When author Chrystie Bowie–an outspoken liberal and confirmed pacifist–first mentioned writing a response to yesterday’s blog post, I was cautious. While I welcome intelligent debate in comments and forums, an actual article regaling the benefits of a nationwide gun ban is not something I care to publish.
When I read the draft she sent me, I understood how silly my knee-jerk assumption had been.
The truth is, common sense is common sense no matter what an individual’s personal convictions or political leanings might be. That was the heart of my post yesterday–that for America, it’s a really bad time to go brain dead. With every word she wrote, Chrystie proves that being enlightened has nothing to do with being liberal or conservative. Nothing to do with being aggressive or passive. It’s a quality of human nature, rooted in sentient intelligence and personal character. She states in her article that she writes to “halfway back up what [I was] saying and halfway present an argument different from [mine.]” She and I might differ when it comes to other viewpoints, but on this particular issue, we agree one hundred percent.
I am very proud to offer a platform for Chrystie to speak her mind. I sincerely hope her article goes viral.
A Pacifist Weighs in on Violence and Fear
–by Chrystie Bowie
I am an online friend of Rhonda’s and subscribe to her blog. We agree on many things, including the misunderstood nature of people with Asperger’s Syndrome and also the need to stand up for one’s beliefs. I’m not quite as disturbed as she is by the changing face of the American culture, but I do get her point.
I embrace change. The one that created the constitution and freed us from British rule is one Rhonda and I would both stand behind. The influx of immigrants that brought my Irish ancestors here during the Potato Famine is something I owe my existence to. I look out on a good day and see so much beautiful DIVERSITY, it makes my heart swell with pride for my home, the land of opportunity. People will continue to come to this country and bring new viewpoints. America is my home, but I welcome others here because this is the Land of The Free … or we hope it is.
You see, freedom means more than being unencumbered by rules. It also means the freedom to be accountable for your own actions. And you can’t be accountable for your own actions if people don’t give you a chance to determine your own destiny and to help your children find their own way in the world.
And that is why I am writing this blog post to halfway back up what Rhonda is saying and halfway present an argument different from hers. Don’t go into this post assuming I’m for or against what she’s saying. Go into it ready to hear my words as a standalone point of view that I’ve decided to share …
When I heard about the Sandy Hook Massacre, my liberal bleeding heart did exactly what it is known for doing. It bled. I wept over the pictures of the twenty slain children and their fallen teachers. I couldn’t bear to stare at the mural someone painted of Santa Claus standing in front of Newtown with a sleigh full of presents, his face buried in his gloved hands while the reindeer bowed their heads in sorrow. I shook with disbelief that someone would be capable of something so heinous. I started looking through the pictures of my family members at that age, realizing how small and innocent we all looked, including these pictures of myself:
The first one is me the Christmas I was six … I was the same age then as the twenty Newtown children who will now be receiving coffins for Christmas and Hanukkah. The second picture is my mother and me standing outside the Rotary Club on the day I received a scholarship to college in my senior year of high school. She was so proud of me that day. I was so happy to make her proud. I was able to give her that joy because I wasn’t mowed down by a gunman in my first grade classroom as a little girl.
The shock and fear I experienced as I looked through pictures of my childhood after hearing of the tragedy was unbelievable. I cried so hard. For days. And at night, too.
But I have to admit, even though I’m a pacifist, it never occurred to me that the problem was gun control issues. Yes, the problem might have been that Adam Lanza’s mother decided to keep guns in her house with a son she once warned a babysitter not to turn your back on, even to go to the bathroom. But to say the problem is that ANYBODY has a gun is kind of unfair, don’t you think? Even as a radical pacifist, I can see this.
Don’t get me wrong, I dream of a world without guns and other weapons. I often visit intentional communities where everybody there has made a pact of nonviolence. And that works for them and I love being there … but here’s the catch. They all chose to agree to those terms and their community is small enough to build that kind of trust. The gun-free world I dream of, it’s one where weapons aren’t needed, not one where responsible people are made to feel like criminals because they choose a different path than mine.
You just cannot FORCE people at the national or even state level to abide by those things if they don’t want to. They have to want to be that way or else a higher power is telling them what to do. And when you start telling people what to do and how to think … well, that’s a slippery slope that never leads anywhere positive.
