Open-Carry, (Big) Cars, and a Theology of Power

The Texas legislature is in session, and the consideration to legalize the open-carry of handguns is a top agenda item. Intriguingly, Texas is out of step with most of the nation when it comes to permitting open-carry of handguns. It is one of only six states that currently doesn’t permit it (open-carry of shot guns and rifles, long associated with hunting, is permissible in Texas). Open-carry means a weapon is visibly holstered to a waist belt or harnessed on a shoulder strap. Proponents consider the holstered gun of a law-abiding citizen a deterrent to potential criminals, who, in contrast, typically conceal their weapons. This part of the argument makes good sense; yet, there is one factor on this issue, rarely mentioned, that I’m concerned about in today’s environment of increasing economic and social inequality: the human propensity to misuse power.

I recently saw a Toyota truck commercial – linked here – that invited you, the potential buyer, to view the showcased truck as “your castle on wheels.” Let’s face it: some people drive as if they would be kings and queens in four-wheel machines with public highways their own personal fiefdoms. No sharing of space, get the hell outta my way, screw you if you think I’m letting you in, you’re not driving fast enough for me so I’m going to ride your ass until you move, etc., etc., etc. Do people treat others like this when jointly walking toward a similar destination? Hardly. Something happens – linked to human nature – when we get behind the wheel, enclose ourselves behind glass and steel, and rev the engine. Like Obadiah Stane as Iron Monger, we become supersized.

et.0423.sneaks.484 –– Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) surveys the Iron Monger armor in the 2008 movie "Iron Man". Paramount Pictures and Marvel Entertainment Present A Marvel Studios Production. ***2008 SUMMER SNEAKS movie.

Jeff Bridges as Obadiah Stane in Iron Man

The twentieth century Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (credited with writing the Serenity Prayer, used by twelve-step groups) wisely opined concerning human progress: “There is therefore progress in human history; but it is a progress of all human potencies, both for good and evil.” Our use of power in the last three centuries – for better and for worse – amazes. Incredible inventions and discoveries making human existence less brutish and more enjoyable; incredible inventions and discoveries able to kill grand quantities of humans (and other forms of life) within seconds. The more power we have, individually and collectively, the more so living life on this planet becomes complex. Religious traditions, from the Jewish commandment “Walk humbly with your God” to the Buddhist teaching “Respect all forms of life,” encourage us not to become supersized in our estimations of self.

The majority of drivers and gun owners are responsible in their respective actions. Yet, as our relationships become thinner and more homogenous in a society of increasing inequality, our fears of one another and our impatience with one another negatively impact our actions. Motor vehicle death per capita in America is down (thanks in part to airbags and safety regulations), but it remains the leading cause of death for Americans under thirty. Ninety Americans die in motor vehicle accidents – entirely preventable – every day. More than 30,000 Americans die yearly from gun violence; more than thirty a day die by homicide and more than fifty a day die by suicide. African-Americans John Crawford and (twelve-year-old) Tamir Rice were shot to death by white police officers, rigorously trained in gun use and safety, because they were thought to be “perpetrators.” As a result, violence directed toward police officers is unfortunately on the rise. The misuse of power in all directions can tragically lead to the loss of innocent life.

We yet live in a society where the fear of the other predominates; many whites fear blacks and browns. In response to fear, human nature dictates that we protect ourselves. With a twenty-year downward trend in violent crime and homicide in America, however, the move toward nationwide open-carry begs the question: Do we as a society and as individuals know the limits of physical power? Supersizing ourselves – with guns or cars – takes away energy and resources from something else potentially much more beneficial to a shared societal common good. What if we put supersized energy and time into the depth and scope of our relationships one with another – especially with those we don’t know? Rich and poor, whites and persons of color, young and old, civilians and police, conservatives and liberals – renewed relationships in public space are more powerful than we realize and help prevent our misuses of power.

niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

 

God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

 

 

 

The views expressed in this blog are reflective of my work in the 2014 book, Just a Little Bit More:
The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good.  

Click here to purchase Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Paperback, $14.95. You will be redirected to the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website.

Click here if you prefer to purchase JaLBM from Amazon. Ebook available on Amazon, iBooks, and Nook.

