Skip to content

We Need to Talk about Violence.

December 21, 2012

President Obama got it right: we can’t tolerate this anymore.

In his speech at Newtown’s interfaith prayer vigil on Sunday, while appropriately keeping the primary focus on voicing and responding to the nation’s grief, Obama showed a hint of political courage that hasn’t been seen on the problem of public shootings from either side of the aisle for as long as I can remember:

Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.

And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose — much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.

If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.

Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?

Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

Whether this hint of courage will be realized in action of course remains to be seen.  In any event, it should not have taken a tragedy of this magnitude to get us to start publicly acknowledging that maybe we should rethink our legally mandated national firearm fetish, an all too deeply embedded piece of the culture of death that enslaves us.  Sadly, it’s too late for the 26 children and teachers who were killed last Friday.  All the more reason we need some serious national introspection now.

We need to talk about violence.  We need to have a nationwide conversation that goes beyond superficial finger-pointing and begins to look for the roots of our national necrophilia, our perverse addiction that keeps deadly weapons sacrosanct in everything from the X-box to the NRA to the untouchable military budget.  We need to start asking what keeps us clinging to the very thing we fear as gun sales consistently spike in reaction to public shootings, and what keeps these tragedies the price we are willing to pay with increasing frequency for a gun-shaped manifestation of individual autonomy.

The editors of America raised some of these important questions following this summer’s shooting in a Colorado movie theater, concluding, “If some say that gun violence is the cost society must pay for citizens to exercise the constitutional right to bear arms, then others must insist that the cost is too high.”  They insightfully named extreme individualism as a key reason that “society allows individuals to build an armory, heedless of the rights of all Americans to live in safety.”  And they demonstrated an awareness of how such individualism underlies the culture of death in this and other facets, as they pointed out, “Catholics ought to champion gun control because restrictions would promote life, as they do in the case of abortion, the death penalty and euthanasia.” The freedom to make choices is a good thing as far as it goes, but when held above the things that matter more deeply, even life itself, it becomes an idol.  Nobody’s personal choice is EVER worth more than anybody’s life.

Is legislation the answer?  Yes and no.  Or better: not by itself, but yes, as a necessary minimum.  I remain haunted by the words of Martin Luther King: “The law cannot make you love me, but it can keep you from lynching me.”  Contained in these words is the wisdom that can guide us past the false dichotomy between love and justice.

Laws by themselves will never be enough, because they can never eradicate the deep roots of hatred in human souls.  Yet they are sorely needed, and always will be this side of the eschaton, because there will always be people refusing to love.  The virus of violence that infects the human condition will take every chance it gets to reproduce.  So let us do everything in our power to deny it that chance – whether through easy access to guns or easy access to abortion; whether its victims be children facing a crazed gunman in Connecticut or children facing a predator drone in Pakistan.  An outpouring of sorrow and goodwill, as much as this may be motivated by deep and genuine compassion, is also, by itself, not enough.

Let us do all we can to promote just and life-affirming laws – and then, let us not stop there as if that would fix everything and our task would be complete.  At the same time that we advocate for desperately needed restrictions on guns and abortion and drone warfare and all other offenses against life (and please, for the love of God and humanity, let’s be consistent in the way we oppose such things), let us not wait until all the right laws are in place to do the necessary soul-searching.  It is past time to start asking of every game we play, every song we sing, every advertisement we see, every speech we hear, every purchase we make, every social convention we participate in: are we serving life or death, God or Mammon, the Prince of Peace or the bloodthirsty idol Moloch?  We are of course in the world and cannot simply withdraw; we must and should continue to play games and sing songs and see ads and hear speeches and make purchases and participate in any number of social conventions – but we must do so discerningly.  The patriarch Joshua (24:15) once said to the people of God, “Choose this day whom you will serve.”  Right answers to this question are needed as surely as right laws are, and more deeply so.

As the America editorial said this past August,

Until society’s preference for the unlimited exercise of individual rights over those of the common good is tempered, our nation will remain hostage to the gun lobby. And our politicians will be reduced to offering victims condolences rather than solutions to gun violence. Is this the society we want?

This final question has broad implications.  It is what we need to start asking in all things, and especially in the face of violence: is this the society we want?

About these ads
110 Comments
  1. Agellius permalink
    December 21, 2012 8:01 pm

    Yes, let’s all agree that assault weapons should be made illegal, and that any politician who opposes such a ban should on no account be supported or voted for until he changes his position. Oh, and let’s do the same with abortion too.

  2. Melody permalink
    December 21, 2012 8:28 pm

    I wonder if anyone has noticed that there is an eerie similarity between the rhetoric of the hard-core gun rights advocates, and those who espouse a radical pro-choice agenda (before anyone gets all hot and bothered, I’m not saying these are the same, or that there is an exact moral equivalence). In both instances their position is non-negotiable, a sine qua non. The gun advocates are unwilling to yield one milimeter on any new restrictions of even the most egregiously excessive weapons. The radical pro-choice advocates are similarly unwilling to yield to any restrictions whatever on even late-term abortions. Unfettered access to abortion, or guns, is necessary to their definition of freedom. It is easy to see that it is partly fear driving the gun agenda; fear of crime and tyranny. It is less easy to see the fear underlying abortion rights advocacy; but it is just as present. It is the fear that without this right, one is less a person; that one loses the right of self-determination. However both gun rights and abortion rights are illusory as a guarantee of safety or self determination.
    Julia, you were right when you said, “The freedom to make choices is a good thing as far as it goes, but when held above the things that matter more deeply, even life itself, it becomes an idol.”

    • Jordan permalink
      December 21, 2012 11:34 pm

      Very well put, Melody. I have long thought that some (not all) gun owners experience economic injustices such as poverty or poor working conditions. Guns afford for some disadvantaged persons the perception that the power to take life levels classism and economic inequality. In that case gun ownership is not “protection from tyranny”, but rather a misplaced and distorted sense of personal dignity not unlike the “body sovereignty” arguments of strident pro-choice advocates.

      Video games which simulate high powered weapons also often provide a false sense of empowerment through virtual carnage. Tragically, the virtual not infrequently crosses over into reality. While many Americans desperately require adequate psychiatric support, I also suspect that economic justice in the form of better working conditions and greater job dignity would also turn many persons away from firearms as false dignity and violent video games as an egotist escape.

    • December 22, 2012 8:29 am

      @ Melody — You make some good points. You do not take into account in the case of abortion, however, fear of increased poverty, which is not an abstraction, but a very real and practical consideration. The parallel would be somebody who actually needs his gun to hunt for food.

    • dominic1955 permalink
      December 22, 2012 12:52 pm

      Have you ever bought a gun? Applied for a Class III license? Tried to buy ammo in Illinois? Anything of this sort, etc. ?

      There are already reams of gun laws on the books, it is not “easy” to get a gun and even less so depending on your locale. Furthermore, no one is clamoring for the right to use missles, or RPGs, or grenades or claymore mines. Even Class III enthusiasts are not clamoring for wider access to full-auto.

      The problem is, when folks who do have the foggiest idea about the guns that put their knickers in a bind start talking about “reasonable regulations”, the last thing that would come to my mind about any of this “discussion” falsely so-called is “reason”. Its emotion run amok, not reason.

      Funny story, I get denied every time and have to go through the hoops to get my identity sorted out when I fill out a 4473 because some dope with a felony record has the exact same name as me a few towns over from where I used to live and I’m not even related to him nor is my name common.

    • Kerberos permalink
      December 22, 2012 10:18 pm

      “The gun advocates are unwilling to yield one milimeter on any new restrictions of even the most egregiously excessive weapons. The radical pro-choice advocates are similarly unwilling to yield to any restrictions whatever on even late-term abortions.”

      ## Then similarities are to be expected – between them; and between them & any other characters who have the same attitude about some other issue. In any group, there are likely to be people not open to (what one might think is) reason.

  3. Julia Smucker permalink*
    December 21, 2012 10:59 pm

    This just in from the USCCB: http://www.usccb.org/news/2012/12-219.cfm
    Amen, and bravi.

  4. December 22, 2012 7:27 am

    As our pastor said last Sunday, this does stem from the culture of death. He noted that seven years ago those children could have been aborted and it would have been called a brave choice by many.

  5. December 22, 2012 11:23 am

    Eventually we are going to have to acknowledge the 900-pound gorilla in the room, which is our reliance on violence for our national security. Why should individuals who have been taught from birth that we can only be secure as a nation by arming ourselves with guns and other lethal weapons, and who have been trained in the military to do so, decide they do not need guns to defend themselves and their families at home?
    When people have come to regard war as necessary why should they not believe that the occasional mass shootings made virtually inevitable by the free availability of military weapons are not also an unfortunate but necessary price that we must pay for the ability to defend ourselves?
    If the right to life is absolute then we must find a way to preserve international order which does not require killing people. Everything else is mere idealism. Anytime we use violence, even with the best of intentions, we justify violence, whatever the intention, since people only act on intentions they believe are good.
    “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”

    • December 22, 2012 12:34 pm

      Ivan – I see the problem as going even deeper than that. Our country mythologizes the use of violence because violence is how empires survive.

