Fear-Rooted Gun Culture Kills before Shot Is Fired. (Column)

By Berggren, Kris | National Catholic Reporter, June 6, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Fear-Rooted Gun Culture Kills before Shot Is Fired. (Column)


Berggren, Kris, National Catholic Reporter


Gun culture kills before a shot is ever fired

In my home hangs a print called "Jesus Breaking the Rifle," by a German artist named Otto Pankok, which I bought a dozen years ago at Chicago's Peace Museum. It depicts Jesus in black and white, snapping a rifle across his knee as if it were a stick. It reminds my children and visitors that Jesus used words, not weapons, to solve problems and bridge differences between people.

Here's a Zen question for you: If a gun is locked in a cabinet, does anybody die? I suppose it's literally true that guns don't kill people; people kill people. But to be precise, people with guns kill people--and kill themselves, and cause unintentional injury and death.

I have long been anti-gun. I'm not really talking about hunting rifles, though I do admit that the allure of hunting as a sport escapes me. No, I'm talking about gun culture creep: what strikes me as a mood of increasing resignation on the part of the American people that guns are a necessary evil, a last resort of self-protection in a world that threatens their personal safety. The gun industry and its public relations arm, the National Rifle Association, are masterful marketers who take advantage of our latent anxieties, whether they're about specific things like a spate of crime in our neighborhoods, or uncertainties like the threat of foreign terrorists.

When I lived in Detroit I attended a weekly prayer vigil in the center of the downtown area organized by the Anti-Handgun Association. A co-worker in my building one day questioned my rationale for opposing guns. She told me of her parents' mom-and-pop grocery on a corner of a street in our often-lawless city. Because the store had been robbed before, she feared for her dad's life and was grateful that he owned a gun. I had to respect her experience, but it didn't change my core belief that the proliferation of guns in our homes and public places reflects a deep-rooted fear that kills something in our souls before a shot is ever fired.

My children wanted to know whether a permit to carry a gun also gives the gun owner permission to shoot someone. I explained that no, just because someone may carry a gun does not mean they may use it at any time. Good, they said. But wait, they wondered, why would someone want to carry a gun if they can't use it? Exactly, I thought: I don't see the logic either.

The second article in our nation's Bill of Rights preserves the individual's right to keep and bear arms. That may be the letter of the law, but even a minor history buff knows that in spirit, it was written primarily to reinforce citizens' right to organize a popular militia to protect homesteaders and communities from outside invasion.

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