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“We’re a society that believes violence is the answer”

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Memorial at St. Rose of LIma Church in Newtown, Conn.
Memorial at St. Rose of LIma Church in Newtown, Conn.

The horrible killings of last Friday in Newtown, Conn. instantly elicited a huge range of responses, as it should. It is a tribute to our collective psyche that we continue to be shocked, outraged, stunned by such events. In spite of their frequency we are not yet inured to them, but their frequency is growing. In a Dec.17 editorial in the Wall Street Journal David Kopel cited the grim statistics: there were 18 random mass shootings in the 1980s, 54 in the 1990s, and 87 in the 2000s, a five-fold increase over just three 10-year increments. In addition to the usual arguments that break out over the effectiveness of gun control laws, some of the commentary is now focused on mental health diagnosis and treatment. It is preposterous to argue, as the NRA does, that the number of guns and the ease of getting them have nothing to do with these killings, and it is certain that were we to invest a lot more in mental health counseling more people would be properly diagnosed and treated. But I remain convinced that these arguments are red herrings — albeit accidental ones — arguments whose deeper unconscious purpose is to divert us from dealing with the real issue, which is that we have a diseased culture. The number of unregulated, easily obtainable guns we have is a symptom of this disease, not the cause of it. For it isn’t that we kill people because we have so many guns, it is that we have so many guns because as a culture we believe violence is the answer, we believe in killing. 

This is a terrible accusation to make, but there isn’t really any other conclusion to draw when comparing the number of random mass shootings that occur here and in other countries. They happen elsewhere, but they are so much rarer that any dispassionate observer would say that this sort of thing is not really the product of normal human nature; something has to go wrong in a whole culture before these sorts of things become as frequent as they are here. Mike Huckabee’s statement that they happen because we kicked God out of school is simply wrong — that is the most charitable thing anyone could say about it. The highly secularized countries of Europe hardly ever see this happen. By Huckabee’s standards God was kicked out of their schools decades ago. We do have a spiritual problem, but it isn’t that we are not religious enough; it is that we really do believe killing people solves problems, makes the world better, and the mentally unstable people of this society are getting that message every day in scores of ways. 

What needs to happen is not that we start praying in school more. What needs to happen is that we admit as a people that we love violence, and that the deaths of school children are the natural and inevitable consequence of that spiritual disorder, and that then, over time, we repent of that particular form of idolatry. I don’t know what it will take to get us to that point, how many more deaths of 5-year-olds will have to happen, but unless we do repent, those deaths will continue. William Stafford, Oregon’s poet Laureate for a time had an aphorism that fits this moment: “Every war has two losers.” He offered no commentary on it, but its meaning is clear enough.  One loser is the obvious one, the people whose cities are destroyed, whose culture and people are traumatized by defeat. The other loser is the people who, in getting their way by violence and death, become convinced that inflicting violence and death on those who trouble us is noble and good and even righteous. They are the greater and more pathetic of the two losers. Every year, over and over again, we are proving Stafford right.

Bill Ellis
Bill Ellis
Rev. Bill Ellis is dean of St. John’s Cathedral. He has a bachelor’s degree in history, a Master of Divinity and holds an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

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doug
doug
11 years ago

Excellent analysis, Reverend.

Eric Blauer
Eric Blauer
11 years ago

If you believe in evolution, than we evoked to be violent according to new research:

“An alternative possible explanation,” he says, “is that we stood up on two legs and evolved these hand proportions to beat each other.”

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/12/21/opposable_thumbs_evolved_for_fighting/

Eric Blauer
Eric Blauer
11 years ago

You left out a lot from Kopel’s article like:

“Has the rate of random mass shootings in the United States increased? Over the past 30 years, the answer is definitely yes. It is also true that the total U.S. homicide rate has fallen by over half since 1980, and the gun homicide rate has fallen along with it. Today, Americans are safer from violent crime, including gun homicide, than they have been at any time since the mid-1960s.”