      • Jordan permalink
        December 22, 2012 3:01 pm

        re: Matt Talbot [December 22, 2012 12:34 pm]: Excellent point. Might I add that the maintenance of empire requires not only munitions and warfare, but also the placation of the violent resentments of an economically and socially suppressed population through violent entertainment. The Romans attempted to suppress civil violence through gory sacrifices within their arenas. Violence fueled not only the expansion of empire but a control of possible revolt and the destabilization of the imperial regimes. The instability of the imperial office in the later Roman empire, due to repeated assasinations and coups, attests to the fact that a cynical encouragement of cyclical violence will eventually occasion the end those who encouraged the system.

    • dominic1955 permalink
      December 22, 2012 12:57 pm

      Let me know where I can get some M4s and m92s for free, why didn’t I get the memo?

      • Julia Smucker permalink*
        December 23, 2012 3:59 pm

        He is referring to this completely unnecessary reality, whose effects even extend beyond our borders as seen in the interview at the end.

        Don’t act like you didn’t know that he didn’t mean “free of charge”.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      December 22, 2012 2:45 pm

      A perfectly chilling example of how violence perpetuates itself. There is always someone willing to argue that the solution to violence is more violence. Forget about not returning evil for evil – and you get a gospel that sounds like this.

  6. dominic1955 permalink
    December 22, 2012 4:30 pm

    Did you even read what he wrote?

    Either way, moral theology has always upheld self-defense but I think your Mennonite background may very well color the way you think about that. If you don’t like it, than don’t participate.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      December 22, 2012 7:17 pm

      First, yes I did.

      Second, I freely admit that my Mennonite background colors the way I think about violence. But in any case my position, whether you like it or not, has been legitimized by Catholic teaching at least as a valid moral option. Furthermore, Catholic teaching begins with a presumption against taking human life, which is always a grave matter even when considered to be justified, and any such justification is an exception. And the exceptions have been gradually narrowing. Read the major encyclicals from the past 120 years.

      And if you want a Catholic perspective without a Mennonite filter, read the bishops’ statement linked above. And their webpage on what the Church says about violence, where Newtown is currently front and center.

  7. Ronald King permalink
    December 22, 2012 8:50 pm

    It is the narcissist and the sociopath within each of us which must be exposed in order to begin a conversation about what needs to be done to end violence. “Extreme individualism” exists on a continuum beginning with self-centeredness and becomes a full blown personality disorder incapable of having any insight and/or empathy for others. Does anyone here have the courage to admit that their fascination with guns is part of their narcissistic/sociopathic desire for power and control in a world in which they are powerless and fearful? If you cannot admit it then there can be no conversation and what remains is debate.

    • Kerberos permalink
      December 22, 2012 10:28 pm

      “Does anyone here have the courage to admit that their fascination with guns is part of their narcissistic/sociopathic desire for power and control in a world in which they are powerless and fearful? If you cannot admit it then there can be no conversation and what remains is debate”

      ## If any of the US posters on this thread have no such fascination, then they will have nothing to admit. For those of us from countries where no such problem exists and the issue is not an issue, no such admission is possible. It does not follow – though it may be a fact for some other reason – that we are narcissists or sociopaths.

      I hope very much that the US manages to sort this problem out, without any friction if possible.

    • December 23, 2012 2:35 pm

      “Does anyone here have the courage to admit that their fascination with guns is part of their narcissistic/sociopathic desire for power and control in a world in which they are powerless and fearful?”

      I won’t admit such as it is not true. There are many people who are “fascinated with guns” who do so for sport, or discipline or out of a real sense that there are sociopaths in the world. And without guns, those they love and with whom they live iin the real communion of family, will be hurt.

      http://blog.beliefnet.com/roddreher/2010/06/a-lost-little-boy-gets-his-throat-cut.html

      • Julia Smucker permalink*
        December 23, 2012 3:38 pm

        What are you suggesting, that all would have been well if the 8-year-old had been carrying a gun? That parents should all arm their children because you just never know…?

        That’s just the problem: the problem is always someone else, some sociopath out there, the speck in a neighbor’s (or stranger’s) eye. It is just this sort of fear, as I suggested above, that keeps us clinging to the very instruments of death that we’re afraid of in the first place.

        • December 23, 2012 4:18 pm

          You miss the point. Particularly if you continue on to reading about Derek Lee. I actually took care of a family member of Lee’s. They were afraid of him. And not because of specks in their eyes.

          The point is, that there truly are sociopaths out there. There are also people bent on evil who are not sociopaths and whom no amount of laws will make go away. They do not arise from disordered philosophical premises or a lack of understanding of human interconnectivity.

          And Dreher’s sister made a decision to have a gun. She did so in union with her husband. For them this was not an exercise in “extreme individualism,” but rather a life-saving decision made in the community of the family.

        • Julia Smucker permalink*
          December 23, 2012 5:48 pm

          And there are many people who are neither sociopaths nor bent on evil, but who succumb to fear and seek solace in the protection of household gods.

        • December 23, 2012 5:31 pm

          Read more carefully, Julia, and always be sensitive to a man’s language:

          those they love and with whom they live iin the real communion of family

          What he’s actually suggesting is that “family” are the only “communion” that exists or that he will acknowledge. This is the true “Social Darwinism” that is at the heart of the violent American “myth” of Horatio Alger. It’s like Margaret Thatcher saying that “society” is a “myth”–that it doesn’t exist.

    • dominic1955 permalink
      December 27, 2012 3:35 pm

      Sounds like Rule 5 from Alinsky. There is no real defense for ridicule, or more properly in this case, groundless psycho-babble bloviation.

      You speak farther down the line about your father who was at Guadalcanal and who didn’t own guns. Well, I had an uncle in the Philippines who ended up going on the Bataan Death March. Finest gentleman I knew, miss him dearly. Came home, got educated and became a pillar of the community. A model of cool, collected reason. Plus, huge “gun nut”.

      To think people like him went through hell on earth so that other people can freely sling thinly veiled insinuations like Byzantine courtiers at people like him. Or could organize and protest to dismantle our freedoms. Be that as it may, I don’t think they would have done anything different.

      • Julia Smucker permalink*
        December 28, 2012 12:57 pm

        Another piece of the mythos of empire: that sending people out to go through hell on earth is what somehow purchases our freedom – a perverse atonement “theology” of sorts. In Moloch we trust.

        • dominic1955 permalink
          December 29, 2012 12:31 am

          I’m sorry this imperialistic country sucks so much for you and a little civic virtue “mythos” seems to burn like holy water to a vampire. My bad.

          Maybe we shouldn’t have been in the Philipines in the first place (and probably neither should the Spanish have) and maybe WWII wasn’t the grand ol’ war that many make it out to be. Fine. However, the reason we can even have a conversation like this is because our people, through history, have upheld and protected the right to do so.

          Maybe the free (and not-so-free) world could have stopped Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo by sitting around singing Woodie Guthrie songs. Kinda doubt it.

        • Julia Smucker permalink*
          December 29, 2012 12:53 am

          Hitler vs. Woodie Guthrie: a false dichotomy and a straw man in one. Where exactly does our incarnate, crucified and risen Lord come into the picture?

          If the idea that our ability to do basically anything is the direct result of people being sent to kill and die and otherwise suffer in one nation’s wars is the story in which you have determined to place your unwavering faith, then there is probably nothing I can say to convince you otherwise. But don’t try to tell me or anyone that this story is in any way compatible with the gospel of our Lord. That will get you absolutely nowhere.

        • dominic1955 permalink
          December 29, 2012 2:21 pm

          Yes, you are right-it is a false dichotomy and a straw man. Good thing I didn’t put it forward as an argument or a theological statement, I was being sarcastic.

          You can attribute my “unwavering faith” to war and not the Gospel, but then you, madam, make yourself the fool. Please, tell me what else I believe…

        • Julia Smucker permalink*
          December 29, 2012 4:03 pm

          I don’t have to tell you where your faith is. You’ve been saying it loud and clear – and repeatedly.

  8. December 23, 2012 6:13 pm

    Julia,

    It is not woship of a false god when a person defends himself. This is part of Catholic teaching.

    dig,

    The family is a true communion. The basis for all other communions. No Social Darwinism involved. Again, Catholic teaching

    • digbydolben permalink
      December 24, 2012 9:18 am

      If the Church says that, then the Church is forsaking her own tradition, for the sake of “politically correct” conformity; the “basis for all other communions” in a Christian culture is the communion that CHRIST established–not some bourgeois idol called “the family.” For far too long the established Churches have been traducing the teachings of a God-man who, Himself, had very little use for his own “family,” and said that He would reject whoever put father, mother, brother or sister before God, His Father, or Himself.

  9. Julia Smucker permalink*
    December 23, 2012 7:00 pm

    When even a person not bent on evil, seeking the protection of life, turns to a tool of death (a house divided against itself), it is one more small victory for evil.

