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gun violence and violent rhetoric

I know yesterday I promised a post on the morality of abortion. I haven't forgotten, and I'll probably make it this weekend. But today a different news story has caught my attention. Or rather, three stories and the common thread I am seeing between them.

Manchin will sit on Senate Environmental Committee
Group to appeal ruling against guns in church
Ugandan Who Spoke Up for Gay Rights is Murdered

The second article describes a law in Georgia that restricts where people can carry guns. It includes places like jails, courthouses, government buildings - and churches. The argument goes that religious people are being forced to either forego worship services, or otherwise risk their safety in case a gun-toting maniac bursts into worship services.

This idea that guns are necessary for self-defense eats me up. Leaving aside the point that it doesn't work that way -- it is extremely difficult to disarm a gunman using a gun, and extremely easy to get yourself shot in the process if you try -- it just is so, so wrong to expect me to defend myself in that way. Killing someone for any reason is a horrible thing to have to do. Better than getting killed yourself, possibly better than having some liberty violated or than suffering some bad situation. But it's bad. That's one reason why I gladly live in a society and am willing to accept limits on my individual freedoms. First, because I think living with and getting to know the "other guy" is the best deterrent to violence. (Easier to shoot a caricature than someone you know.) But perhaps even more importantly, I don't want to have to kill someone. I don't want to become a killer. There are other people that already are, or who don't seem to mind it so much, and so one major reason why I think society is a good thing is because it limits the number of people who have to become killers.

By the simple act of saying people need to carry guns to protect themselves, you are making them all soldiers. Even if they don't have the training to do it properly. Even if they never kill anyone. They still have to live with the mentality that they are prepared to kill someone. That's soul-damaging at a deep level.

I can maybe see the need for personal defense if you are living in seclusion. I think I'd rather risk being killed than have a gun at hand and have to live with that knowledge. But it takes it to a whole other level, to say that you have to have guns at hand in public, crowded areas. In churches of all places.

Okay, so laying aside the fact that guns in public are always a bad idea, the idea that they should be required in church is particularly offensive. I'm reminded of the lyric from Tom Lehrer's "Who's Next?":

The Lord is our shepherd, says the Psalm,
But just in case, we better get a bomb!


Self-reliance is all well and good, but there comes a time when you have to have faith of some kind. Maybe not that God will keep the shooter away (which sounds kind of Prosperity Gospel-y to me), but in the goodness of your fellow church-members, your fellow community-members, in the ability of humans, at least the sane ones, to settle their basic disagreements without reaching for a Glock.

Good God.

*breathes deeply*

This all becomes less theoretical in light of the other two news articles. The first talks about a WV Democrat who was just placed on the Energy Committee, which looks at things like environmentalist regulations on businesses like the cap-and-trade bill. Back in his campaign [to be fair: long before Tucson] Manchin shot a copy of the cap-and-trade bill. As in, literally took out a gun and shot a bullet through it. The left-leaning site Salon.com is talking about how he was now appointed to the very committee that would control bills like cap-and-trade. That's the angle they're running with, and rightly so. It is... troubling, to say the least, that the Dems would let him get on this particular committee. (I'm not a big fan of cap and trade, personally, but it's a symptom of how the Dems need to grow a spine.)

What troubles me is the metaphor in the campaign ad. Do I think Manchin is inciting people to take a gun through pro-C&T Congressmen? No. But it does seem to say that guns are a valid way of expressing political opinions, and it's really not such a huge leap for an unhinged individual to think that if they can't change the bill they can at least "express" themselves against the people responsible for it. This is the kind of metaphor we shouldn't be touching with a nine-foot pole.

That "metaphor" gets even louder and more pointed in the Uganda case. David Kato, who was brutally murdered yesterday, was a gay rights activist. (By gay rights I mean the right not to be stoned for being gay - a far cry from the kind of positions we Westerners think of when we hear that term.) And I do mean brutally murdered - beaten to death and attacked with a hammer. A while back he had been identified as a "homo" along with headlines saying that homosexuals were infiltrating the schools and recruiting children, complete with a banner encouraging readers to "HANG THEM". To be fair, Mr. Kato lived in a rough neighborhood and there were a string of burglaries where people had died. The police aren't calling this a hate crime, though I personally would be highly surprised if there wasn't at least some element of that. There's just so much hatred toward LGBT individuals in Africa these days.

But let's say that this was a burglary and Mr. Kato's death is purely incidental. Even if the murder was not hateful, it took place in such an environment that other LGBT people who were listed felt afraid for their lives. A few even moved. And others, who weren't even listed are furious, they feel like they were singled out. They blame not only their own mainstream culture but Americans at all, because of American Christians who they believe were involved in creating the homophobia. Even if this murder turns out to be 100% a coincidence and not at all related to Mr. Kato's sexuality, it still is acting like terrorism. These are not people just grieving for Mr. Kato, and not just upset that they lost a good activist in their fight. These people are scared and angry. You just don't tell people to go out and kill other people. Even if you don't mean it literally. It's entirely too easy to be taken out of context, and then you end up not just with murder but with terrorism as well.

Honestly, some days I think I live in a civilized world, where things like ideas matter more than brute force. other days I'm not so sure.

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( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
dreamflower02
Jan. 28th, 2011 06:48 am (UTC)
ideas matter more than brute force

They do. The problem is that some ideas propagate brute force. It is exactly why, after the Tucson killings, there was such an outcry against those ideas.

People have ideas that we should conduct our public business with civility and reason. Other people have ideas that if civility and reason doesn't get them what they want, violence is an acceptable substitute.

Then these two ideas bump up against each other, and it doesn't matter that the vast majority of people fall in the first camp, because they are committed to only using civility and reason. It only takes a tiny handful to say, well, we've had enough civility and reason, it's time to use force.

I don't know what the solution is. We are always going to have a handful of people who think violence is a valid way to get what they want, whether because they are common thieves or because they are rabid zealots or because they are simply mad.

As you said, a civilized society delegates an appropriate agency (like the police or the military) to handle any necessary violence. (And I do believe that there are extreme occasions where it truly *is* the only answer of last resort.)

Well, my brain is tired, but it truly is a horrible quandry. But all I know to do about the matter is to pray to a God that I believe would most certainly NOT approve of the killing and hatred done in His name.

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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