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America is Not a Gun

 
America Is A Gun
by Brian Bilston

England is a cup of tea.
France, a wheel of ripened brie.
Greece, a short, squat olive tree.
America is a gun.

Brazil is football on the sand.
Argentina, Maradona’s hand.
Germany, an oompah band.
America is a gun.

Holland is a wooden shoe.
Hungary, a goulash stew.
Australia, a kangaroo.
America is a gun.

Japan is a thermal spring.
Scotland is a highland fling.
Oh, better to be anything
than America as a gun.

I think this poem, circulating after the Texas shooting, is brilliant. And pithy. And thought-provoking.

And the thought it provoked in me was this: America is not a gun.

America is great. It is beautiful. It is full of hope and promise. Its ideals of freedom and democracy enlighten the world. A majority of our citizens don’t own any guns at all. A majority of our population is in favor of reasonable, sensible gun laws – and that majority includes lots of gun owners. One way or another, one day or another, our majority is going to have its way.

But how do we get there?

Today we are more acutely aware than ever that America is subject to minority rule. Gerrymandering, the Senate filibuster, the fact that many Senators represent more cows than people, the absurd Electoral College… all thwart the will of the majority of our citizens at a national level. We have an antique democracy. It will take many years of concerted effort to modernize our system of government so that it can properly reflect the will of the people. We must be vigilant and dogged in our pursuit of the necessary changes. The majority demands majority rule.

Meanwhile…. we do well to remember that politics is downstream from culture. If we don’t want America to be known as a gun, we had better get busy with a concerted, clever campaign to make mass-murder weapons uncool. Often, culture change happens through orthogonal intervention — indirect messaging that may not look like it has anything to do with guns at all. Because any messaging that references “guns” might well make the problem worse. When gun massacres happen, gun owners go forth and buy yet more guns because they suspect that their “gun rights” will be threatened.

We need to start by spreading the message that we Americans are safe and secure. Because in fact the likelihood of any of us, or any of our children, being massacred is vanishingly small. Yes, the level of gun violence in this country is far higher than that of other industrialized nations, and this is unacceptable. But newsworthy as each horrific mass murder incident might be, the statistical probability that any of us will be caught up in one is tiny. In pressing for gun control, we must avoid promoting the very paranoia that leads people to buy guns to protect themselves in the first place.

We need signs in neighborhoods that replace the menacing “Neighborhood Watch” sign with a sneaky criminal’s face on it. They should be replaced with signs that say: “Our neighborhood is safe because we know each other.” We need signs at schools that say “Our school is safe because we take care of each other.” And instead of those signs people put up in front of their houses that say “This property protected by ___ Security Company”, people should put up signs saying “This property protected by wonderful neighbors”. Because indeed, the last thing an intruder wants to deal with is a chatty neighbor!

Our churches can help with this messaging. Imagine a church with this street sign in front of the building: Want a Safe Community? Love Your Neighbor!

If messages of safety and security and communal cooperation are ubiquitous, we’ll weaken the fear propaganda that drives people to “gun-up”.

As we engage in conversation with gun-culture folks, it might be best to avoid direct confrontation. Ask questions instead of making pronouncements: “Is it possible that your guns are the most valuable things in your house for a thief to steal?” “How many crimes of passion, how many mass murders were committed with guns when the 2nd Amendment was written, and guns took a long time to load from the muzzle?” Whatever answers you get, respond to them with more questions. Your questions will underscore the reality that owning guns for “personal protection” is a highly questionable proposition.

We may have serious and strong feelings about the subject of guns in America. But coming on serious and strong only invites the same response from gun enthusiasts. We need to have a sense of humor about it. And it is a subject ripe for it: “How many guns do you need to protect your guns?” “What good is your gun if somebody pulls a gun on you?” “What’s left of a deer after you shoot it with your assault rifle?” Again, let’s keep it light with questions…

America is not a gun. We’re a lot better than that. We prove it every day by loving our neighbors (even ones we don’t particularly like), campaigning for sensible gun laws, taking care of people in need in our communities. We’ll prove it further by cleverly nudging our culture away from obsession with guns. When the obsession wanes, sensible gun laws will follow.

 

Rev. Jim Burklo is the Senior Associate Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life at the University of Southern California.  An ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, he is the author of seven published books on progressive Christianity, his latest book is Tenderly Calling: An Invitation to the Way of Jesus (St Johann Press, 2021).  His weekly blog, “Musings”, has a global readership.  He serves on the board of ProgressiveChristiansUniting.org and is an honorary advisor and frequent content contributor for ProgressiveChristianity.org. 

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