    It is bad enough that our attachment to such things is so deeply entrenched that many people cannot let go. But when the Church herself is invoked to justify scattering the seeds of fear and violence ever wider, she suffers all the more.

  10. December 23, 2012 9:10 pm

    The defense of life is a good. The Church has recognized this for centuries. To deny this is the equivalent of denying the Church’s stance that one could also choose not to defend oneself.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      December 23, 2012 10:02 pm

      When we try to promote a good (the defense of life) by the use of an evil (the destruction of life), what do we end up with? The Church has never taught that the ends justifies the means, and thus to name something as a good cannot be taken as a moral carte blanche.

      • bill bannon permalink
        December 23, 2012 10:38 pm

        Julia,
        Put a marksman in every school because all other avenues are glacial in progress speed. They make great tv and debate fodder but will likely produce minute progress.
        Realistically the three areas the Bishops proposed progress in are all slow motion and problematic…violent entertainment, guns, and mental health. Violent entertainment will win in court as free speech unfortunately in respect to video games. Guns at most will be restricted as to magazine capacity of 15 (many pistols)….and hopefully background checks will be introduced to gun shows by federal mandate not state. But two glock pistols with 15 rounds are little different in a school shooting than one assault rifle with 30 rounds. And some Catholics and Bishops just voted against mental health improvements by voting for Paul Ryan who wants medicaid cut by $800 billion over ten years and medicaid pays for half of mental health bills in the US. And while Ryan lost, now both parties are cutting medicaid to void the fiscal cliff. What the Bishops should actually be saying is this: we need a substantial shunting of several billion dollars from the defense budget to mental health and we need one trained marksman in every school to protect children the way the Pope is protected by bodyguards who are armed with one of the pistol brands carried by the killer in Connecticut…the Sig Sauer. If the Pope needs and has armed bodyguards and our money in banks have armed bodyguards, let’s grant the same privilege to our firstgraders until we have no more psychos.

        • December 24, 2012 9:12 am

          America will have “psychos” for the foreseeable future. As her empire declines and her economy contracts, the American people, raised on a culture and a mythology of violence (cowboys and Indians, “good wars,” “wars of choice,” “manifest destiny,” “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” etc.) will turn, more and more to violent solutions. Norman Mailer reviled the war in Vietnam as being a “cowards’ war,” in which American troops rained death and destruction on innocent villagers but rarely had the intestinal fortitude to meet their enemy in ground combat. What would he make of Obama’s sanitized “drone” murders of children and wedding guests? Mark my words: not only are the “chickens coming home to roost” geopolitically, but American society–never much of a culture, never much of a community–is unraveling at the seams.

        • bill bannon permalink
          December 24, 2012 4:42 pm

          Digby,
          You mean the same Norman Mailer who admitted head butting Gore Vidal because Vidal criticized a work of Mailer’s and the same Mailer who worked to release Jack Abbot from prison who six weeks later murdered a young man in NY…and the same Mailer who saw little combat in the Phillipines in WWII because he was an army cook? How would he know about multitudinous combat companies in Vietnam? Did he go at all and to how many areas?

      • December 24, 2012 9:53 am

        “The Church has never taught that the ends justifies the means, and thus to name something as a good cannot be taken as a moral carte blanche.”

        Actually, the Church has seen it as a case of double effect. According to Aquinas, what one is doing in self-defense is using sufficient force to deter an aggressor. The Church allows even lethal force to be used if this is necessary as the object of what is done is “deterring aggression”. If the intent of the moral actor was to kill then that would render the object illicit.

        Same as the Church allowing a hysterectomy of a gravid uterus or the removal of an portion of the fallopian tube with an ectopic pregnancy present. These are not abortions (again unless the intent is to destroy the baby.)

        So it is not a matter of the ends justifying the means.

  11. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    December 24, 2012 10:33 am

    I think that the bishops, in a slightly different context: the continued fetishization of guns is really nothing more than the tragic illusion that we can defend human life through violence. They said this about the death penalty, but it applies equally to the other threats to human life and dignity: abortion, euthanasia, wars of imperialism and rampant gun violence.

    In order to defend this assertion, I suppose I need to position myself against various lines of attack. I don’t own a gun, but I grew up in a region where hunting was common, and friends and extended family members owned guns. In 9th grade, for a demonstration speech, two students brought in their hunting rifles and demonstrated their workings. (One of their dads took some time off of work, drove the guns to school, and waited in the hall while they gave their speech.) So I am fairly familiar with the needs of hunters. One uncle went after big game, and even took down a grizzly bear once. I don’t know exactly what he used, but I suspect he used a Remington 12 gauge shotgun or his .30-06 rifle. For back up he packed a .45 caliber long barrel revolver. I myself did a bit of target shooting in the boy scouts.

    I work in a poor urban area (south Hartford) and commute by walking, so I am intimately familiar with the poor neighborhood around Trinity College. I have the advantage of looking like I belong (it is a mostly Puerto Rican neighborhood) but that is only a modest deterrent to crime. I have never been mugged, praise God.

    So why do I say all this? I hope it gives credibility when I assert that I don’t think I need a gun to keep me safe. I don’t think armed guards will keep my children any safer at school. After all, Columbine had an armed sheriff’s deputy on campus, and the killers knew he was there since he ate lunch in the cafeteria every day. There are sociopaths and evil people in the world, but in protecting ourselves from them we need to remember that they are very few in number, unpredictable, and not prone to rational calculation. Again note Columbine, or the other examples which are trotted out of attackers pulling guns in states with concealed carry laws.

    The statistical evidence on gun control is limited (though, as the AMA recently noted, the NRA has been busy trying to prevent such studies) but the empirical data I have seen suggests that there is a strong correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths. In a nutshell: America has too many guns and we are killing ourselves at far greater numbers than other industrial nations. Moreover, the number of tragic, pointless killings far outweighs the “legitimate” killings in self-defense.

    I think “reasonable regulation” is possible that provides for the needs of hunters and sport shooters and accommodates those who believe (for whatever reason) that they need a gun to defend themselves or their families, but at the same time draws a clear distinction between such weapons and the weapons which are modeled on military grade weapons and either share the same characteristics or can easily be adapted to have them. (Let’s skip the tiresome blind alley of “assault rifles”.)

    Moreover, as Christians, on this the eve of the feast of the Prince of Peace, need to look into our own hearts and see whether our defense of gun ownership (or of the death penalty, or abortion, or of military action overseas) is just a rationalization for our own fears, for our own desire to feed Moloch one more innocent victim as long as He will keep us safe. Satan’s laughter echoes up from the pits of Hell when we do that.

    • austin7487 permalink
      December 24, 2012 10:42 am

      The link to the last assertion:

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/1440764.stm

    • bill bannon permalink
      December 24, 2012 10:51 am

      Then the Popes by that logic should disarm the Swiss Guard who carry Sig Sauer pistols and Heckler and Koch small machine guns…..lest the Popes feed Moloch an incident bystander during a self defense situation.

    • Ronald King permalink
      December 24, 2012 11:34 am

      Thanks for that comment David. Each of us does indeed have an internal sociopathic or narcissistic aspect to our personality which is an instinctive response to potential threat and it will influence us to protect ourselves and our desires through the use of projection, rationalization, intellectualization, denial, etc in order to use philosophical, theological and political strategies to support violence as a problem solving method.

    • Melody permalink
      December 24, 2012 2:12 pm

      Excellent comments, David. Thanks for sharing your reflections, especially this thought: “… I hope it gives credibility when I assert that I don’t think I need a gun to keep me safe. I don’t think armed guards will keep my children any safer at school.” We need to dial down the panic and illogic a bit in order to make good decisions about this issue.

  12. December 24, 2012 10:39 am

    “The statistical evidence on gun control is limited (though, as the AMA recently noted, the NRA has been busy trying to prevent such studies) but the empirical data I have seen suggests that there is a strong correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths.”

    Do you have links to your data? What I have seen is that it varies country to country. Switzerland and FInland have equivalent gun ownership rates as the U.S. but much lower gun deaths. Russia and Mexico have much lower rates of gun ownership, but higher rates of gun violence.

    Looking at the only study that looks at effects of gun restrictions that I can quickly find was in England. After they banned handguns, the rate of gun violence increased by 40%.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      December 24, 2012 4:06 pm

      The most thoughtful and credible study that has surfaced recently is from John Hopkins:

      http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-gun-policy-and-research/publications/WhitePaper102512_CGPR.pdf

      It is not a peer reviewed study (I think) but makes extensive and documented references to the peer-reviewed literature.

      With regards to the data circulating about gun ownership and gun crime, note that in the introduction the authors take national income (i.e. rich, middling or poor country) as a controlling variable. This kind of control is necessary since otherwise trying to compare, say, the US and Honduras overlooks a lot of other factors.

      • December 24, 2012 8:22 pm

        I’d agree there are a lot of factors. Not just income either. And certainly not sheer numbers of guns. Thus the claim that there is a strong correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths simply does not exist.

