July 9, 2016

Friends,

It is difficult to provide my intended “uplift” from my Saturday Evening Post this evening. The gun violence of this past week only leaves me with a “sinking” feeling - that we as a nation are sinking into some kind of quicksand of violence begetting violence.

Recently a friend and I stopped at a little restaurant for breakfast on our way to a hiking trip. Across from our booth were a couple of unused video game machines blinking away with scene after scene of gun violence and inviting us to come “play.” My friend remarked at the time how this infusion of “recreational" gun violence must be having on us all but particularly the law enforcement community who carry the burden of trying to prevent the real violence that is depicted on the video. If I were a police officer I would be increasingly aware of my vulnerability to both using and misusing lethal force or being a victim of it. Now add the additional racist fear factor between white officers and black men particularly and the context for the kind of gun violence we are dealing with is predictable. 

So we as a culture are immersed - and sinking - into pervasive gun violence abetted and “normalized" by video games, drone assassinations, warfare, the NRA, and the gun marketeers. All this contributes to a growing awareness that none of us are really safe. For the first time this week, I think, I realized that there is a chance that I or family members or friends could be a victim of gun violence. I have no idea how many of my neighbors are armed, but it is a reasonable assumption that many are. And I wonder what might happen if I engage in a simple dispute with someone around an incident in the car or suggesting to someone that their behavior is unacceptable. (I recently passed someone at night on a city street picking flowers from someone’s front yard garden and said something about it to him. I realized a moment later that maybe that wasn’t a smart or “safe" thing to do!). 

My posting here is clearly sinking further. But sometimes we have to have that “sinking feeling” before we realize something needs to change. Obviously the place to start is with ourselves and not allowing or enabling the fear of violence to neutralize us so that we are unable to act and speak. Perhaps it is not only the politicians who have been neutralized by the NRA. Perhaps too many of us have been afraid to speak up locally for fear of the ire of the gun ideologues (as opposed to gun owners in general) in our communities. 

I recently explored with a friend whether or not we might want to hold a “Let’s talk about guns” forum in our local community. The idea seemed too challenging at the time - how would we control the crowd and could a “forum” setting actually lead to a new appreciation and understanding of the legitimate concerns of people regarding responsible gun ownership and related safety issues versus a shouting match? As I write this I am now committed to exploring this initiative further. I think we as a community and a society are ready to commit to a new level of conversation to find a way to pull ourselves out of this gun and violence quicksand that is sucking us down. 

In the meantime we need to affirm, as appropriate, the overall integrity and professionalism of our police but also support needed accountability reforms. And, of course, we need to deeply grieve for all victims of gun violence and their families and loved ones. The issue comes back to what kind of communities do we want to raise our children and to feel safe. For some this may mean that they need to own a handgun for personal defense. For others it means we will trust the good will of our neighbors and our protective services and laws and therefore we don’t need guns. And there are reasonable positions in between. For those who have lost trust of their neighbors and law enforcement the problem is much greater, of course, but dialogue within our communities and with our police departments is also a way forward if well organized. 

Ultimately violence must be met with nonviolence. What is our level of engagement around the impact of fear and “normative" violent behaviors? How many parents know the level of violence in our children’s video games and are we willing to talk about this with our kids, for example? What is the impact of the all-too-pervasive violence in our movies and TV, and are we willing not only to not patronize them but to speak against them when appropriate? And, with apologies to my friends who are football fans, are we aware of the price our football “gladiators” are personally paying as we cheer for more devastating tackles and hits? In general, let’s develop a sensitivity to the levels of violence around us and commit to a combination of avoiding them and transforming them into acts of nonviolence when possible.

Lots to ponder out of this sad week. May my reflections offer some “lift” to our sinking feeling. We can do better.

Peace,
Tom