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.
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.
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.
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