  13. Brian Martin permalink
    December 24, 2012 11:22 am

    People keep talking about reasonable regulation. They want the “assault weapons ban” back in place. Look up the numbers…in the 10 years of the asault weapons ban, there were about 3 times as many gun related deaths in schools as in the past 10 years since it expired.
    The worst school killing took place in Michigan and didn’t involve shooting students.
    It is sad that the list of recommendations from the Bishops as cited by Julia is so oversimplified:

    1.Support measures that control the sale and use of firearms

    2.Support measures that make guns safer (especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children and anyone other than the owner)

    3.Call for sensible regulations of handguns

    4.Support legislative efforts that seek to protect society from the violence associated with easy access to deadly weapons including assault weapons

    5.Make a serious commitment to confront the pervasive role of addiction and mental illness in crime.
    1) laws exist prohibiting certain uses of firearms…it doesn’t stop people from using them, or knives, of farm fertalized modified as explosives, or box cutters..to kill other people.

    The first 4 of the 5 are emotional arguments…history is full of crazy people wanting to kill other people and finding ways to do so.
    Number 5 is the most important of the list because it is the only one that addresses the actual source of the problem, the person who decides to kill.
    We live in a society where life is not valued. We can terminate the lives of unwanted “lumps of tissue” for the sake of convenience. We send our soldier to other countries to die and to kill. We sell military hardware to our favorite despots so they can kill their people, we use unmanned drones and conventional bombers and lie to ourselves about “pinpoint accuracy” while we kill innocent civilians” We flood theaters with movies glorifying violence, and games that depict in graphic detail killing and maiming. They mention some of this in their statement, but in the end, the focus is back on inanimate objects…and not we humans ourselves.
    Shame. It is emotional, intellectual dishonesty and cowardice at it’s finest.

    • dominic1955 permalink
      December 27, 2012 3:47 pm

      That list was probably written up by some staffer who probably hasn’t so much as even touched a gun. You’d think they would actually bother to look into the issue more closely rather than just get talking points from Brady. Of course, that would entail having to stand up to all the secularists howling for blood and Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick.

      If the USCCB really took it seriously, they know they’d be in for another round of tongue lashing on account of the sex abuse stuff.

  14. Brian Martin permalink
    December 24, 2012 11:28 am

    “Moreover, as Christians, on this the eve of the feast of the Prince of Peace, need to look into our own hearts and see whether our defense of gun ownership (or of the death penalty, or abortion, or of military action overseas) is just a rationalization for our own fears, for our own desire to feed Moloch one more innocent victim as long as He will keep us safe. Satan’s laughter echoes up from the pits of Hell when we do that.”

    Amen…except I suspect he laughs his flaming arse off when we blame inanimate objects rather than looking at the people and at sin and at the existence of evil.

    Please let us all remember all those suffering as we gather with our friends and Families this Christmas. May God fill all of our hearts with peace…and may he help us to see Jesus in the faces of those we meet.

  15. Julia Smucker permalink*
    December 24, 2012 3:28 pm

    Philip: stop taking exceptions as normative. Any moral allowances for the use of force – especially lethal force – in Church teaching are simply exceptions to the basic presumption against the taking of human life, not a kind of mandate that violence must be vigorously defended. And as the tools of lethal force that humans create have gotten increasingly out of control, the exceptions the Church allows to the presumption against it have increasingly narrowed.

    Brian: if you mean to imply moral neutrality by your references to “inanimate objects”, this implication is misleading. Inanimate objects designed by human beings for a particular purpose are not necessarily neutral. A nuclear warhead or a suction machine designed to perform abortions is not a morally neutral object. Neither is a gun, which is designed to inflict injury or death or to excercise power by the threat thereof. None of these things is unrelated to the forces of evil at work within human souls. The fear and hatred that drive us to fabricate such objects are indeed closer to the root of the problem, but the objects that allow us to perpetuate evil more effectively are not therefore innocent.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      December 24, 2012 4:07 pm

      Julia, your point about the moral status of inanimate objects is germane.

      • Julia Smucker permalink*
        December 24, 2012 4:28 pm

        The prophet Isaiah had the same idea (see below).

        • bill bannon permalink
          December 24, 2012 6:13 pm

          Julia,
          Read the rest of Isaiah 9 and into 10. It gets martial again because God will use the Assyrians against Ephraim ( the northern kingdom of Israel also called Samaria in other places, as opposed to Judea, the southern kingdom). Prophecy alternates between the far term and the near term here as below in Jeremiah. The far term is Christ coming twice and the near term is the unending military events that the prophets also predict and do not oppose. So you are going to feel contradictions if you read the prophets all the way through unless you notice this near term/ far term alternation. They are talking of peace when predicting the spiritual reign of Christ but resume talking of war when they speak of God using one nation to punish another in the near term. Thus Jeremiah is bloodcurling and strictly near term when he urges the Chaldeans to thoroughly punish Moab for God:  Jer.48:10. “Cursed are they who do the LORD’s work carelessly, cursed those who keep their sword from shedding blood.”. But Jeremiah switches to the far term and peace as ideal and thus Christ’s reign spiritually in chapter 33:16 “In that day Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this will be it’s name: The Lord is our righteousness.”
          And this will be its name:

        • Julia Smucker permalink*
          December 24, 2012 7:25 pm

          So the way God acts in history is fundamentally at odds with the eschatological reign of his son?

        • bill bannon permalink
          December 24, 2012 8:34 pm

          Julia,
               One must distinguish the pre sanctifying grace time period from grace after Christ to see why God stressed His power and violent sword power by nations in the Old Testament (as in the over thirty death penalties He gave the Jews in Deuteronomy and Leviticus largely for sin not crime.)  Mankind…the majority… prior to Christ needed great threats in order to be good because of three lacks healed by Christ.  Christ brought sanctifying grace/ is drawing now all men to Himself/ has reduced satan’s power.
               John 1:17 says, ” The law came through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Secondly, Christ is now drawing all men to Him after the crucifixion/ Ascension: Jn.12:32 “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”. Thirdly Christ has reduced satan’s power so that e.g. possession cases, common at His time, now are rare per area of the earth: Luke 10:18 ” I saw satan falling from heaven like lightning.”. But tht means satan’s power in general is lessened by Christ (near the end times, he will again have increased power as Augustine noted).
               In short e.g. the death penalties for personal sin were given by God in the OT but stopped by God once Christ: a. brought grace; b. is drawing all men to Himself once lifted up; c.has reduced man’s sinfulness in general by decreasing satan’s power.  But prior to Christ, man needed great threats from God just to avoid adultery so stoning was the punishment for adultery prior to Christ.  After Christ, all men, not just Christians, have an easier time avoiding adultery or theft based just on persuasion by God or by cultures.  Ergo the OT is more scarey than the NT because pre grace mankind needed fear far more.  Christ still said to fear God “who can destroy both body and soul in everlasting fire” but now it is not primary and dominant as motive as it was in the OT.
                

    • dominic1955 permalink
      December 27, 2012 3:55 pm

      Inanimate objects cannot, in and of themselves, have moral import. That reasoning sounds like those bishops who tried to ban rifles from warfare way back in the day because they were only accurate with lead bullets and not silver-which everyone knows scares demons and thus they were evil.

      • Julia Smucker permalink*
        December 28, 2012 12:51 pm

        Inanimate objects cannot, in and of themselves, have moral import.

        This is false, for one simple reason. To use the Aristotelian terminology favored by St. Thomas Aquinas, everything that is made has a cause – and a telos.

        • December 28, 2012 11:09 pm

          But to say that an object has an end it is made for still does not mean it has a *moral* end. A well-made (that is, one that best fills the need) hammer is one that doesn’t have the head fly off with the first whack, whether that be in getting a nail through a board or bashing in someone’s skull. Likewise, a well-made firearm is one that doesn’t jam, is accurate, &c., whether that be out hunting or (sadly) on a clock tower. The object itself has no moral contagion, it’s dumb metal.

          Let’s take an extreme example – a nuclear warhead has no intrinsic moral worth or degradation, it is only in the use (extending from their creation to their *God forbid* deployment) of them (diplomatically, socially, militarily) that human beings as moral agents make moral decisions with them. Per se, a nuclear warhead is just an object, a tool, one that if used with evil in mind will do much of it, but “abusus non tollit usum”! Now, I’m saying this as someone who thinks the current nuclear regime is absolutely bonkers, but that’s not because I think the weapons have a poisonous will of their own, but because I don’t think so few men should ever be in the position to make the decision whether a good chunk of humanity should just disappear.

          People are moral or immoral. One thing the prophets of the OT are clear on is that idols themselves have no spirit, no tongue. They are dead objects, bringing neither good things nor ill by their own power. It is only how the people respond to them that brings either condemnation and destruction (the Golden Bull, the priests of Ba’al & Elijah) or safety, *through the will and power of the Lord*. That doesn’t mean idols aren’t hellish and diabolical, but that’s because we human beings supplicate them and give them authority and power that isn’t theirs, thus sinning.