In fact, it often leads to resurgent violence and no pacifist should want that. I certainly don’t.
How well did banning alcohol work in the Prohibition? How rich are other countries getting from the marijuana market right now? And that’s just recreational drugs. Someone who’s stoned, what are they going to do? Sit on the couch and eat a bag of Cheetos while laughing at Family Guy?
Forcing something as dangerous as guns onto the black market makes me a little more nervous. Creating a taboo takes away one of the few things I think may actually work: education and awareness and creating a healthy respect for the dangers of mishandling firearms. If guns are illegal, the people getting their hands on them will never have had a chance to learn to handle one safely. Am I the only one who sees this middle viewpoint between ‘ban all guns’ and ‘give every adult one automatically’?
This is all about fear on both sides. Fear is the problem here. Guns don’t kill people. People with their index fingers on triggers kill people … so educate these freaking people, don’t tie their hands behind their backs with mandates.
I don’t like guns, personally, but I’m going to share with you my life-altering experience the afternoon I gained a better awareness for them. It stands out in my mind as one of those days that my horizons broadened and my world got a little bigger. First thing to know is that I work with a lot of men … funny, smart, kind, video-gaming, gun-enthusiastic young men in their early-to-mid twenties. They make me laugh. They make me cringe. They take me out of my college-educated, book smart, female, point of view and make me see things through their eyes.
And one of them lured me to the gun range one warm April afternoon and encouraged me to shoot some of his ‘babies’ off.
He warned me ahead of time that he was bringing his 50 Caliber Rifle, but if I was uncomfortable with it, he also had some tamer guns. I wasn’t exactly excited to go with him, but I stood in front of my Jeep at our meeting spot that day and waited for him to pick me up. I didn’t know what to expect, so I refrained from wearing my usual tie-dye motif and opted instead for an old pair of camouflage pants and a faded, green-and-white shirt. I figured that made me look properly ‘gunsy’.
When we got to the range, the first thing I noticed was how collected and respectful everybody was. Nope, no ignorant hillbillies whooping to the sky as they attempted to shoot baseball caps off each other’s heads. There was a man that could have looked comfortable wearing a suit. A dad with his teenage son, being very specific about exactly how to load their gun safely. Oh, my mailman. My mailman? He gave me a smile and a nod as my friend and I got out of the car. I even sensed a tinge of sudden comradery when he recognized me.
My friend started pulling cases out of his trunk that looked like they harbored odd shaped violins. The way he smiled so proudly, as he kept looking over at me with earnest anticipation, was kind of endearing. He wanted to convert me.
“And this one,” he proclaimed as he pulled the biggest case out. “This one is my 50 cal. I call her The Queen.”
“Because when she speaks, everybody listens.”
What else could I expect from a gun enthusiast? I rolled my eyes.
After watching him fire some of his guns, I was finally convinced to try some myself. It was actually kind of fun. But what really struck me was how responsible all the people around us were being. When one person needed to go ‘up range,’ everybody stopped shooting and multiple people took advantage of the lull, chatting and joking as they walked. When I accidentally turned to my friend with his highpoint in my hands, the shooters on both sides of us reacted strongly. My friend jumped into stern dad mode and corrected me sharply, all the while smiling an embarrassed apology to everybody else. I felt like a little girl who’d done something inappropriate and hadn’t realized it until I was scolded.
These longtime gun owners did not play around about safety. They had years of experience to pass on. Years that would go to waste if they ever found their guns outlawed.
Towards the end of our visit, my friend finally got The Queen out. The other shooters began to stare at us again, but it wasn’t irritation at me. It was a reverent curiosity for the giant rifle my friend was erecting in our stall. My eyes widened. That damn thing was as long as my leg. The arms of its tripod looked like little branches. My friend smiled and pulled out a box holding the ammunition. Cracking it open, he tilted it toward me to look in. Glaring back at me were rounds as long as my index fingers and as fat as sausages. Ok, so I got a little freaked out.
When he fired The Queen, I finally understood what he meant when he said ‘everybody listens.’ He had never been joking that he planned to use it to force people to obey him. No, he literally meant that when that rifle went off, and the percussive shock wave hit my chest and sent a butterfly through my stomach, everybody at the range stopped what they were doing, put their safeties on, and came over to check us out.
