this, and saddened. I wish it were different. But currently, it isn’t. There is no safe place. My child could be injured at the park, traumatized in the grocery store, or movie theater, or school. I do my best due diligence not to wantonly send them into potential danger. But as a parent, I also must gauge the appropriate level of distance and control to maintain. I do not wish to be a helicopter mom. And I do not want to worry myself into an inability to experience revel in whimsy with my child(ren). Because there is really no safe place, I wish to be a safe person, and relationally offer a safe space for my child(ren) to become comfortable enough with vulnerability to not spend their lives defending against it.