        • Julia Smucker permalink*
          December 29, 2012 12:20 am

          Poor Jeremiah, your final sentence here resonates with me. You are right to point to human beings as the locus of moral agency. And by the same token I have to wonder: why do people take such pains to defend the morality of “dead objects”, if not because these objects have been made sacrosanct – have been given authority and power that isn’t theirs?

        • dominic1955 permalink
          December 29, 2012 1:00 am

          Why do people take such pains to attribute semi-divine powers to bits of wood and metal? Who’s giving the “authority” and “power”? Who’s really doing the fetish-izing? You keep saying it’s us, I really have my doubts…

          I’ve got a Dutch Mannlicher m95 sitting in the closet, KNIL long rifle version. Made on contract for the Dutch East India Army by Steyr in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire back in the late 19th Century. Same basic action was used extensively for English (and Continental) hunting rifles at the same time. What happens to the “telos” of the m95 Mannlicher? Are both of them just death machines? Or just the one accepted into the military? How about now that there isn’t a box of ammo for it in 50 miles and if it ever does get shot again, it will be punching paper or beer cans? Is the fact that it isn’t blasting Indonesian natives mean that it isn’t fulfilling its “telos”?

          We didn’t have to defend the morality of owning “dead objects” like guns before by and large because not many said such silly things. Its kind of like how I shake my head at the fact that we are even discussing something as ridiculous as “gay marriage”.

        • Julia Smucker permalink*
          December 29, 2012 1:17 am

          In case you didn’t notice, Dominic, I agreed with Poor Jeremiah that such power is not intrinsic to the objects, but that it is we humans who impute to them that fetishized power – egged on by the demonic forces of blind fear and hatred which feed us the lie that these objects are necessary for our own protection.

          You might just ask yourself why it is that you care so much about the defense of their moral status.

          As my RCIA director once said, “If you can’t live without something, you don’t own it; it owns you.”

        • December 29, 2012 2:01 am

          Wait Dominic, just to be clear, I’m *not* attributing semi-divine power to firearms. That’s the thing. They’re just there, nothing animates them from the inside, they have no nature-as-such. They are *not* autonomous. So if your gun shoots straight, I’d say it’s fulfilling its end, but if you use it to blast somebody for fun (not to imply you would, just as an example), you are failing in reaching your own telos (by engaging in murder one wounds himself).

          I’m probably not the first guy to wish these comments could be nested further than 3 layers, it would make some of these longer streams much easier to parse.

        • dominic1955 permalink
          December 29, 2012 2:09 pm

          Julia,

          You said things have a “telos” and I was agreeing with Poor Jeremiah that they do-in that if your gun shoots straights it is fullfilling its end. Its end is not “death machine” and they do not have some automatically demonic inspired “fetish” status egged on by fear. I’ll say it again, it isn’t gun owners that give guns this fetish status-its folks like you.

          Yes, things “own” you if you “cannot” live without them. Obviously that is true, but don’t go around attributing this to folks you do not know from Adam.

          Ask yourself this, first what “owns” you and if you find anything, ask yourself if you shouldn’t practice a little beam/spec. Secondly, ask yourself if there is any way for me to answer your question in a satisfactory manner that does not involve a capitulation to your position. I don’t want to hear your answer, but I would just invite you to ponder on that.

        • Julia Smucker permalink*
          December 29, 2012 4:17 pm

          All right, that is a fair challenge. I will seriously ponder my attachments to inanimate things, and I hope you will do the same. Deal?

          Just to be clear, by asking this way I do not intend to make my introspection contingent on yours. But we could all stand to do some, especially for the purpose of making room for the true God to dethrone the idols in our lives – yes, myself included.

        • dominic1955 permalink
          December 29, 2012 2:11 pm

          Poor Jeremiah,

          Sorry for the confusion-I agree with your take on the matter.

  16. Julia Smucker permalink*
    December 24, 2012 3:35 pm

    Apropos of this discussion, especially as we approach the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord, are these words taken from a meditation written 10 years ago by Fr. Robert Barron:

    There is, of course, another reason for the simplicity and poverty of his arrival: he is to be a soldier, but he will not fight with the violent weapons of the Herods, Ceasars and other kings of this dysfunctional world. Rather he will wield the sword of non-violence and the spear of forgiveness; and he will wear the helmet of righteousness and the breastplate of compassion. He will conquer through the finally irresistible power of love, the same power with which he made the universe. In the ancient mythological accounts of creation, God or the gods make the world through a primordial act of violence; they conquer, control, divide, order through force.

    But the true God makes the universe, not by wrestling an opposing power into submission, not by dominating and destroying a rival, but rather through a sheerly generous and non-violent act of love. In the language of the philosophers, God creates ex nihilo, from nothing. And so when the Son of God enters his disordered world in order to recreate it, he acts with a similar gentleness and non-violence. Pharoah, Caesar, Quirinius, Herod—and their like down through the ages to the present day—seek to throw off all constraints, but the Son of God, the creator of the stars and planets, allows himself to be wrapped in swaddling clothes, to be tied up, bound, beholden to the other. The rulers of this world endeavor at all costs to have their own needs met, but the Ruler of the Age to Come is placed in a manger, for he is to be food for the hungry. The powers seek control, but the Power allows himself to become, in Chesterton’s words, “a child too weak to raise his own head.”

    In all of this, of course, he anticipates the drama of the cross. Over the crucified, Pilate will place a placard announcing “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” but Caesar’s representative will have no idea of the irony of this statement. Roman authority was expressed and maintained through the violent overthrow of opposing powers, through the crucifixion—real and symbolic—of rival Kings. Augustine summed up the Roman way with devastating laconicism: libido dominandi, the lust to dominate. But the true King, the ruler of cosmos, breaks that power precisely by meeting it with forgiveness, non-violence, and compassion: nailed to the cross, powerless, he says, “forgive them Father, they know not what they do.” And in those words, the Roman way (the way of the world) is undone. Every playground bully and every canny politician knows that the libido dominandi is always stirred to greater ardor when it is opposed by a similar force: an eye for an eye, making the whole world blind, as Gandhi said. When it is met by harsh and dreadful love, a love willing to give itself utterly away, it dries up.

    Now listen again to Isaiah’s victory cry, read at the Christmas Midnight Mass: “For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed as on the day of Midian; For every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood, will be burned as fuel for flames” (Is. 9:4). The yoke, the rod, the boot trampled, the cloak rolled in blood—all the dark works of a fallen world—will be thrown by this newborn king into the fire. Indeed, when he bursts on the public scene, he will make plain his purpose, “I have come, not for peace, but for the sword” and “I have come to light a fire on the earth.” Precisely because he carries a sword of compassion and illumines the flame of love, Jesus is the first truly dangerous warrior, the first enemy the powers have really feared.

  17. Ronald King permalink
    December 24, 2012 7:48 pm

    Julia, First of all Merry Christmas. Secondly, isn’t the spiritual reign of Christ already here for those who believe? If so, then are we to live as He would want us to live? This is in response to a comment by Bill Bannon above.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      December 25, 2012 12:51 pm

      Yes, and yes! The Incarnation has come, and that should mean something. The Kingdom of God has broken into our fragile and fallen world, and we must live as though we really believe this is so. That is why we keep the feast this day.

  18. December 24, 2012 8:33 pm

    “Any moral allowances for the use of force – especially lethal force – in Church teaching are simply exceptions to the basic presumption against the taking of human life, not a kind of mandate that violence must be vigorously defended.”

    You don’t understand. The right to protect oneself is not an exception against killing as a hysterectomy is not an exception for abortion. In both the presumption is against taking human life but that the object in both cases is not the taking of life. In the former it is legitimate self defense and in the later it is a legitimate therapeutic procedure. No exceptions for killing in either.

    This is Church teaching.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      December 25, 2012 12:48 pm

      You don’t understand. If you kill a person in self-defense, you have taken a life, which is a grave matter whether justifiable or not. This is Church teaching.

      But this circular debate isn’t getting us anywhere. Let’s step back from our turn to the moral status of such an act in principle: remember, we got here from observing that even (or especially!) in the wake of public shootings, many people are looking to the gun as savior from their fear.

      Maybe in addition to the America editors’ question (“Is this the society we want?”), we should also be asking, “Is this the savior we want?”

      • December 25, 2012 1:22 pm

        Bingo, Julia. You’ve just finally hit the nail squarely on the head! He’s NOT the “Savior” most so-called Christians want, and never has been, as the record of ALL the politically hegemonic Christian Churches have demonstrated. The result of the fact that there professed faith is an elaborate charade (as commentators like the blessed Ronald King state more tactfully than I can bring myself to) is that it clouds almost all their other attempts to accept even DOCUMENTED HISTORICAL PROOF, that, as Justice Warren Burger (a Republican, I’ll remind you) put it, the notion that the 2nd Amendment provides an INDIVIDUAL right to bear arms, is “one of the greatest hoaxes” ever put over on the American people. As that Justice well knew, the 2nd Amendment was a reaction against the Shays Rebellion, and it was written so that ARMED STATE MILITIAS could crush the kinds of rebellion that gun-worshiping American libertarians are touting. The “Founders” were, like the “Gloriously” Rebelling Whigs of England, AGAINST any kind of “rebellion” other than those carried out by great landowners.

