We are better than this.
We are better than a war between dead children and the constitution.
We are better than our rage. We are better than our mutual recriminations.
You know me. I know you. We meet on the street, in our stores. We exchange pleasantries. We enjoy each other. We like each other. We are Americans, the people foreign visitors say are so warm and friendly. We open our doors to others and stop on the streets to help out strangers who are in need of assistance, dropping everything we are doing and driving them where they need to go and waiting to see that everything works out for the best.
How can this be happening to us? How can this one, shiny, lethal object be dividing us into two camps, each fearing and loathing the other? How can it be cutting into this care and concern for others that is so central to our American identity?
I heard a television commentator saying one day that he preferred a gun battle to a massacre. Is this truly the choice we have to make? Worse yet, is this the mindset we have to adopt? We cannot survive as a nation if our choices are “why can’t we all just get along?” versus “The only way to assure civil behavior is if everyone is afraid of everyone else.”
There has to be a better way. And I freely admit that I don’t know what it is. Right now I am filled with contempt for those of you who think your gun is a sacred object. You are filled with contempt for people like me who think your gun obsession is a sexualized fetish and a borderline mental illness. We are not going to find common ground.
You are quite right that we are never going to get rid of all guns in America. I am quite right in thinking that a social order based on fear of the other is no freedom worthy of the American vision.
This is a problem that will take generations to solve.. And like most generational problems, it will only be solved by the slow force of gradual education. If I could wave a magic wand I would take your gun out of your hand, out of your closet, out of your house. But only education is going to take your gun out of your mind and out of your children’s minds. Until that education takes place you are going to see me as the unknowing tool of a fascist state, naively giving away the freedom that is at the core of what you consider American exceptionalism.
But I ask you to think of it this way: are you okay with an America where you are afraid of the police, you are afraid of the government, you are afraid of your neighbor and everyone whose skin color is slightly different from yours? Do you think the shiny object in your pocket or your bedside table is going to eradicate that fear? Do you think that fear is grounds on which to build a society worthy of your dreams for your children?
I don’t, and I’m proud to say so. Mutual fear may be the source of order and a sense of security, but it is not the source of a true freedom of the heart.
Here is the hard truth – organized efforts by groups filled with hate and drunk on dark ideologies, religious or otherwise, are not going to be stopped by that gun in your pocket. They are going to rise up and wreak terror on us on a regular basis unless we give over some of our freedom to civil authorities, which is something we are loathe to do. But we can begin the process of stopping the bloodbaths perpetrated by the lone wolf in camouflage striding out of his parents’ basement with an arsenal of weaponry and a mind full of twisted dreams and grievances. And we do this by turning our children away from a faith in guns and toward a faith in acceptance and forgiveness and mutual respect.
Here is another truth, not so hard. I hate your guns, I don’t hate you. You hate my politics, you don’t hate me. I’ll help you jump your car if I see it broken down on the side of the road, you’ll help me pick up my groceries if I drop them in the supermarket line. We’ll talk to each other as strangers, joke with each other, and open our hearts to those in need. That’s what makes us uniquely American. And the day we stop being like that, or begin refusing to help another because of our religion or skin color or manner of dress, that’s when we begin to lose what is uniquely American.
We can’t lose that. We can’t allow ourselves to be overtaken by mean-spiritedness and cultural hatred. And right now the tide is not going in a good direction.
I don’t have an answer, and I’m not going to start liking your guns. But, on a one to one basis, I’m not going to stop liking you.
What are we to do?