Thoughts on gun violence

My friend, Leonard Nolt, wrote a great response to the gun violence discussion on my wife Kathleen’s facebook wall the other day. I wanted to share his thoughts with a (slightly) larger audience.

These are several of his main points:

(1) Studies support the idea that contrary to the notion that we need guns in order to protect ourselves, “the very presence of a weapon incites violence.” When armed people face danger the first thing they think of is using their weapon. Yet we still insist that we must have the “right” to “protect” ourselves—even when such “protection” actually puts us in much more danger. “Having a gun to protect yourself is a lot like having a rattlesnake loose in your home. If an intruder knows the snake is there, he might think twice before breaking in, but the snake is still much more likely to kill or injure a family member, friend, or welcomed visitor.”

(2) Even though the common truism is repeated over and over, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” in actual reality guns do kill people. “I’ve worked in hospital emergency departments for over 40 years and I’ve seen numerous victims of guns—that is, children too young to be aware of the danger, playing with guns that went off, and that their grieving parents later insisted were unloaded and locked out of reach. I can count on less than half the fingers of one hand the number of times in 40 years I’ve had patients who were shot in self-defense by a gun owning civilian. Two to be exact.”

(3) Guns make suicide attempts way, way more like to succeed. “Only 5% of all suicide attempts are successful, but when firearms are used 55% of suicide attempts are successful. And those who survive a self-inflicted gunshot wound are often permanently disabled.”


2 thoughts on “Thoughts on gun violence

  1. Ted,
    I have seen the effects of gun violence up close in the past four months since I signed up to do a unit of clinical pastoral education at the Washington Hospital Center. Today I comforted and prayed with the three children of a 69 year old man who died from a gunshot wound in his head. Later, I tried to calm a very distraught young woman whohad seen her friend stabbed in the neck and had accompanied her to the hospital. The woman with the stab wound survived. I hardly know what to make of this but agree that guns are more lethal. Beyond that somewhat trite observation, I struggle to find the spiritual resources to confront the violence on our streets and in our homes.

    1. Thank you for this honest confession within the context of real, urban narratives, Earl. I find the ethical, spiritual and theological questions around pacifism and violence so easy and absolute when we engage them on College Avenue in Richmond, Indiana and I can recite the theoretical and theological answers as a professor of peace studies from our rather uniform Peace Church literature.

      However, when I return to my Pittsburgh neighborhood where there has been a terrible and terrifying spike of violence as young men are shooting other young men, the spiritual and pragmatic counsel from College Avenue pacifism can sound discordant and tone deaf to those who neither know or care about the differences between Yoder and Niebuhr on biblical versus liberal pacifism. Further, when my former students write me from their homes in Nigeria and describe real life examples of Good Samaritans coming upon neighbors who are being beaten bloody on the long, dangerous road far from the holy temple, it likewise de-centerrs and deconstructs any easy metaphysics of pacifism.

      Perhaps through the Parable, in face of the phenomenology of violence, we can begin to imagine a response informed by a just peace? After all, isn’t one of the lessons of the Parable that the Samaritan wasn’t religiously correct or ritually pure? He was from the wrong ethnic group, he worshiped on the wrong mountain, and since he was neither a good Jew or Christian, his ethics were by theological standards as impure as his ethnicity. He was a half-breed and a heretic. Thus, perhaps the time has come to abandon the purity of ideological pacifism and embrace a Samaritan spirituality, psychology and ethics of just peace?

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