        • Julia Smucker permalink*
          December 25, 2012 2:23 pm

          I meant is the gun the savior we want. But by extension, we cannot make way for the Savior who comes to bring abundant life if our real trust is in a savior that kills.

        • Ronald King permalink
          December 25, 2012 3:29 pm

          Digby, Your wealth of knowledge and your passion are and have always been a blessing for me since I began following this blog. God Bless You.

      • December 26, 2012 11:39 am

        “…which is a grave matter whether justifiable or not.”

        As performing a hysterectomy on a gravid uterus to remove cancer is a grave matter but not an abortion. Nor is taking a life in self-defense murder, though a life is taken (though not directly intended) just as a life is taken in the medical procedure.

        “But this circular debate isn’t getting us anywhere. Let’s step back from our turn to the moral status of such an act in principle: remember, we got here from observing that even (or especially!) in the wake of public shootings, many people are looking to the gun as savior from their fear.”

        But I don’t see a gun as a savior from fear. Nor do any people I know who own guns. Just as I don’t see the police or the govt. or laws as saviors from varied fears.

        It is a reasoned position however, to say that there are people who are intent on evil ends. That those people may in fact inflict harm upon me or my family before others may be able to intervene, and that I may in fact use sufficient force to deter such an attack. It is not the emotion of fear. It is reason.

        This is the reasoned teaching of the Church.

        • Julia Smucker permalink*
          December 26, 2012 12:54 pm

          This sounds reasoned in theory, but in practice it’s never so detached. When a sharp increase in gun sales directly follows a public shooting incident, as has happened in the US with eerie consistency, it sure looks like a reaction out of fear. And what’s more, neither the market nor the government is capable of differentiating between those purchasing firearms with evil intent and those who believe they are doing so for the purpose of legitimate self-protection – or, for that matter, of predicting when evil intent might arise in someone who owns a weapon for what originally may have been more “innocent” reasons.

        • dominic1955 permalink
          December 27, 2012 4:03 pm

          Where does that “fear” come from? It is not from thinking “It might happen to me!” No, it is because every two-bit “progressivist” hack tramples each other in a rush to prove who’s more of a dolt by running theirs mouth about banning “high caliber drum clips” or “assault weapons” or “cop killer bullets”. Last time this nonsense happened, I should have invested in hi-cap magazines-I could have made a bundle when they shot up in price. Probably should get a few more dozen this time around, just in case.

          As to the second part, there’s another reason people buy-because they hear that kind of reasoning. How would that be possible FOR ANYTHING that someone can buy or make or have or do, etc. etc.? I can go and buy a bottle of booze to share with friends or get bombed doing 90 down the interstate.

          Just as well ban everything, live in padded rooms and be done with it.

  19. December 24, 2012 11:33 pm

    I don’t think the US gun culture stems from the need to promote violence to defend the American empire because the primacy of our gun rights goes back well before America was much of an international power. Our republic was born from a violent revolution; the framers were suspicious of strong central governments, so they did not want a government monopoly on deadly force when they set up the central government. Most mass murderers break gun laws when committing their crimes, so adding another law or two seems more like “at least we did something” response than a suitable solution. The biggest downside to responding to Sandy Hook with increased gun regulation is that it feeds the blame “the other” problem which is at the root of all of this. Faced with gun violence, some lawmakers blame the NRA, others blame Hollywood or video games. Faced with their problems Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold blamed “the other” as well, Adam Lanza apparently did so too. So did Tim McVeigh, but he didn’t use a gun, he used ammonium nitrate and fuel oil and killed 168 people, including 19 children. As long as our approach is to find an external “other” instead of the evil in our hearts, we ensure that we will not solve the problem and mass killings will continue.

  20. Julia Smucker permalink*
    December 25, 2012 2:41 pm

    While observing Christmas liturgy last night and this morning, my mind periodically wandered to Newtown, and I found myself hoping that the same liturgy was bearing a message of profound hope – even a here-and-now eschatological inbreaking – to those who are keeping the feast within a community that still sits in the shadow of death. I wonder if anyone there is singing this hymn today, which must surely take on even greater depth:

    I heard the bells on Christmas day
    Their old familiar carols play,
    And wild and sweet, the words repeat
    Of peace on earth, good will to men.

    And in despair I bowed my head.
    “There is no peace on earth,” I said,
    “For hate is strong and mocks the song
    Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

    Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
    “God is not dead, nor does he sleep.
    The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
    Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

    • Melody permalink
      December 25, 2012 6:35 pm

      Julia, yes, I did think of that hymn in connection with all that has happened. Henry W. Longfellow wrote the words in 1864 (it was later set to music). The context of the poem was the death of his wife in a fire; and the Civil War, in which his son was seriously wounded. The original poem had some verses which referred to the Civil War; these were not included in the version that became the hymn/carol. So he was writing as someone who had known tragedy. One doesn’t often hear this song in a Catholic setting: I only know of it through some old Protestant hymnals which belonged to ancestors on my mother’s side of the family. There are at least a couple of tunes to the words; it deserves to be better known.

  21. Ronald King permalink
    December 25, 2012 3:40 pm

    Julia, It appears that you are not as left brain as you think. Your connection to Newtown during Mass can only be from what is not seen and not heard but only felt in that mystery of God’s Love. I never heard that hymn before. Thank you for posting it. God Bless all who suffer the loss of the Gift of Love which they have brought into this world where it seems violence is god and Love is ridiculed.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      December 25, 2012 4:14 pm

      Well, I never said I was entirely left-brained … actually I’m strongly bilateral. But anyway, I only discovered that hymn a few years ago, and the depth of conviction it stirs always makes me want to cry. It did bring me tears as I typed it, imagining it being sung in Newtown. It’s good and necessary that there are Christmas hymns that can meet people in their grief.

      I think also of this:

      It came upon the midnight clear,
      That glorious song of old,
      From angels bending near the earth,
      To touch their harps of gold:
      “Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
      From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
      The world in solemn stillness lay,
      To hear the angels sing.

      Still through the cloven skies they come,
      With peaceful wings unfurled,
      And still their heavenly music floats
      O’er all the weary world;
      Above its sad and lowly plains,
      They bend on hovering wing,
      And ever o’er its Babel sounds
      The blessèd angels sing.

      Yet with the woes of sin and strife
      The world has suffered long;
      Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
      Two thousand years of wrong;
      And man, at war with man, hears not
      The love-song which they bring;
      O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
      And hear the angels sing.

      And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
      Whose forms are bending low,
      Who toil along the climbing way
      With painful steps and slow,
      Look now! for glad and golden hours
      come swiftly on the wing.
      O rest beside the weary road,
      And hear the angels sing!

      For lo!, the days are hastening on,
      By prophet bards foretold,
      When with the ever-circling years
      Comes round the age of gold
      When peace shall over all the earth
      Its ancient splendors fling,
      And the whole world give back the song
      Which now the angels sing.

      I guess today’s liturgy has got me in a singing mood.

      • December 25, 2012 10:28 pm

        I wish you all could have heard Julia’s solo singing last evening in the Midnight Mass held in Saint John’s great Breuer-designed abbey church. Several people commented afterward. She filled that immense space, filled with more than a thousand worshippers, with her faith, expressed in song. She is not only a talented theologian, she is an equally talented musician.

        • Julia Smucker permalink*
          December 25, 2012 11:03 pm

          Aw shucks. ;-)

  22. Brian Martin permalink
    December 26, 2012 9:52 am

    Julia, I absolutely agree with you in the context of putting guns up as our savior. We do, however, live in a society that enjoys its “emotional” responses and quick blaming of easy and “obvious culprit” rather than actually looking for the root causes that need to be addressed. Impelmenting quick fixes that ignore reality and fact and do nothing to address the root causes is all about placating and pacifying the populace. So let’s look at this…ban the object that the person uses, rather than really, truly looking at how better to help people who are mentally disturbed. The Bishops should know better. They are supposed to be calling us deeper….but they seem to have bought into the culture of emotional sound bites.
    Amen to what sunflowersandcedartrees said above. You can regulate and ban guns all you want, until we start living and creating a culture of life, it won’t matter.
    The reality is…one of the biggest mass killings in US History, 9-11, was perpetrated using box cutters, and don’t forget the bombing by Timothy McVeigh used agricultural products.
    So I am with you, I want people to turn to the real Savior, and not see guns as their savior or laws enacted in emotional state after a tragedy as their savior, or for that matter our government as their savior.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      December 26, 2012 10:53 am

      Thank you for this response, Brian. I think we are close to being on the same page. I agree with you about the need to look for root causes rather than quick fixes, so it would be naive to only champion legislation without looking at the deeper problems in our society – but it is not an either/or, and that’s what I was trying to get at in this post.