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323723104578185271857424036.html?mod=WSJ_hp_mostpop_read

Lou
Lou
11 years ago

I think Rev. Ellis is right, though. We are a nation of violence, and random mass shootings are indeed increasing. This idea of arming teachers is outrageous, too. That’s not how we solve this. I feel like we’re reverting back to the Wild West. Who else should arm themselves – mall workers? Grocery store clerks?

Eric Blauer
Eric Blauer
11 years ago

“the total U.S. homicide rate has fallen by over half since 1980, and the gun homicide rate has fallen along with it.”

How do you explain that fact?

Tracy Simmons
Tracy Simmons
11 years ago

I’m glad to hear the homicide rate has fallen. What do you think needs to be done about these mass shootings, though?

Bruce
Bruce
11 years ago

I’m not sure we’re any more violent than any other country. People groups go through periods of peace and violence. If you just increase the arc of time a bit, you have WWI and WWII over in Europe and there’re plenty of mass murders in Russia, China, Cambodia, Africa… We’re just catching up.

Martin Elfert
Martin Elfert
11 years ago

I don’t think that there is a single explanation, Eric, but I would say that what we learned about triage in Vietnam being taught to paramedics a huge factor. A gunshot wound is way more survivable than it used to be.

Dennis
Dennis
11 years ago

Australia confiscated all the weapons from law abiders now the government is trying to “redefine” what constitutes a home invasion because there are so many now. Seems the criminals “forgot” to turn theirs in! Imagine that.

Our founding fathers that revolted against GB were a minority. The majority just wanted to role over and be subjects of a dictatorial monarchy. Sound familiar? Thanks to God they didn’t get their way. I’m not sure we have enough of us with the courage and conviction to stand up this time.

The worn out argument from the self-righteous gun grabbers is as much baloney as always. Taking guns from law abiding citizens is wrong, unconstitutional and never reduces violence. It’s just easy to sound pious calling “everyone else” lovers of killing.

Bill Ellis
Bill Ellis
11 years ago

Lots of comments for which I am grateful, let my addess a few of them. Most of the analysis of the decline in murders with guns in this country has been attributed to two things, aging boomers and Viet Nam. The demographic most apt to commit gun violence, young males, as shrunk considerably over the past thirty years as the boomers get older. When adjusted for that change in population, our rate of gun violence among those most prone to it is about the same as it was in 1980. Beyond that, Viet Nam taught us a lot about triage, and a large number of people who would have died of gunshot wounds forty years ago are surviving now. More than that even, even if we bought the argument that gun violence is in a population adjusted decline, we are still by far the most violent country in the industrialized world. “The News Hour” last Thursday had a fellow on it who reported that the US has five times the number of people as Great Britain and nearly 200 times the number of murders. Don’t talk to me about a decline in gun violence when we are that far “ahead” of European countries. Dennis’ remark about Australia also needs to be seen in this light. I don’t know where he got his facts, but he will doubtless let us know. What is certain is that the number of armed home invasions in this country is far greater than Australia, even when adjusted for population. And Australia has not had a single random mass murder since they imposed the confiscation law to which he refers. But Dennis doesn’t have to worry about any such thing here; Nancy Pelosi has introduced an assault weapons “ban” that has 900 exceptions to it. That isn’t a ban; it isn’t even a band-aid. It is a sop, pure and simple, because we haven’t the will as a culture right now anyway, to change. Again, the reason for this is not that we are violent because we have such easy access to guns. The reason is we have such easy access to guns because we are an unusally violent people.

Fcb4@mac.com
11 years ago

Criminals, repeat criminals, make up the majority of offenses not ‘us’.

Do we ‘choose’ to believe stats now?

Bill Ellis
Bill Ellis
11 years ago

Eric,

I am a bit confused as to what your comment means. One could reasonably argue that “criminals” make up 100 percent of the offenses, not just a majority, but does that make them not part of this country, not part of this culture? I suppose we could argue that by committing a crime one proves that he is not part of “us” but that is a rather Manichean view of things Christianity rejected a long time ago. I don’t get it. But what is more confusing to me is that this country incarcerates a highter percentage of its citizens than any other. It is one of the scandals of our time that we are throwing more people into jail than anyone else. Your comment serves to support my central thesis, which is that there is something strange about us. Perhaps you will clarify what you mean.

