Gun violence is a volatile topic. I had no idea how volatile until I started posting the thousands of names of gun deaths since the mass shooting in the Newtown elementary school December 14, 2012.
A common comment I get is also a favorite statement of the National Rifle Association: guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Technically that’s true. A gun needs a person to pull the trigger. Guns are the means by which a person kills another person; violence begetting violence.
Here’s the thing: violence is learned and we know a lot about the factors that contribute to violence. Violence is by no means only among gang members in blighted neighborhoods under the decay of poverty. Drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and mental illness also contribute to violence. While we will never eradicate every factor that contributes to violence nor change the behavior of every potentially violent person – we all possess the ability to become violent – most of the gun violence we see and hear about it preventable.
If something is preventable, then it becomes a public health problem. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines public health as:
the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through the organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals.
Violence shortens life and threatens the health of the people involved, just as does poor food handling practices or contagious diseases. Yet, we’re willing to enact laws and best practices to help curtail certain public health crises. We’re reluctant, however, to enact common sense laws and support programs that will help mitigate the violence that is rampant in our homes, schools, theaters, neighborhoods, places of employment and business, churches, clinics, parks, and every other place people are found.
I think we can unlearn violence by addressing the factors that contribute to our culture of violence:
- how we raise our children as parents and as a community
- how we end domestic violence
- how we treat alcohol and drug dependency
- how we promote gun safety and legal accountability of firearm ownership
- how we create and consume media and entertainment in which violence is so prominent
- how we build a culture that says enough is enough
Extreme violence permeated ancient Roman society. Slaves, criminals, prisoners of war, and other expendable humans were rounded up either as participant or persecuted in the violent sport that some believe may have contributed to the downfall of the Roman Empire.
Jesus and his followers lived under the occupation of the Roman Empire. They were acquainted with the culture of violence. The temptation to be pulled into their own version of Arab Spring was very real. Yet, Jesus, and subsequently his followers, continuously espoused a radical way of addressing and dealing with violence.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:14-21).
We can unlearn violence. We must unlearn violence … especially if we are a follower of Jesus. Enough is enough.