      The culture of death rears its ugly head not only in public shootings, but also in the invariably fierce resistance to any and all suggestions of increased gun regulation – and not just because it won’t solve everything, but because weapons are our nation’s sacred cows (part of the mythos of empire, as Matt Talbot has said). If this were not the case, they would not be defended so passionately.

      Such hideous manifestations of the culture of death as we saw in Newtown require both immediate and long-term responses to witness to a culture of life, and I think that’s what the bishops are trying to do. Seen as one piece of their broader witness to life, their response to this tragedy is entirely appropriate. To say that regulation alone will not sufficiently address the root problems (which is true) does not therefore mean that regulation is useless: we certainly need much more than laws to save us from ourselves, but we still do need good laws.

  23. Ronald King permalink
    December 26, 2012 4:02 pm

    Julia, That last comment from Phillip seems to be a left-brain dominant response of “reason” which to me is an unconscious rationalization to defend himself from awareness of fear influencing his decision to own guns. My Father was with the 1st Marines in Guadal Canal and he never had a gun nor did he allow us to buy a gun when we were old enough. His friends would go hunting but he would not. He had no use for guns.

    • Julia Smucker permalink*
      December 26, 2012 11:47 pm

      Again with the left-brain-bashing, Ronald? :-)

      In all seriousness, I really think the problem is not reason itself, but rather the presumption that one’s reasoning is disinterested. Rationalizations based on fear are not ultimately very rational.

      • Ronald King permalink
        December 27, 2012 9:21 am

        like:)

      • Phillip permalink
        December 27, 2012 10:58 am

        Ronald,

        Please… Of course one can always psychologize away another’s arguments. Perhaps your arguments are based upon a fear of your own. Perhaps a fear of others who disagree with you and whom you seek to marginalze with false psychology and to tyrannize with govt,. power.

        I’m of course not making that argument. Let stick to what our conscious state tells us.

        BTW. My father was a veteran of Korea and I of the Gulf War. I have no conscious or sub-conscious problem with weapons when their use is reasonable.

        Julia,

        Going back to Aquinas (pace David) we are of course rational animals. That is we do have emotions. What we do with those emotions rationally is what distinguishes us from brute animals. So I may have a fear (or desire or anger) but what I do with that then distinguishes me as a human.

        There are of course a number of emotions going on here. How much expressed is your own fear or anger. I don’t know nor (unlike Ronald apparently) can I.

        But let’s say its anger over what happened. That would in fact be a just anger. And perhaps you are acting on this anger to end gun violence. But of course, that may be irrational. For your solutions may not solve the problems as past gun bans in other countries have not ended and even increased gun violence.

        And others may have fear given their circumstances. They may live in Detroit where there is very high gun violence (and very strict gun laws.) So they may reason that owning a gun is a reasonable way to defend themselves and their family.

  24. brian Martin permalink
    December 26, 2012 7:46 pm

    Julia, that is what I like about you…you are always moving us beyond either/or!

  25. Ronald King permalink
    December 28, 2012 5:12 pm

    Phillip, “Please… Of course one can always psychologize away another’s arguments. Perhaps your arguments are based upon a fear of your own. Perhaps a fear of others who disagree with you and whom you seek to marginalze with false psychology and to tyrannize with govt,. power.

    I’m of course not making that argument. Let stick to what our conscious state tells us”.

    If we stick to what our conscious state tells us then we remain subject to whatever is unknown and/or unresolved in the unconscious which predisposes us to violence or support for weapons which were created for violence. I am sure you have heard of PTSD. I just spoke with two Vets I worked with 25 years ago who finally applied for and received benefits from the VA for PTSD. I had recommended 25 years ago that they apply. Both were very grateful and admitted their resistance was fear being seen as weak. My Dad had PTSD. There are transgenerational effects associated with violence which contribute to the lack of a healthy family system with the resulting decay and chaos in our social systems.

    • dominic1955 permalink
      December 29, 2012 1:22 am

      I don’t want to speak for Phillip, he can say his own piece but this is what I was getting at.

      Well played, get all pedantic about the term “conscious state”-just more psychologizing away the point. PTSD is a red herring, there certainly appears to be legitimate psychological disorders. There is also nothing “weak” about counseling, properly administered. However, you can also cry people in and out of about anything, including problems they do not have. What happens when someone says their interest in guns has nothing to do with problematic mental states? Well, obviously, that is just DENIAL. There are basically two options-you turn into a sobbing mass of self-hating goo who then gets the positive regard of the Lab Coat or you’re a rigid, narrow, infantile dissenter who can only get “better” by breaking.

      Psychology (like many things) is a great servant, but a horrible master. You can use it to help, you can use it to hurt (kinda like guns…). You can use it to liberate, you can use it to silence. You can foster conversation, you can stifle conversation.

      Everyone has certain schizoid or narcissistic tendencies-EVERYONE. This is normal, and not the same as being a schizophrenic or a narcissist. You can say someone’s interest in ANYTHING is part of their schizoid, narcissistic or sociopathic “tendencies”.

      • Ronald King permalink
        December 29, 2012 8:56 am

        “Everyone has certain schizoid or narcissistic tendencies-EVERYONE. This is normal, and not the same as being a schizophrenic or a narcissist. You can say someone’s interest in ANYTHING is part of their schizoid, narcissistic or sociopathic “tendencies”

        Dominic 1955, I agree with you on this point within this discussion. All of us suffer from the “normal” responses to a violent human history. These “normal” responses can be perceived as being on a continuum beginning with those human beings who appear to manage this violent inheritance extremely well and appear to be quite successful and socially powerful, while at the other end of the continuum are those human beings who outwardly suffer the consequences of the toxic effects of the same environment and are diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. As human beings and being made in the image of God Who has come to us as Christ it is clear to me that all of us are already “broken” and our only option is to liberate ourselves from our place on this contiuum of “normal” responses to the abnormal reality of human violence. Christ is our guide and He was not being “pedantic” when He observed what was in the hearts of human beings. Your understanding of psychology seems quite different from my knowledge and experience within this field. What do you experience in your relationship with your guns? Is this relationship something that endures after your death or is it something which you must leave behind?

        • dominic1955 permalink
          December 29, 2012 2:30 pm

          We are all fallen human beings, so yes we are all “broken” to one degree or another. I’d say its sin that causes it, sinful violence being only ONE part of this problem. We can cry and mope and get all touchy-feely about it but there are better ways to theosis. We do not “liberate” ourselves-grace does. We respond, but that response is itself grace. Speaking about “liberating” ourselves gets to sounding a little too Pelagian.

          Do not shift the emphasis. Christ isn’t being pedantic, I said you were. That’s what it is when you parse a term that was obviously used in a “layman” sense.

          As to your question, I am not going to humor your internet psychoanalysis and the second one is beyond foolish.

        • dominic1955 permalink
          December 29, 2012 2:41 pm

          P.S. My understanding and experience with psychology seems quite a bit different than yours-no doubt. You sound like a self-help book, my own background in psychology throws up a red flag when I’m hearing stuff like this and when people start throwing around cheap analysis.

  26. December 29, 2012 6:11 am

    Ronald,

    Let’s play the full Freudian game then. First you are suffering from projection. You place upon me your own sense of fear. This is because you cannot resolve several conflicts in your id. First is your name – King. This gives your subconscious the sense that you are entitled to a high place in life. Your reference to your father furthers this, particularly his service in war. Also your reference to other veterans furthers your own sense of kingly, (ie military,) virtues.

    But you are cut off from these virtues. Your father has renounced the use of arms and, while accepted by your ego and super-ego, your id continues its subconscious desire for power. Without your father’s example and, thus, without a gun, you are powerless. And deprived of this power you are filled with fear.

    What then is the source of this emasculation? Well, as good Freudians, we know it is always maternal.

    I will of course stop this nonsense here. I do not know you from a hole in the ground and so have no sense of what your thoughts are. Further, even if such analysis was valid (and there are a great many who doubt Freudian/Jungian analysis), no psychologist worth his salt would attempt an analysis of someone without actuallly meeting with them for hours. This would be considered unethical – immoral.

    I actually know a great deal about PTSD. I work with children who have it from abuse and neglect. Its basis is neurologic (effects of stress hormones on the amygdala and hippocampus) and not Freudian. To claim otherwise is to demonstrate a profound lack of knowledge of the neurologic basis of mental disorders. Thus, also your error in ascribing sociopathic behaviors to “extreme individualism.”

    It is also from working with such children that I know that one can, and should, use legitimate force when others are threatened.

  27. Ronald King permalink
    December 29, 2012 3:35 pm

    Phillip, You are correct about the nonsense you wrote above due to the fact that you may have not known that my training and experience has been in the field of interpersonal neurobiology with three decades of work focused on individual, marital and family therapy with special emphasis on educating those who worked with me about the neurobiological development of our brains in response to the environments we inhabit. You must also know about the mirror neuron system and its role in the development of emotions and behaviors through the observation of those around us during our developmental stages.
    Your statement about my “error in ascribing sociopathic behaviors to extreme individualism” makes no sense to me.
    PTSD is one obvious aspect of interpersonal neurobiology there are many subtle dysfunctional expressions of interpersonal neurobiology which never make it to the DSM due to the perception that these dysfunctional behaviors are normal.

