The Insanity of Gun Violence

There is a saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Some have critiqued writers who have overused this cliche while still hoping to appear as being insightful to their readers. And yet in times like these, what more are we left with?

It has happened again. There has been another mass shooting in the United States. The news is still unfolding, but what is known is that this is already the worst shooting event in recent U.S. history. As a nation, we will endeavor to learn more about those individuals who died. We will analyze the shooter and the details of how this unfolded. And inevitably we will wonder about the motive and what signals were missed.

There will be prayers for those who have been wounded and killed. Lord, have mercy. We will hope for healing. Christ, have mercy. We will call out for peace and understanding. Lord, have mercy.

Our politicians, many of whom are supported by guy lobbyists, will do and say all those things public figures might say after these events. They will attempt to rally us by making bold statements that we will not live in fear.

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In the midst of this, there will be a debate. It will be divisive, and it will hardly be about creating a better future. There will be those who talk about individual rights and the second amendment. The other side will bring facts and figures about how gun control saves lives. But in the face of the N.R.A.’s consolidated power to control the narrative and the religious-like intensity of its devotees, those seeking change will acquiesce.

In time, our emotions will recede, and we go back to our lives. We will forget until the next time. And when the next time comes, it all starts to seem ordinary. Lord, have mercy.

This is the script that has played out time and time again, over and over. It is insanity. We have become nearly numb to it all. We should all be ashamed. We all own this uniquely American madness, and it is time to take stock of our priorities.

To the individuals who are praying; your prayers are appreciated, but your actions are required.

To the politicians who are asking for God’s blessings; you can start by withdrawing your gun lobby money and donating it to a charity. Until then, your actions and statements lack integrity.

To the devotees of the Second Amendment who say that the right to bear arms is an inalienable American right; just stop. Own your part in the morally bankrupt position that guns and so-called freedoms are a higher priority than the lives of those who have been, and will be, lost. Quit hiding behind your civil religion and using mental illness as a scapegoat.

To the folks who take the tack to say that owning a gun is about the sport and further double-down by saying only guns can stop guns; you lost me at “sport.” Assault rifles were made for one purpose, and it should never be confused with a sport. We have deployed militarized police forces in the name of securing the myth of security, and yet we shrug when violence continues to beget violence.

It is time to rewrite this script. It is time to stop the insanity.

I reject any argument that our society is somehow made better by the presence of guns. I reject the notion that this is what our country’s founders intended when they wrote the Second Amendment. I reject the N.R.A. and the gun lobbyists’ stranglehold on this nation. I reject that we should wait to talk about gun violence until we have passed through some period of mourning. I reject this American insanity and gun violence.

Find out who represents you in Congress, call them, write them, and demand that they engage in this conversation. The majority of Americans support stricter gun laws, we must insist that our members of Congress represent us and not the gun lobbyists.

When Discernment Looks Like Dissent

In his book Integrity, Stephan L. Carter explores the topic of integrity and what it might mean for an individual to act with integrity. Carter’s definition, which is deceptively simple, is that integrity is an action that requires three distinct steps. The first step, which I will paraphrase, is to discern a well-informed stance or belief. The second step is to then act in ways which are consistent with these discerned beliefs, “even at personal cost.” And the third and final step is to state these beliefs and how they inform your actions. Carter concludes that the individual who lives a life consistent with this definition of integrity is leading an integral life.

It is perhaps easy to accept Carter’s technical definition of integrity and find little to fault. However, the implementation of such a framework is not far from controversy. Discernment necessarily requires the individual to be judgemental and designate “right” from “wrong,” which presents us with a bit of a dilemma. What happens, and further who is “right,” when being integral requires nonconformity to accepted norms? Or put differently, is it better for the individual who is living an integral life to follow the rules and laws of government and society, or to act in consistency with their beliefs? Carter digs deep and concludes that indeed living an integral life is not always about following the rules, and in fact at times acting with integrity may require rules to be broken.

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Given this, how, or perhaps where, do we locate integrity in the issue confronting us following President Trump’s speech which has purposefully forced us into a cultural debate? On the one side, we have devotees of patriotism and civil religion demanding proper respect for an object and practice that symbolizes a victory over conflict earned through the sacrifice of many. On the other are individuals who see the promise of freedom and equality not yet fulfilled. Who is more integral? Those who have discerned that their beliefs dictate that standing in respect for the flag and anthem? Or perhaps those who have discerned that it is necessary to act in the only way possible and draw attention to a broken system?

The reconciliation of these two is not trivial, and I find it troubling that Trump continues to use this narrative to divide us. Further, Trump’s insistence that this is all about one side of the argument, about respect for the symbols of a civil religion, lacks context and wrongly belittles the integrity of Colin Kaepernick, and those who have joined his cause, and why he chose to kneel. This is not leadership, is it bullying.

Aside from standing or kneeling, the critique of National Football League (NFL) players has included an assertion that players should just stick to football and not be political activists while on the job. Martin Luther, a bit of a nonconforming activist of his time and also an individual who strove to lead an integral life, has something to say about this and an individual’s baptismal vocation. The Evangelical Luthern Church in America (ELCA), has published a social statement called Church in Society: A Lutheran Perspective, which makes the following statement

One of the ways the Church participates in society is through its members. In dying to sin and rising with Christ in Baptism, Christians are called to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:1-11). They fulfill their baptismal vocation in ordinary life as family members, friends, citizens, workers, and participants in voluntary associations. Since “daily life [is] the primary setting for the exercise of [the] Christian calling,” it is in that setting that Christians are to serve God and neighbor.

An integral life is one lived in the journey of discernment and played out in whatever vocation it is we perform. Lastly, Carter challenges us to not view our differences as dissent, but rather a necessary process that will inform our discernment, for we will not know if we are acting from “deep and steadfast principles until those principles are tested.”