Tag Archives: Reinhold Niebuhr

Gun Nation

America has more guns overall, and more guns per capita, than any other nation. Most estimates claim that Americans own as many guns as there are residents – 320 million. Other nations with higher percentages of gun ownership don’t come close to America’s dominating rate of 100 guns per 100 residents – Serbia rates at 75; Yemen (54) and Switzerland (46) are next closest. Neighbors Canada and Mexico are estimated, respectively, at rates of 30 and 15. US domestic arms sales have been robust since 2008, but concentrated among a smaller group of owners. Fewer American households today have guns (estimates range from 33-40 percent) than was the case in the early 1970s (50-55 percent). Rural life in America has always been associated with gun ownership; increasing urbanization helps explain the decreasing household gun ownership rate.

In my book Just a Little Bit More I detail the rise of the current era of excess that began in 1980 – more profits for the owner class, greater debt for the working class, more polarization, more inequality. The National Rifle Association’s “all or nothing” quest, dating to the mid-1980s – defining any attempt at gun control legislation as an attack on the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights – fits in the same category of excess. The NRA has a legitimate voice in our open democratic society, and can serve to help the society maintain a proper balance as concerns gun rights and restrictions. For many decades since its inception in the late nineteenth century, the NRA has served that purpose. It’s more than ironic, however, that the NRA’s generation-strong stranglehold on all congressional Republicans and some Democrats enables homegrown hate mongers – Omar Mateen, the latest – to slay fellow Americans with legally purchased assault-style rifles. There are numerous responsible gun owners in America who fully support the Second Amendment and don’t see the need for citizens to own AK-47s or AR-15s in order to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.

More is not always better; the plethora of easily accessible weapons in the US simply means that these types of mass-shooting events will continue to occur. Some of these events will be thwarted, yes, by well-meaning and heroic gun owners. But the long list of mass shootings beginning with Columbine in 1999 won’t be ending any time soon – as long as this society allows for the status quo to continue.

More than 30,000 Americans die yearly by gun violence; each day more than thirty die by homicide and more than fifty by suicide. Gunfire injures an additional 240 Americans per day. A colleague of mine recently commented that “America is a society addicted to violence.” Call of Duty, the best-selling war-based video game, is played by youngsters all across the US. Learning the art of war, unfortunately, is a necessity in our world of disagreements, disputes, and evil intentions. Perpetuating a culture desensitized to violence and killing, however, is not necessary.

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.”

It’s a good thing when an armed American woman is able to protect herself from sexual and physical violence from a perpetrator. This current progress wasn’t a reality in previous generations. We’ve made progress in another area, lamentably: the ease by which we can kill one another.

CainandAbel

Fratricide is one of the first stories in the Bible – Cain killing his brother Abel. The prominent place given to the story speaks to its universality. Humans will continue to kill one another, acting upon the angst that lurks in our souls. Because of this ever-present angst, human community is a continuing challenge.

Achieving and maintaining balance between self-protection, constitutional rights, and the question of who can possess firearms is the hard work of common good. There are no rights that are unlimited. That’s a modern reality in progressive, democratic societies – unlimited rights exist and existed in autocratic and monarchical societies. While politicians in Washington DC are mostly inactive and stymied on the intertwining issues of gun control and gun rights, progress moves forward in communities across the nation. Recent legislation for tighter gun controls in California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, New Jersey, Maryland, and New York are giving evidence that the NRA is no longer the sole dominant voice in the gun debate at the public square of Gun Nation.

 

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide will be available in September 2016. ¡Que bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más saldrá este Septiembre de 2016!

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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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