We have a gun epidemic. In 2015, there were 338 mass shootings (defined as four or more people shot during a single incident), which equals almost one per day! In the first five days of 2016, we have already had one mass shooting (Houston, TX), along with 128 deaths and 286 injuries (8 of which were children and 27 of which were teenagers). You, and I, are more likely to be shot while at a theater, walking in a shopping mall, or attending a house of worship than dying in a car accident. Regardless of your views on gun control, the numbers, especially when compared to civilized societies throughout the world, indicate that America has a gun epidemic; and yet, politicians distract us with Islamophobia in the hopes of garnering votes, even though the real threat to America is my neighbor’s obsession with owning a machine of which the main purpose is to kill. Since 9/11, 3,380 Americans were killed by terrorists (2,990 on just one day). During that same time period, 406,496 Americans were killed due to an ideology that privileges gun ownership over and against community safety.
While I am grateful that President Obama is implementing an Executive Order designed to address the rising gun violence, reality suggests that a dent will barely be made. The purpose of the Executive Order is to make it more difficult for criminals to obtain firearms by clarifying and reinforcing laws on the books. Still, this is not some major step forward toward civilization. Even the NRA lobbyist dismissed the Executive Order stating, “This is it, really? This is what they’ve been hyping for how long? This is the proposal they’re spent seven years putting together? They’re not really doing anything.” Specifically, the Executive Order attempts to expand the number of gun buyers who would be subject to a criminal background check (as per existing law), hire more agents to process background checks, conduct more research on gun violence, have a better tracking system for lost guns, and encourage more domestic violence prosecutions.
Not surprisingly, these minor clarifications of existing law will soon be interpreted by opponents of sane gun restrictions as a tyrannical move to shred the Constitution, which enables the President to personally take away the basic freedom of real Americans. You are free here to interpret what exactly constitutes a real American. As I watch this political spectacle unfold, I am left wondering if our current gun epidemic is a product of what Malcom X once boldly proclaimed as the chickens coming home to roost. Referring to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, X connected domestic violence to the global violence we export. Considering the profitable violence exported, should we really be surprised when violence incarnates itself on our shores?
Martin Luther King Jr., another American prophet who believed that the inhabitants of this country were capable of establishing a “beloved community,” held its people responsible for the sins committed against humanity, both within our borders and abroad. During an April 4, 1967 sermon preached at Riverside Church in New York, King accused the U.S. of being the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Although he was specifically referring to the war in Vietnam, we must ask if this accusation remains valid today, specifically when we consider our gun exports.
As a nation, we claim to be a Christian nation following the Prince of Peace, and yet, our global actions consistently show that we have exported more terror than any other country in the world. Our global actions all too often places us in the camp of darkness. Most of the weapons used throughout the world are made in the United States. According to a study conducted by the Congressional Research Service, an arm of the Library of Congress, weapon sales by the United States tripled in 2011, driven by major arms sales to Persian Gulf allies. U.S. foreign arms sales jumped by almost $10 billion in 2014, or about 35 percent, even as the global weapons market remained flat. American weapons receipts rose to $36.2 billion in 2014 from $26.7 billion the year before. Russia, our next major competitor for the global market, captured only $10.2 billion in sales, compared with $10.3 billion in 2013. The United States continues to be a major exporter of lethal weapons, selling the mechanisms by which so many of the world’s marginalized die, proving that this country is indeed, as the Reverend King said, the greatest purveyor of violence.
Maybe the proliferation of guns on American streets is the symptom of a more disturbing problem, a historical attitude that devalues life. From the genocide of indigenous people, to the historical truth that black lives did not matter during slavery, nor do they matter today, to the unnoticed deaths of brown people on our southern borders, our nation was built upon, and continues to be maintained and sustained on a premise that devalues human life, specifically life that falls below the white ideal. Compare the authorities’ deadly approach to unarmed black and brown young men to how they approach armed white men declaring the overthrow of the U.S. Constitution at the Sagebrush Rebellion.
When we are allowed to devalue the life of one group of people, either domestically or those on foreign soil, we learn to devalue the lives of everyone, even white lives. The bloodbath occurring on our streets is due to an irrational fear of the Other that precipitates the need not only to have a gun for self-defense, but an AK-47, in order to prevent the greatest military power the world has ever known, from overthrowing itself.
The answer to our gun epidemic is not more guns. I choose to value life over any stuff I might own. If someone uses a weapon to steal my stuff, I will value human life over possessions, even the life of a thief. If I need protection, I’ll install an alarm system or buy a dog, but I will not now or ever buy a gun. One cannot believe in a pro-life Deity that calls us to love one another, and also be pro-gun. Both positions are irreconcilable, leading to loving the one while hating the other. Besides, I love my family too much to expose them to danger. Recent studies demonstrate, regardless of storage practice, type of gun owned, or number of firearms in the house, having a gun in the house is associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide. For this reason, if you have guns in your house, please decline from inviting me over for dinner or a drink, because I will not attend. Nor will I visit establishments that allow “open-carry” laws (should these laws be rebranded as “overcompensating” laws?!).
I will support gun control legislation geared to reduce the unacceptable number of gun deaths occurring in our nation (realizing that one death is one too many), but I’m cynical enough to recognize there is no “silver bullet” that will magically solve this problem. We are a violent nation and no law will eliminate all violence. Perhaps we should be really honest, I mean REALLY honest this time, and ask ourselves, “what is the acceptable and generally tolerated amount of deaths by gunshot per community per year?” How many deaths is enough, 30,000? 50,000? 100,000? Based on the increasing amount of gun ownership in this country, it appears the number of gun deaths, and the peoples’ lives these numbers represent, no longer matter – regardless of race or ethnicity. Our gun epidemic must be confronted by exploring the root causes and advocating for a high valuation of all human life, not just white lives, not just American lives, not just my life.