Eric Blauer
Eric Blauer
11 years ago

My point simply was that its criminals killing not the general, law abiding populace. Disarming the targets makes no sense to me.

Nobody can argue against the fact that we’ve got problems, I just disagree with picking fruits instead of roots.

It’s like dealing with obesity and focusing on the evils of the fork and knife.

As for jail, well, if your prolife, you lock them up instead of kill them.

Ernesto Tinajero
Ernesto Tinajero
11 years ago

Eric,

Here is the fact. If guns are harder to get ahold off, Criminals, not the world’s brightest, tend to have harder time getting them as well. By allowing cheap guns easily available makes them easier for criminals to get a hold of them. Cheap guns make for cheap life.

By the way the last few shooters in Colorado and Sandy Hook were not criminals until they chose to do their deeds. They were law abiding until that moment, but armed with weapons made to kill a great deal of people in a short time, they did. Since the ban on assault weapons in Australia, the gun violence has gone down in all areas, criminal and other wise, and also they had a decrease in mass shootings to ZERO. These are the facts. I have yet to hear any facts by those that want to support the use of assault rifles. Also, what would an Law Abiding citizen want with ar-15. They are terrible hunting rifles. They are not good for self defense as they need preparations to use. The only use they seem to have is as offensive weapons and to build up whoosey male egos. It is no wonder that the manufacturer of the Bushmaster uses this slogan: “Your Man Card Reissued” http://gawker.com/5969150/bushmaster-firearms-your-man-card-is-revoked This is the real issue… weak men that love guns because they lack the cojones to be a real man.

Bill Ellis
Bill Ellis
11 years ago

Nicely put, Ernesto. It is not and never has been a matter of disarming the targets. I remember a bumper sticker from the late 60s: “When Guns are Outlawed Only Outlaws Will Have Guns.” The experience of many countries, including Australia, Japan, Great Britain, and others is that “When Guns Are Restricted, Umm, Guess What? It Gets A Lot Harder For Outlaws to Get Them.” And by the way, if cutlery had anything whatsoever to do with the epidemic of obsesity Eric’s analogy would have some merit. But cutlery has nothing whatsoever to do with obesity, and guns have a great deal to do with the murder rate in this country.

Dennis
Dennis
11 years ago

I’ve been reading more news lately about the real agenda behind the “response” to the horrible murders at Sandy Hook. Those who have always wanted to totally disarm America are quick not to let a good crises go to waste, as Rahm always says. Both Diane Feinstein and Andrew Cuomo have both admitted that they’re preference would be the total disarmament of the American populous. Anyone who argues that this is not just a step in the road to get there is naive at best, or willfully ignorant at worst. It’s the same modus operandi of all Saul Alinsky-type activist groups, get whatever you can, whenever you can and deny your real agenda along the way.

Eric Blauer
Eric Blauer
11 years ago

I said the majority of gun owners are good, law abiding citezens.

As for other countries, I don’t care. This is America, we are a constitutionally based people with a 2nd amendment.

I’m never going to be for a position that chooses to disarm the majority of good people because of a minority of bad people.

I am open to logical, legal regulation.

Ernesto Tinajero
Ernesto Tinajero
11 years ago

Eric,

All that is being preposed is the elimination of large magazines of more that ten clips, and the background checks and making assault weapons (those that did not exist at the time of the 2nd amendment). There are few people tat are calling for a ban, but sane gun laws. You keep confusing the issue. I know the NRA does that because they are really working for the gun makers. I still have yet to hear any (any) reason why a law abiding citizens needs assault. Even in Dennis paranoid world, a government armed as our army, would have no trouble taking down a group of AR-15 wheeling nutballs. And look at the marketing of the weapons, they offer the real reasons people what these guns. Weak men that look to become real men but having them.. Is it surprising then when these weak willed pansies actually use the guns for what they are intended for. Adam Lnza, and the Columbine killers are the exact market that the Bushmaster is selling to, they want their man card reissued, but their man cards will never be ressued on the blood of innocents. I used the other countries that share our culture and saved lives. Are you about false understandings of our constitution, even if it means that Parents will continue to bury their beloved preschoolers? That and only that is the issue. Jesus will be watching.

