Good people, dead kids, and guns

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?

14 thoughts on “Good people, dead kids, and guns”

  1. Kent,
    As usual, I am impressed and strengthened by your words. They give a voice to my heart. I am at a loss too. It makes me deeply sad where we are as a country and how it has sifted down to our basic friendships. Thank you, thank you for your words.❤️

  2. That’s a good question… a good start is to ban assault weapons… and have program after program for teenagers trying to bring out the empathy for one another…. and to befriend that lonesome boy in the corner… and we need a president and a Congress that will actually ‘do something’ except send sympathy cards.

  3. Again, Kent, thank you for sharing your wisdom. I ask you to send this to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.They’ve been running a broad range of gun commentary, so I’m hoping they’ll include your words. You have a viewpoint that is unique–and needed. Thanks. Shawn

  4. On the road. Writing this from the lot of a roadside motel. Don’t know if I will have a chance to send it to the Strib. I’d love to see it there, though. Could you forward it to them?

  5. Kent, your words are beautiful. This needs not only to be read out loud to America, but to all human beings. Thank you for your thoughts, they are perfect for times like these. I hope you can send it to the paper, it needs to be seen. I agree with all you have said.
    PS~ I changed my email address.

  6. I’m even more saddened we go crisis to crisis, angry now, outraged and motivated now, but our emotions and actions dissipating to near nothing with time’s passing, so little to show for all our outrage and nothing changed.
    I live in Chicago, and so far THIS MONTH, 22 people have been shot and killed, 69 wounded, every one of them someone’s child. Summer months are a blood bath. Where is our outrage and moral indignation, every single day this happens? Why is it of less concern, less moment, when children die in a trickle and not in a splash?
    Do we have the honesty to look inside and question ourselves? Are the lives of those who differ from us, in color, in language, in neighborhood, of less value to us as a people?
    This is a chronic crisis of violence that rarely makes headlines or sparks righteous anger in the community at large. Why?
    Why is it a mass shooting of 17 in a single day rouses such passion, but the deaths of HUNDREDS, in a single city! over a year fails to stir us?
    After 36 years as a cop here, I finally took my wounded soul and retired. But it is this constant chronic level of violence, mostly among the poor, that eats away at the fabric of who we are, who we claim to be, more than the occasional horror of the acts of the mentally ill.
    In far too many parts of our society, violence is accepted as part of the norm and this casual and callous attitude toward the value of human life is an infection that is spreaading.
    Guns are the tools, but we need to focus more on the mind and heart behind the finger that pulls the trigger. Hopelessness, poverty, ignorance and a ready acceptance of violence will take far more lives, cost us far more as a society, than automatic weapons and mental illness. Look at the statistics in you own nearest large city and see the violence you choose to remain blissfully unaware of. In numbers, not in the actual human costs and suffering.
    Mental illness and guns need to be addressed, surely, but so do poverty and ignorance and the violence that stems from it raging beneath the surface in our cities.
    This is not a one time issue.
    We need to be outraged every day someone takes another life, when WE might have made a difference, by being aware, by caring, by getting involved

    As always, thanks for sharing your heart, Kent. It sparks other such fires.

  7. Beautiful words, which unfortunately will only be read by like minded people…
    When my son was little, I volunteered at his schools for playground duty. There I made a startling observation. Children who wanted to join cliques would pester and annoy, instead of acting agreeable, just like this last shooter. Eventually, he found a group of people, who like him, had suffered rejection from ordinary people. For these damaged people to feel powerful, we have an oddly worded law, which finally gives power to the powerless.

    We live in very troubled times, where, for the sake of campaign contributions, children, movie audiences, students and open air concert spectators can become collateral damage. We have very vocal groups who claim to be pro live (actually only pro birth), yet are awfully silent when children are terrorized and shot in schools, and people mowed down from a hotel window.

    A question nobody want nor can answer – why does half of the country feel the need to own war style weapons? What makes them so afraid? I asked this question a scrawny looking gun enthusiast, he promptly said for protection. His reaction was priceless, when I asked from whom he needed protection – other gun owners?

    Now I will answer the question – are we better than this – NO we are NOT! We are NOT in the streets demanding changes, we vote for the same people, of whom we know will not do a damn thing to address this problem. Actually, we are the problem, we all are guilty of letting mass shootings happen. We are guilty of using a outdated 240 year old law to excuse murder!

  8. This was timely. There is a NextDoor App that links communities together. I belong to one, but messages can be broadcast to others, reaching around 16,000 people. This has been a hot topic of discussion on NextDoor, so I replied with a link to this piece.

  9. Kent, I’ve been advised that your commentary is being considered for print in the Star Tribune. Best of luck! You’re an inspiration to many.

  10. A mother always knows the answer. A mother always understands the problem. A mother always knows how to heal: Yes – mental health diagnosis, treatments and treatment centers are sorely needed. Adequate health care coverage for mental illness is also sorely needed. Often for a person experiencing grief, psychosis, or another illness, 30 days is not enough. Mental health (as with Substance Abuse) should be treated as a “disease”. Mental illness definitions cover everything from anxiety, depression, eating disorders to Schizophrenia. Every year, approximately 42.5 million American adults (or 18.2 percent of the total adult population in the United States experience an episode – according to 2014 figures reported by Newsweek)and that figure which does not factor in young adults or children is on the rise.

    (What are current deterrence to these acts I might also ask – criminal and judicial proceedings are failing us as a humane society?)

    Great discussions on very old issues within this country.

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