I have been a gun owner since I was ten years old, and in another time and another place, learned the safe use of guns, the respect for guns, and the responsibility for guns through a joint Boy Scout and NRA program taught by members of the Long Beach Police Department. My target rifles and shot guns have been unused for years, and are currently in a secure site. Eventually they will go to my grandchildren if they want them, but only if they are willing to go through the same rigorous safety and use training that I had as a youth. If so, I hope that they enjoy kerplunking at cans, target shooting, and the joy of walking a field at dawn hunting upland game.
At a time when we are regularly called out about our first world privileges, I am glad to be an American. I fully enjoy the rights, opportunities, and benefits that accrue to me with that status, including those afforded by the Second Amendment. However, while I have a right to own arms as a citizen, I have always seen it as a civic right to be tempered with reason.
In 1898, Emile Zola wrote an open letter to the people of Paris criticizing the ineptitude and complicity of the French government in the persecution of Alfred Dreyfus. The facts of the situation are unimportant, beyond the government’s forfeiture of its responsibility to do the right thing, only to support a popular anti-Semitic attitude of the times. He entitled his letter, J’accuse, I accuse!
So in the spirit of reason I say:
J’accuse our elected representatives for pandering to their conservative voter base by refusing to entertain any rational discussion on gun control. After the terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino the Los Angeles Times noted that Republican Jeff Denham, the Congressman from Turlock California, stated that he wanted to avoid any “knee jerk” response to the killings. Really, Jeff, knee jerk stopped being part of the conversation after Columbine. To the uber-conservatives like Jeff I challenge that, instead of just posing as public servants, you tell us how many dead bodies you need to see before you are willing to stop focusing on your re-election numbers and are outraged enough to entertain some rational action to protect our children, mothers and fathers, brothers and sister, and our spouses. Give us an amount that might actually prompt you to act, and we will leave you alone until the carnage hits your number.
Obviously we aren’t there yet, since the killings at Sandy Hook, this conservative Congress besides offering platitudes and soft ball solicitousness, has taken no action to intervene the violence. They will not entertain even a study of gun violence, the halting of unrestricted sales at gun shows, or banning the sale of weapons to those on the “no-fly” list. The President, reacting to the deadly silence of Congress on this issue, has recently taken independent first steps toward a reasonable control of guns. He may be vilified by the heavily organized gun lobby, the uber-right wing of conservatism, and a toothless Congress, but we need to understand that there is an undeniable “sea change” in motion on this issue, and it is time for rational voices to be heard. The tacit acceptance by the obstructionist that the killing of our children and loved ones is a lesser value than gun ownership is an unthinkable threshold; remember it the next time you choose to vote.
J’accuse those on both sides of the argument who polarize any discussion about gun control. For them it is always all or nothing. On the gun side it is NRA “group think” and it offers nothing to the start of a constructive dialogue about guns. On the liberal side it is socio-babble that doesn’t seek a common ground. People are dying, isn’t it time for both sides to rethink their “weapons apologetics” and seek a third way to some form of progress and dialogue? Not every idea will work, but a start must be made. That first step should not be down a slippery slope.
This is not an easy issue, but as a Catholic grounded in the moral theology of my faith, I am drawn towards a solution. We are called to love our brothers and sisters, not to fear or to hate them. We are called to “keep” our brothers and sisters in community, not to arm ourselves to kill them. It is a challenge for all of us; we cannot be irrational, love our guns, hate our gays, fear our immigrants and still call ourselves Catholic. We cannot mindlessly embrace the weapons of fear and rage, hate our next door neighbor, not forget to say grace, and then delude ourselves that we have a relationship with Jesus Christ.
As I say, this is not an easy issue.
Remember, I am a gun owner; I am not interested in coming into your house and confiscating your guns. You should be free to hunt ducks, quail, dove, and if you must, even shoot Bambi if it is in season. But that right should be a reasonable one, abridgeable with basic boundaries and common sense. As a people, we are problem solvers. Just look at the incredible world that we have developed in entertainment, medicine, science and technology. Let us apply that energy to this issue and find a way to move forward.
Ted Furlow is Director of the Office of Pastoral Planning in the Diocese of San Bernardino.