Saturday, August 16, 2014

Thoughts on Gun Violence

I happen to live in an area where it isn't uncommon to come across a bear, coyote, mountain lion, or the occasional aggressive off leash dog. Because of the drought in California, many of these wild animals are hanging round closer to people. Because I walk dogs in areas where these creatures are in fact common, I'm looking into purchasing pepper spray or bear spray, for a "just-in-case" scenario—I want to protect the dogs, myself, and the wild creature as well from being injured or killed.

As I'm searching for the best pepper spray with the longest range, I find myself questioning (in the midst of all the recent gun violence on the news), why humans don't often feel this way about one another—protecting ourselves and the life of the other person (who may or may not wish to do harm)? Why do people feel they have to shoot another dead when protecting their homes, their stores, their material possessions, their communities?

Why not use a non-violent method on a person who is resisting arrest, running off with a stolen item, breaking into your home, or attempting to steal your car? Shouldn't we simply aim to disable the person just enough to put him or her in hand cuffs if they are resisting so they can be questioned, and go through the legal process? Isn't that how it should be, for police and for citizens?

The news out of Ferguson, Missouri has had my head spinning in every direction the entire week. I've been at a loss for words (which I admit is rare), not because it is shocking (this type of hatred and violence goes on all the time and is rarely, if ever, covered by mainstream media), not because I don't have an opinion on it (quite contrary, indeed). It is because the issues surrounding it go so much deeper than the surface that one must walk through each stage of grief to even fathom the injustice. And with each step deeper a new injustice is revealed and more grief is walked through. It is a race issue, for sure. Don't say it's not. But more than that—much more than that—it is a HUMAN issue. A societal issue. That young 18-year-old boy, Michael Brown, was OUR little brother. Our big brother. Our son. Our student. Our teacher. Whether or not he stole something (no matter the cost) it was not anyone's duty, right, nor responsibility to take his life from him and from his family and loved ones. And a box of cigars was in no way more valuable than his life.

When I was 16 years old, I walked into a drug store alone, picked up a tiny lipstick and pulled my hand up into the long sleeve of my oversized coat. "I wonder if there are cameras," I thought. After making the most animated of faces (to convince the "cameras" I was not finding what I was looking for so was leaving the store "empty handed"), scared as I'd ever been I walked out the door with that tiny lipstick in my sleeve. Was I caught? No. Have I ever stolen again? No way! That feeling was enough for me to not ever want to do it again. I still think about it and feel terribly guilty. Funny thing is, I don't even like lipstick. Never have. Imagine if I had been shot because of stealing. Who would have been taught the lesson? Is a box of cigars, a flat screen TV, or even a car worth more than a life? Any life?

I've asked people who are pro-gun why they would find the need to have them. The most common answer is to protect their home and family members. Makes sense. Could this not be accomplished with non-lethal force? "How about when the other person has a gun. What to do then?" you ask. Excellent point, but is more guns the answer? Couldn't bear spray with a 30-40 foot reach be a better option than taking a life and having to live with that the rest of your own?

Where is the logic in believing material things are worth more than a human life? Is it when we ceased being citizens and unknowingly agreed to be considered merely consumers? When did we begin to believe taking another's life is acceptable—that death is the only way to justice? Is death punishment? Is death a punishment when the moment one dies all is over for them but their families and loved ones suffer horrendously? Does this teach a lesson or does it simply manifest violence? If someone shot and killed my little brother because he lifted a box of cigars, you'd better believe there would be violence—there would be a lot of very angry people. And yet, he would be dead, unable to learn a lesson. There is no lesson in killing another, other than the fact that like me with the lipstick, you'll think about it the rest of your life and (hopefully) never want to do it again. Who deserves to die and what gives us, other humans with our own flaws, authority to kill?

Could you live with yourself after shooting another dead, even if that person *intended* to harm you? I surely couldn't. We've got people wanting to proudly carry their weapons through stores to brag about their rights to bear arms, and yet, who needs to be shot dead in a store other than a person bearing arms irresponsibly and aggressively? Some people believe we need more guns. In schools even. And yet, I can hike on my own in the wilderness and be approached by a 600 lb. bear (who would rather enjoy having me or my dogs as dinner) and feel confident going out there being armed with nothing more than a $10 can of spray . . . seriously. I live. The bear lives. No violence. 

Beyond race, beyond economics, beyond gender, beyond social status is a beating heart, a person born kind, a flawed human being just like you and me. How can we get to the bottom of these plaguing issues and repair them from the ground up rather than haphazardly patching them? How can we re-humanize ourselves? 

I don't know the answer, but I do know it is up to us to create change. We cannot rely on "them", the few we call "leaders", to make these changes. It must begin in our communities, one neighbor, one hug, one conversation, one kind act at a time. 

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