    • December 29, 2012 6:22 pm

      Good, then you are abandoning the Freudian subconscious and using neurobiology instead. Of course, as reasonable neuroscientists have come to understand, it is essentially impossible to attribute a subconsious to neurotransmitters and even mirror neurons (yes, everyone knows about those in this field. For example, it leads to having a difficult time when challanged by thoughts different from those contexts which we inhabit.) But then per your line of argument, as noted above and in the context of a neurobiologic basis of behavior, lets look at the neurobiological fears that inhabit your psyche.

      “‘Extreme individualism’ exists on a continuum beginning with self-centeredness and becomes a full blown personality disorder incapable of having any insight and/or empathy for others. Does anyone here have the courage to admit that their fascination with guns is part of their narcissistic/sociopathic desire for power and control in a world in which they are powerless and fearful?” King 12/22/12 8:50

      “Your statement about my “error in ascribing sociopathic behaviors to extreme individualism” makes no sense to me.”

      Then could you explain the first statement in light of the second. Especially given your linking the lack of empathy to extreme individualism when, as current thought holds, it is simply to disorders of mirror neurons (ie in autism.)

      Thank, for accepting my point that, from an empathic view, one can seek to defend others from abuse and harm.

      • Ronald King permalink
        December 29, 2012 9:42 pm

        Phillip, I have worked in my practice with “extreme individualists” who have narcissistic and sociopathic personalities which fit the criteria for personality disorders and their mirror neurons may be perfectly functional as are those who are raised in “normal” environments but their problem-solving methods are dysfunctional. Empathy is either a innate trait which functions immediately in some human beings while in others it must be learned. Autism is not necessarily a disorder associated with mirror neurons. I have observed while working with children and adults with the diagnosis of autism that their aversion to relationships is not due to a lack of empathy on their part but is due to the distress exhibited by the caregiver when their child does not bond according to their expectations. When the child is highly sensitive physiology that child is also highly sensitive to any distress within the caregiver consequently the child is mirroring the caregiver’s distress. The child cannot self regulate distressing feelings if the caregiver is in distress. There is a difference between axis 1 and axis 2 diagnoses.
        Now, extreme individualism can be a dysfunction within the dopamine 2 and receptor 2 pathway which has been labelled as reward deficiency syndrome. This occurs when there is a mutation within the dopamine receptor which results in decreased intake of dopamine and leaves the person with a sense of boredom and emptiness. To compensate for this that person attempts to find ways of increasing their sense of reward. This can lead to all sorts of addictive and destructive behaviors for self and others.
        By the way research has indicated that we make decisions milliseconds before we are aware of them consciously. The unconscious does exist and it exists within the complexity of our neurobiology which is the result of the relationship of our genetic history with the influence of the family and social system we are born into.

        • December 31, 2012 9:15 am

          An article in a special issue of American Psychologist once asked the question, ‘‘Is the unconscious smart or dumb?’’ the consensus
          reached by the contributors and issue editors was that the unconscious is actually rather dumb as it is capable only of highly routinized activities and it perceives little without the aid of consciousness.

          Of course you can quote your studies on dopamine receptors and I could quote my on Seratonin agonists. The bottom line is, there is little scientific consensus to make the definitive claims you make. Add to this the total inability to perform such analysis online – an anlysis that at a minimum is unprofessional.

          But this of course ultimately detracts from what I and others have shown. That is, there is no direct correlation between gun numbers and gun violence. There in fact seems to be an inverse relationship between gun control laws and an increase in violence.

          Add to this the fact, far more indisputable than the quite disputed existence and power of the subconscious, that the Church clearly supports the use of necessary force to deter unjust aggression.

  28. Ronald King permalink
    December 29, 2012 5:02 pm

    Domininc 1955, I do not know how to respond to you when you dismiss me with such violent expression as you have above. I can understand why you would use the term “cheap analysis” in relationship to my comments due to the fact that in order for you to understand how I have come to such an analysis you would need to know the experience and education I have had in my career. Another reason you may have used it is that I may have hurt you with my comment. If so, I am sorry. If I appear to you as pedantic there is nothing I can do about that since that is your analysis. I do pay attention to minute detail when human relationships are concerned because every human interaction has purpose. What was the purpose of your response to me? What was the disposition of your response?

    • dominic1955 permalink
      December 30, 2012 2:24 pm

      1. “Cheap analysis” has nothing to do with your experience or education or your career. You said above that fascination with guns is (not might or could be) a sociopathic response built on fear? Really? Gee…I wish I could read the minds and hearts of thousands of people I’ve never even met…

      2. Like I said above, I am not contributing to the on-line psychoanalysis.

      • Ronald King permalink
        December 31, 2012 10:33 am

        Dominic1955, 1) “Cheap analysis” has everything to do with my experience, education and career. This is part of what I wrote above, “It is the narcissist and the sociopath within each of us which must be exposed in order to begin a conversation about what needs to be done to end violence”. Here is some information which will partially explain why I wrote that. In the human brain below the cortex is the limbic system. This region is what we share in common with other mammals and its evolution is what separated mammals from the reptiles whose brain is what is known as the brain stem. The brain stem and the limbic areas work together and influence our decisions we make about survival and affiliations. These areas give us our primary responses to every situation and object related to our survival. If the neuropathway for fear is stimulated in a neutral environment the person will feel fearful even when there is no threat. If the pathway of anger is stimulated the person will become aggressive. This what I describe as the narcissist and the sociopath within each of us which will influence us to develop complex psychological, social and material objects to increase our chances for survival. These areas are connected to a reward system which influences us to feel pleasure when we obtain a sense of safety and belonging and secures our attachments to those objects which stimulate this feeling. It is up to each of us to determine how much we are influenced by these primitive survival mechanisms.
        2) You state that you are “…not contributing to the on-line psychoanalysis.”. I would rather call it taking the risk of being vulnerable with open communication.
        3) You are very good at sarcasm through the use of your very impressive intellect. Sarcasm is a strategy used as a weapon to obtain power over another person. It is hurtful and harmful and is violent.

        • dominic1955 permalink
          December 31, 2012 6:17 pm

          1) You also said, “Does anyone here have the courage to admit…” You are not stupid either, you know that is a discussion ender. I am not enthralled to parchment or “experience”. It is somewhat like theology, you can have parchment from whatever high sounding institution you want and experience up the wazoo, but what matters is what was actually learned, who taught, etc. etc. A doctorate from Yale in the field and 30 years experience as a snake oil salesman is worth jack. I have some background, I’m not going to be wowed with a patronizing explanation of the limbic system. So, “fascination” with guns is nothing more than a response to primitive fear responses? Sounds like the same old fainting-couch garbage dressed up with some real science to give it more clout with the mouth-breathers. I guess we all have our opinions…

          2) B and in B and S as in S. I know how this works and know a thing or two about it. A wise old man (my former SD) once gave me an earful about this “taking the risk of being vulnerable with open communication”. He saw what happened when Jungian psychology (and other nonsense) was faddishly introduced into convents and seminaries. Like I said before, you can cry practically anyone into or out of most anything.

          3) So is your “invitation” to openess, albeit with much more sinister potential. There is no real discussion when the other side has the option of capitulation or mental disorder/maladjustment.

        • Ronald King permalink
          January 1, 2013 1:29 pm

          Oh well

  29. Ronald King permalink
    December 31, 2012 3:33 pm

    Phillip, you stated above, “An article in a special issue of American Psychologist once asked the question, ‘‘Is the unconscious smart or dumb?’’ the consensus reached by the contributors and issue editors was that the unconscious is actually rather dumb as it is capable only of highly routinized activities and it perceives little without the aid of consciousness.” This statement is extremely prejudicial and ignorant in its assessment of the unconscious brain. The unconscious may not perceive as consciousness does but it does record and store information beyond conscious awareness and our basic behavioral and emotional responses to the world are developed through the social learning areas of the brain known as the mirror neuron system, which is fully developed at the time of birth long before consciousness occurs. This instinctive learning is solidified with specific proteins located within the amygdala and around the age of 24 the production of these proteins is greatly decreased thus making it extremely difficult to learn new emotional and behavioral responses to familiar situations.
    You state that it is unprofessional, at a minimum, to perform an analysis like this on line. I disagree. The more information and discussion we have about human development the better chance we have of preventing violence.

  30. Julia Smucker permalink*
    January 1, 2013 11:39 pm

    http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/01/01/16286049-gunfire-rings-in-a-deadly-new-year-across-us?lite

    If this is how we celebrate the turning of the year, we really do need some serious soul-searching. Lord have mercy.

Trackbacks

  1. Another Christmas, Another Appeal to Violence « Vox Nova

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 524 other followers

%d bloggers like this: