“Take an eye for an eye, and the whole world goes blind.” Mohandas K. Gandhi
The title of this post is a phrase used by Martin Luther King in his first major speech, the one he gave to rally support for the historic bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, which led to the overthrow of Jim Crow.
Last night I read a piece on Alternet entitled “Guns, Paranoia, and Obama Assassination Jokes: Inside the NRA’s Annual Convention,” by Alexander Zaitchik, borrowed from Media Matters for America. It’s an excellent article and I urge you to read it if you have time.
Why do so many Americans have such a fascination with guns? Why do we continually let the National Rifle Association get away with murder by promoting these sleek, gleaming, deadly little gadgets? (Don’t worry–it has nothing to do with feelings of sexual inadequacy on the part of heavily armed males who go around assassinating deer, quail, and ducks–and I’m not looking at you–yes, you, Dick Cheney.)
It takes an inordinate amount of guts to be a pacifist, more than most of us probably have, the kind of courage you have to work long and hard to cultivate.
Barack Obama, whom the NRA is so suspiciously afraid of (even though they should thank him as his symbolic presidential presence as “the one who wants to take your guns away” has helped fire gun sales through the roof), signed into law a bill that allows people to bring firearms into national parks. Why? To defend themselves against hostile forms of wildlife, of course.
“Oh my God–it’s a bear!”
“Phew! It was only a human being.”
“And he was black. He might have attacked you.”
“Good thing we were armed.”
The Second Amendment of the U. S. Constitution concerning the Right to Bear Arms (but not to arm bears–heaven forbid) was provided by the so-called Founding Fathers of the United States in order to protect citizens from potential tyranny within the country by allowing them to form a militia, if necessary. Considering how repressive, aggressive, and invasive certain elements of our government have become, this might not have been such a far-fetched idea. The past two presidents’ suspension of habeas corpus and insistence on repealing the Posse Comitatus Act suggests that we may only be one terrorist attack, environmental catastrophe, or financial meltdown away from an all-out police state or military dictatorship, so tenuous have our civil rights become.
The only problem is that weapons tend to trigger certain people’s worst impulses (a.k.a., George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s overzealous and/or gratuitously paranoid/jumpy murderer), as does the gathering of armed men–and sometimes women–in large groups (e. g., the My Lai massacre, the Rape of Nanking, Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, the Manson family murders, etc.).
Also, as Dr. King understood, when it came to the civil rights movement, violent resistance was dead in the water, since the forces of oppression packed a lot more heat than the noble opposition did.
Despite what the Libertarian Party or Tea Party says, the U. S. government is not a monolith. There are those elected representatives who genuinely care about their constituents and try to make the system work the way it’s supposed to. Still, it’s terrifying to contemplate what’s happening to the country now on just about any major front–economic, political, judicial, religious, military, or environmental.
There’s a humane temptation to believe that everything can or will work out for the best and that all we have to do is pray–in other words, hide our heads in the sand and wait for the gathering storm to blow over. The people in the Occupy movement are brave enough to stick their necks out, out of desperation as much as anything, and wise enough not to resort to violence.
I don’t believe war in any form is the answer to our problems. Like most men, I grew up playing with toy soldiers and toy guns (while boys not much older than I was were drafted and played with real guns in the Vietnam War; ask them how much fun they had). I learned marksmanship firing a baby (sic–bee-bee) gun at summer camp. I even got pretty good at it, although I preferred archery, especially the satisfying thump of the arrow piercing the straw target.
The feeling of power that murder or killing bestows could be intoxicating in a certain context, once your conscience has been canceled or suffocated with enough dehumanizing indoctrination or brainwashing. Or maybe it’s just the reptile brain in action, responding to some re-awakened biological impulse of kill-or-be-killed that served us better in earlier times, when it was a matter of brute survival to employ physical force against a deadly foe or life-threatening predator.
But I also know from having murdered a rat in cold blood when I was in middle school the horror and pain of violence. I’ve never forgiven myself completely for inflicting so much unnecessary suffering on that poor, defenseless creature, and all because of the stereotype that rats are vermin to be disposed of without mercy–talk about hypocrisy.
Granted, as a meat-eater I’m responsible for an unconscionable amount of carnage over the course of my life (the irony was I was practically a vegetarian the time I killed the rat–and because I loved animals! Just not all of them, I guess). Cognitive dissonance is a funny thing. Out of sight, out of mind; mass-murder by proxy a la factory farms, battery cages, underwater trawling operations, and fishing fleets with all-encompassing drift nets to promote aquatic extinctions and accelerate our own species’ race to the finish line.
America needs to turn away from bloodshed for a change. Don’t you think we should heed Dr. King’s advice and “fight physical force with soul force”? There is a conscience buried in the hearts of the seemingly heartless men and women who grip the reins of power, and an awful fear and timidity in the eyes of soldiers, leaders, and other murderers, a fear that makes such a misappropriation of power possible.
Guns can’t dispel fear. Guns magnify terror and make it multiply, as do nuclear weapons. For those of you disgusted by the N. R. A.’s transparently cynical venality, whether you’re members or not, please resist the urge to arm yourselves, except perhaps sparingly the way they do in Switzerland, as a precaution warranted by the founding fathers’ advice. Otherwise the slope will become too slippery with the blood of our slaughtered brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, for us to make the climb and join Martin Luther King on the mountaintop, where the view promises to be more beautiful than anything any of us has ever seen.