I listened to the conversations and, while I don’t remember exactly what everybody said, I do remember the feeling of community I felt coming off these people. I remember how my friend patted The Queen a few times while he talked, the way a pet owner would show off their beloved dog or cat. He loved that 50 Caliber and I could tell it wasn’t a deranged obsession but more of a respectful affection.
He turned down a few requests from some of the shooters to get behind it for a round or two. That’s why I was kind of touched when he asked if I was ready to give it a try. He hadn’t let anybody else shoot it, but he looked like he wanted me to. I got the impression he would have been a little offended if I didn’t. So I sat down in the chair and wrapped my tense arms around the massive rifle. He showed me how to take the safety off and told me to go ahead when I was ready. I put my finger on the trigger and kind of pulled … then chickened out … then kind of pulled … then chickened out … then …
After almost thirty seconds of this, my friend leaned in and spoke the truest words I’ve probably ever heard. “You know, dear,” his carefully disciplined, ex-military tone found its way to my ear past the other guns popping. “Sometimes it’s just as dangerous to be afraid as it is to be reckless. If you’re not ready, you should get up.”
“No, no! I’m ready. I’m good now. Give me another chance.”
He backed up again.
And this time I pulled the trigger. I released that finger-long bullet so far down range, all I saw was a poof of dirt, far out in the field, as the recoil planted that rifle into my shoulder so hard that it scooted me and the chair I was sitting in back several inches. I was completely in shock. It took me a minute to decide whether I liked the experience or not. Eventually my answer came, kind of as a surprise to me as well, in the form of a loud, triumphant, “WHOOOOO!”
That’s right folks … it was the hippy with her arms wrapped around a 50 Caliber Rifle, glasses askew on her face, that hollered to the sky like a backwoods hillbilly, as serious gun owners stared at me like I lost my marbles. My friend was kind of embarrassed for the second time that day. But I will never forget the lesson I learned that warm afternoon from people I would have never thought to spend time with had I not opened my mind and let them show me their world.
Getting back to this issue of fear in light of the recent massacre, another thing bothers me just as much. A female friend I know said to me today, “I just don’t even know if I’m comfortable raising my children in this world anymore.”
Where exactly is she planning to go? Have they approved warp travel to a mysterious colony on the moon that I’m unaware of?
Then she said the one thing I was hoping she wouldn’t. “You know, you’re lucky you don’t have any children.”
Now that was a double punch right to my heart. First of all, on a personal note, I actually happen to be saddened by my status as a childless woman. I have recently been finding my days without a little one at my side to be a lonely existence. Secondly, it was kind of annoying for her to say that childless people shouldn’t bother having any children just because bad things take place in this world. What if I believe I have something positive to pass on to a child that may help negate the bad things?
What if my future child wants to be cop? Or a teacher, possibly a teacher who would sacrifice his or her own life to protect little kids from harm? What if I’m supposed to bear the person who finally finds a blanket cure for all types of cancer? Or becomes the person who defeats HIV, once and for all? What if my child, despite the fact that I’m not very religious, grows up to become some kind of missionary in a war-torn country and brings a message of hope and perseverance to those struggling? Why would I voluntarily remain childless out of fear and not only leave my own life incomplete but maybe even their future husband or wife’s?
Fear. That’s the problem here. It’s not about guns or whether children have a place in this sometimes nasty world. It’s about what happens to people when fear determines their choices and what happens when they are in a position to force those limiting decisions on others.
The way I see it, gun control and protecting our children have a similar analogy. It’s like having a pool in your backyard. That pool is cool, fun, and refreshing. But it also can be dangerous and children have died in pools when people aren’t careful. So you have two choices. You can build a fence around the pool, restrict access to it, make a child afraid of it … downplay its benefits while spitting fire and brimstone about the dangers. You can do all those things, but they will find a way to get into it if they want. You can try to save them by forcing your will on them and hoping it helps.
Or you can show that child how to swim and educate him or her on the responsibility of engaging in an activity that poses such risk. Is it too much to ask that people, even children, be expected to take some responsibility for their own decisions instead of having them made for them? I don’t think so.
It’s like a very wise person said to me once, “Sometimes it’s just as dangerous to be afraid as it is to be reckless.”