Eric Blauer
Eric Blauer
11 years ago

Armed man kicks in front door of a home 5 blocks from my home. He enters and goes directly to master bedroom where couple are sleeping.

So what would Ernesto and Bill do?

Bruce
Bruce
11 years ago

Christians are those who follow Christ, at least I think that’s my understanding. At least they try to follow him. We don’t know much about the life of Christ, but we do know pretty well when violent Romans confronted him with arms, he went to the cross.

He could have bought arms and defended himself. He could have turned his group of disciples into a military brigade. He could have called down legions of angels or shot lightning from heaven. But he went to the cross.

So… if we are to follow Christ, does that mean we go out and buy military assault weapons so we can defend ourselves against the evil in the world? Or do we go to the cross?

Just a question for those who claim to follow Christ.

Eric Blauer
11 years ago

So your answer is what Bruce?

Bill Ellis
Bill Ellis
11 years ago

Eric’s question is to be expected; what do I do when the armed man breaks into my house and goes straight for the bedroom? The answer is simple, I get murdered, my wife gets raped and then murdered. Too bad for me. Worse for the murderer. That happens, by the way, whether I have a gun or not. But the thing I wish Eric would understand is that his question assumes that the only thing preventing either the advent of a Stalinist dictatorship or the Zombie Apocalypse is unrestricted gun ownership. Eric is agreeing that we are an unusually violent people, and the only thing stopping more violence is guns and more guns in the hands of private citizens. There is not a shred of evidence that this is true in any country that has restricted gun ownership, but here, the argument goes, it would be true. But I just have to ask Eric, one last time, why do you refuse to deal with the fact that your scenario happens far less often in countries that restrict gun ownership than here? Why do you suppose that is? It is quite a puzzle.

Eric Blauer
11 years ago

That is the logical conclusion of your argument.

My argument is based on the idea that love is more interested in the other than ones moral purity code.

I do not find your position to be loving or just to your wife or the perpetrator.

The morality of Jesus is within the sphere of personal choices not national meta-stats.

What is the most loving action I can do in a given moment trumps all other scenarios.

I believe Jesus will judge me based on that premise and In that light I am secure.

Do unto others as you would have them do to you.

Bil Ellis
Bil Ellis
11 years ago

We have gone about as far as we can go with this. My argument, in sum, is that although it is impossible to prevent violence altogether, the scenario you suggest is much more apt to happen in societies that restrict access to guns than those that allow unrestricted access to guns. The jury is in on this. My wife and I are far, far safer in our homes if guns are less generally available than they are now in this country. The way to keep me and my wife relatively safe is to restrict access to guns. The way to keep me and my wife in more danger is to have no restrictions, or so few as to be meaningless. Your view keeps me and my wife in more danger than we would otherwise be. It really is that simple. Yes, even living in England, Japan, Sweden, Australia, I could be killed in my bed. Yes that could happen. It is far more apt to happen here than in any of those places. I cannot quite understand why you make no response whatsoever to that simple and indisputable fact. I am honestly bewildered that you believe, and I trust your sincerity on this, that having unrestricted access to guns is a Christian way of dealing with gun violence. I am equally bewildered that you have entirely accepted my thesis that we are an unusually violent people, and yet you insist that more guns is the answer to gun violence. I am honestly puzzled by this. So I guess we just move on from here to the next topic.

Bill Ellis
Bill Ellis
11 years ago

Reviewing my final post on this topic after, rather than before I posted it I noticed a mistake. I meant to say that “The scenario you suggest is much less apt to happen in societies that restrict access to guns than in societies that allow unrestricted access to guns.” My mistake.

Eric Blauer
Eric Blauer
11 years ago

I’ve never said that I don’t beleive in ‘regulation’, as I said above in the comments I posted, ( “I am open to logical, legal regulation.”) which I hope you took the time to read, as I did yours.

I don’t think that the vilinization that has been said here is true of most people. I believe that our constitution is a sane and just one, born of real world experience with power. It affords logical freedoms that help sustain a safe society.

