Thursday, March 13, 2014

Guns & Violence & Problem Solving

So here’s the thing about guns and problem-solving – guns don’t solve problems; people do.

Sound familiar?

And here’s another thought that arises from bumper-sticker philosophy: if people kill people (rather than guns, as the bumper sticker so catchily proclaims), then it stands to reason that people are the problem, which means, does it not, that it is people that are not to be entrusted with guns?

Violence and gun-toting problem solving I have encountered in my lifetime has involved . . .

A man, now dead presumably of old age, who got so angry by the fact of a right-of-way granted by his father to his neighbors (who were also relatives) that he took to shooting at said neighbors (including a 60-year-old woman carrying her groceries into her house), gas meter readers, pizza-delivery folk, and anyone who dared to exercise their lawful right to ingress and egress.  Before he died, said gentleman yielded up virtually all his earthly wealth to said neighbors.  I wonder if those shots were worth it to him?  His cousin will never know if she’s alive because he missed on purpose or was just a bad aim.

Then there was the old drunk who lived next door to my neighbor.  While we painted her house, my then 3-year-old son played in the grass with his ball.  I had warned him to stay out of the man’s yard, but he was only three and when his ball crossed the invisible line of ‘mine and not yours’, my son ran after it, at which point the angry neighbor called my son a racial slur.  One of the men of our party reacted angrily and the escalating words prompted threats of the exchange of gun fire.

Then there was the man threatening to kill his wife in the middle of the street in front of my house one night, threatening to pursue her onto my porch where she hid behind me as I stood my ground with no weapon save a telephone to get him to back down.

Or the man in a divorce case who bore down on me in the hallway, just having lost his latest bid in court, his fist raised with threatening words on his lips as I slowly took off my glasses (so they wouldn’t be broken – they were pretty expensive for me back in those days) and simply waited my fate.  At the last minute, he dropped his fist and stormed away.

Then there were the young soldiers at the many checkpoints in Iraq.  The ones I remember stood before us, myself and a colleague and three Iraqi college professors seeking redress for the mistaken bombing of their university.  We were ankle-deep in mud.  It was cold.  We waited there for hours.  The boy-men soldiers were clearly uncomfortable treating me, the only one from the US in our party, so discourteously that they invited me in to their hut for warmth, but refused to allow anyone else to enter, so we all stood out in the cold, the only protest we had available to us for the refusal to hear these men.  And in the freezing hours of waiting, I heard about one young soldier’s pending divorce and the new baby he had never seen, having nothing to offer him save my caring ears.  And I heard their apologies – they had no choice but to hold us at gunpoint, you see.  They wouldn’t have shot us, at least so I think.  But to force the situation was to place them in harm’s way from their commanders.  So we simply waited, silent witness to the cold.  Eventually we gained entry and were heard and an agreement was reached.  Success.  Until a day later when the officer who had reached agreement with our friends reneged.  Apparently he could do by phone what he could not do face-to-face.  But that too was a violence.  And there were guns behind it.  Lots of guns.

What was the difference between the man who shot at his own family members and all the rest?  Time.  Time to better reflect.  So it was that the drunken gentleman had a wife who intervened, inserting herself between him and his desired shotgun.  And the man in the hallway, had he been armed, probably would have shot me and then thought about it.  But because he had the length of the hallway and only silence from me in which to think about what he was doing, he had the chance to reconsider his choices.  And the husband chasing his wife?  A gun in his hand would have eliminated the need to cross the street himself and stand face to face with us and reconsider.  And even the young soldiers faced no opposition.  All we offered in protest was our calm presence.  There were lots of folks killed at checkpoints just like that one and many of them meant no harm at all.  But those boy soldiers lacked the time to reflect on their actions and instead shot first.

What do guns take away that knives and fists and raised voices and other weapons do not?

Time.  Time to think.

And therein lies all the difference to the outcome in the world.

So if you want to know why I am in favor of controlling human access to weapons of such destruction, for me, it’s all about time.  And I am willing to give up quite a lot to buy the would-be shooters among us a little time to reconsider.  Because it might just make a difference.  I know it has for me.


  1. By the time I reached 12 years of age, every time I heard my parents arguing, I hid my dad's loaded pistol he kept by his bed. No amount of threats would convince me to let him know where I put it.. and I suffered for it.

    If there were only a way to convince the public we MUST have more gun control in this country...

    1. I was fortunate enough never to have them in my own home, and so can only poorly imagine the horror you were forced to endure and the courage and wisdom you were able to exhibit even at that young age. I continue to be hopeful that change will come -- sadly, with too many lost in the meantime. How, oh how, I wish it were otherwise. Blessings of peace be yours tonight and always, Beth