Click here for Summary Version and Study Guide from the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website, ideal for book clubs and community of faith study groups.

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8 Comments

Filed under Commentary

8 responses to “Open-Carry, (Big) Cars, and a Theology of Power

  1. Carl Anderson

    Good post, Tim. The phenomenon of how so many of us change from polite considerate people in a grocery store line (not always I know!) to hyper-competitive quick to explode people in traffic has always fascinated me. In my spirituality lectures to patients, the emotions and behavior displayed in traffic was always the one area that most quickly identified with. We tended to associate it with “king/queen baby” syndrome that Harry Tiebout identified as the tantrum prone monarch within us that is usually controlled socially, but the anonymity and power afforded by the automobile (and the bigger the better!) unmasks the “omnipotent ego” which Tiebout said never really goes away. It’s controlled through surrender, i.e. acceptance of powerlessness.

  2. Given that Open Carry will be licensed still, like Concealed Carry is now — shouldn’t the lack of issues be comforting?

    People already carry in the State of Texas; to the tune of 800,000 or more people with licenses. That doesn’t count the number of people who carry in their cars without needing a license. Yet the issue of violence related to concealed handgun is incredibly rare, right?

    So what would change if firearms are worn visibly? Not much if you go by the other states that have changed their laws. Heck, even with 6 states now “Constitutional Carry” (no permit needed for Open or Concealed Carry) – the amount of ‘blood in the streets’ or ‘gun fights over parking spaces’ is incredibly small.

    Do we as a society and as individuals know the limits of physical power?

    Be equalizing the limitations of physical power with technology. Marko Kloos wrote a great essay called “Why the Gun is Civilization” in which he states there are only two ways to get a person to do something; force or reason. Currently the situation favors those willing to use force illegally. Most people don’t carry a firearm to equalize the differences in physical strength or numbers. My 140 pounds wife (don’t tell her I shared her weight) doesn’t have the physical strength to fight off a rapist. Didn’t have it before she had bi-lateral mastectomy which removed some muscle and lymph nodes also — but if she carries a firearm; suddenly her rapist doesn’t have nearly the advantage, right?

    With a twenty-year downward trend in violent crime and homicide in America, however, the move toward nationwide open-carry begs t

    Ever consider that the trend started around the time Concealed Carry started taking off? That perhaps people got tired of being told to be passive victims to the wants and desires of criminals and started fighting back, started carrying firearms to even the odds?

    I find it a little hypocritical that you mention race and fear as an excuse. True study of the statistics show that isn’t the case and I believe that most people know this!

    Hate Crimes: Criminal Law and Identity Politics is a revelatory study of the phenomena. It was coauthored by James B. Jacobs, who is the director of the Center for Research in Crime and Justice at New York University and a professor of law at the NYU School of Law, and Kimberly Potter, an attorney who was formerly a research fellow at the Center for Research in Crime and Justice. Published by Oxford University Press as part of their Studies in Crime and Public Policy series, its credibility is as impeccable as possible.

    The loudly promoted “hate crime epidemic” in America is an illusion.

    Jacobs and Potter examine many of the myths and problems surrounding the idea of hate crimes, showing, among other things, that the loudly promoted “hate crime epidemic” in America is an illusion. Hate crimes have never been more than a tiny fraction of overall violent crime, and the numbers have actually been holding steady or decreasing in recent years.22

    The authors also reveal the surprising statistics regarding interracial crime. It turns out that 80 percent of violent crimes involve an attacker and victim of the same race. “For the 20 percent of violent crimes that are interracial, 15 percent involve black offenders and white victims; 2 percent involve white offenders and black victims; and 3 percent involve other combinations.”23

    So instead of trying to cast whites as racists who fear “those people” you might look at what they really think about crime and how it happens. People know who they are most likely to be assaulted by.

    Also consider that the idea to carry a firearm is often based not out of fear but out of love. When i got married and gained a wife and 3 kids; I knew that I had a responsibility to be there for them. Not just provide life insurance but to make sure I came home every day to my family; isn’t that what a provider is supposed to do?
    I know the odds of being the victim of a violent crime are incredibly low; but two things, the odds stack up over time and the consequences can be devastating. Therefore, I take sensible precautions to be there for my loved ones.

    Bob S.