The trend here of questioning people’s faith, intellect and resorting to belittling simply confirmed my convictions.

So move on I will, thanks for the article it was an enlightening path of conversation.

Ernesto Tinajero
Ernesto Tinajero
11 years ago

You gave a example of what? You give an example of guns in general when what is being purposed has to do with a specific type of weapon. You have done this twice, you widow sleeping with a gun for protection and now this. By grouping them together, you divert and fail to answer the issue at hand. I am still waiting for any, even horrendously bad reason to own a semi-auto assault weapons. I have shown you that the marketing of these weapons has less to do with any noble reasons, but a strange sexual sensual appeal. Buy these weapons to be a man says the advertising.

So, if I had a gun in your situation, I would use to protect my family. But would I need an AR-15 with a 30 mag clip to stop your intruder? No. So, if you had a surface to air missile and you knew that the plane taking off had terrorist that were going to crash into a building. Do you use it? Hence, by your logic, as a law abiding citizen, I should be allowed to own a surface to air missile. If I knew that North Korea was about to launch a nuke into Seattle and I had access to a nuke ICB missile to stop it, would use it? Then by your logic all law abiding citizen be allowed to have an ICB missile?

You put a hypothetical to me and I answered. Here is another for you? The one I keep asking but you keep ignoring. Suppose you have a mother who legally gets assault weapons, to which she doe not need in her nice part of Connecticut. She does not secure the weapons and her son, who does not have the where with all to get the weapons on, turns it on her then goes to the local school armed as a special op soldier and takes down, through the advance weaponry of AR-15 with several multiple clips 27 people in less that ten minutes. (Even if their was an armed guard, he would have had a chance against such a heavily armed intruder) Should the mother been allowed to such assault weapons. Notice the questions is about assault weapons and not guns in general. So please, please, please keep you answer to assault weapons and not guns in general.

Eric Blauer
Eric Blauer
11 years ago

I have adressed the gun issue in my 2 amendment rights responses.
I will spell it out clearly from my poisition: with resonabile regulation, semi-auto guns should be legal. I dig the Constitution and I am confident that the Supreme Court uphold reasonable semi-auto rulings. Your bomb and missle comments are unfair hyperbole.

Automatic machine guns are illegal.

Semi-automaitic guns are weapons that fit reasonable 2nd amendment intentions in my opinion. You can call names and make fun of folks who feel that the intent of the amendment which has been clearly sustained is based on present historical reality. Look at Syria for example.

Ernesto Tinajero
Ernesto Tinajero
11 years ago

Eric,
“Your bomb and missle comments are unfair hyperbole.”
And your example, which would not need an assault weapon, was not? Yes, I took you response and pushed it to its logical conclusion.

How can the 2nd Amendment cover weapons that did not exist? Second, you have yet to provide a reason for ownership. Are you afraid of the government? If so, as well as the military is armed, a AR-15 would useless. Also, Syria is a country with a long history of repression. Canada, England, Britain, Australia, Japan, and pretty much every other free country do not have the problem of mass shooters to any where the degree we have here.

I notice you did not touch the marketing of these weapons. I think you think I am making fun of them. I am not, that is how they are marketed. “Man has been card reissued” comes from the Brushmaster print ad. Look at any ar-15 and you see the same thing. They know their market and drives their sales.

Finally, Less you think that I am some idealistic Christian. I came to this issue during Columbine. Gun legally purchased mowed down teenagers. I heard Tom Mauser being taunted by NRA people , saying that he was responsible for his son murder at Columbine because he sent his son unarmed to High School. I have seen how my Home town and its sister city Juarez became a killing zone because ar-15 legally bought cheaply in US and smuggled into Mexico and armed the bad guys. The NRA has blood on their hands.

Finally, you failed to answer my question. Why would anyone need large Magazines and semiauto. Not good for hunting or self defense. Good for, as the name means, assaults. What functions to they have so I can tell the next mother. (Yes, I have talk to real life victims of mass shootings) The only one you alluded to is standing against a government oppression. If that is the case then the government would already out gun you.

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