    • Hi Bob – Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and respond to it.
      I’m assuming you live in Texas?
      With the events in Waco the past weekend, I assume we’re both further emboldened in our particular viewpoints. It’s a complicated issue . . .

      • Tim,

        Yes I live in Texas. As distances in this state goes; not far from Waco.

        , that I’m concerned about in today’s environment of increasing economic and social inequality: the human propensity to misuse power.

        I’m not sure how the violence in Waco embolden’s your position — the biker gangs weren’t targeting others, they were targeting each other. They aren’t new, they aren’t outgrowths of the Open Carry movement either.

        Help me understand how Open Carry would have a role in the violence in Waco.

        Bob S.

    • Bob – Ours is (thankfully) a very civilized society. Opportunity, competition, and cooperation – which bring about vibrant creativity – prove it out.
      At the same time, ours is a violent society – there are many markers to prove this out, including the 30,000 annual gun deaths in this country. Yes, our society perhaps is not as brutal as what has come before, but it’s more deadly. As was the 20th century on the whole . . .
      Hopefully the 21st century can advance the march toward greater and fuller civil society – civilization.
      Waco is simply a mirror of who we are. We might want to say “us and them,” but, like I allude to in the post, human nature is pretty the same here, there, us, them. Waco isn’t an open-carry issue; what happened there is a violent society issue. And guns simply created more death in Waco.
      I fully support your right and choice to protect your family. But, I certainly don’t want to live in a society where every single family becomes a militia unto itself. My goal – let us put more energy and effort into relationships – is a better society. I’m not convinced more guns will do that.
      Again, I appreciate your interest and interaction.

  3. Very powerful Tim and I thank you for
    sharing! Arlin.

  4. Jud Smith

    Pastor Tim,
    Very interesting post. Some of my closest friends do not know that I was at one time a card carrying member of the NRA and was, in fact, a part of their hard core known as the Golden Eagles. I subscribed, at the time, to the theory that any lost battle in the process of protecting our 2nd Amendment right to bear arms would eventually lead to rampant gun control and the abolishment of that amendment. I stopped being an NRA member and supporting their “all or nothing” quest because I just didn’t believe that anyone needed an Uzi, much less an AK-47, to protect their family, property, or life as we know it. My .357 Magnum can do that just fine, thank you. When Texas introduced concealed handgun legislation I was all for it. I have never availed myself of it, personally, but I think the training classes are appropriate, thorough and helpful for those who do seek that level of protection for themselves, their families and even others who may need it. And, violent crime statistics, since its inception, in Texas as elsewhere, have proven the hysterical predictions of anti-gun advocates about gun battles in the streets were baseless. (Biker gangs in Waco, shooting each other, most likely never took the course, probably obtained their weapons via nefarious means, never registered them or passed a five-day waiting period and, indeed, gun control will not prevent the next act of senseless violence by bikers or anyone else intent on doing harm). So, where do I stand on the issue of Open Carry? I think you can guess….it’s a “Yes” vote. However, I never got your vote. Perhaps you don’t care to share. On the other hand, if you have some suggestions about how we can “put supersized energy and time into the depth and scope of our relationships one with another – especially with those we don’t know”….I think that would be a good thing and I am all ears. That is unless you think the bulge of that shiny Smith & Wesson in my new leather shoulder holster as I step out of my large, black SUV would be a deterrent.

    As usual, a very thought provoking post, my friend.

    Peace.

    Jud

    • Jud! Great to hear from you on the blogosphere . . . good sharing on the “middle course” taken from previous days. The evolving stance of the NRA, as you aptly describe it, fits in pretty well with the extremism of this current era of excess. (And as we know, they’re not the only ones on either side of the political divide to have taken this path!)
      My vote? The die is pretty well cast – it will happen in Texas. I’ll keep advocating for folks to get to know their neighbors (using the Jesus definition of neighbors from the parable of the Good Samaritan: everyone and all) whether it’s volunteering at a local food pantry, getting involved in a community youth organization, or – here we go – joining in and organizing on a local issue, getting one’s hand dirty. Homelessness is getting worse in Austin – childhood poverty hasn’t gone away, etc.

      I haven’t forgot either about doing a discussion study group like we talked last year . . .

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