Like many, I am deeply distressed and disheartened by the recent Supreme Court rulings, the first which removes restrictions on where people can bring loaded guns in public, and the second which reverses Roe v. Wade, which gave women the right to seek an abortion. Reaction has been swift and strident. Rallies have been held, protests have been staged – and strategies are being developed.
For those of us who are profoundly upset about these rulings, there is an accompanying temptation to be snarky, which I will allow myself to be for a moment. In the NY State Rifle and Pistol Association vs. Bruen case, the court mentioned that there are “sensitive areas” where guns should not be permitted. But if the trajectory of gun rights keeps expanding – and restrictions keep dropping, will we be able to bring guns on airplanes and get rid of the annoying TSA process before boarding? Will guns be allowed in hospitals or schools or worship spaces? Will those continue to be sensitive areas? And in the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, the ruling suggested that there are other Supreme Court decisions that may need to come under review. Might this mean that Loving vs. Virginia, a 1967 ruling which struck down the ban on interracial marriage, will get a second look and potentially be overturned?
Those are important points. Clever points that many others have made. But one thing I learned from a friend long ago – it is one thing to make a point; it is another thing to make a difference.
We need to be about more than scoring points.
As I reflect on these two rulings, I notice a series of paradoxes:
- The insistence for government intrusion on women’s reproductive rights over against the resistance to government intrusion in regulating guns
- The conviction that more guns make people safer over against the belief that more guns put people at greater risk
- The belief that life begins at the moment of conception over against the conviction that life begins at the moment of viability
- The notion that “my rights” come first over against the idea that our collective rights need to be given priority (the difference between an “I” culture and a “we” culture as described in Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam’s recent book, The Upswing)
I have long sided on one side of these paradoxes: that more guns put us at greater danger, that human life begins at the moment of viability – and that we are all in this together. That said, it is important to recognize that there are millions of people who hold to the other side of these paradoxes, and they are not going away. Instead, most of us, regardless of which side of the paradox we are on, are doubling down. And making snarky comments. Or worse.
These paradoxes remind me of a statement by Niels Bohr (1885-1962) , the Danish founder of atomic physics, who said that the opposite of a fact is a lie. And the opposite of a truth is a competing truth.
We are living in a time of competing truths; and those paradoxes are fomenting a deepening crisis. I am going to continue my work in reducing gun violence with an even greater sense of urgency, in an effort to make a difference. And I am going to sit with these paradoxes. Ponder them. See what emerges. There is a way through all of this. I don’t know what it is, but I trust that a path will emerge. As the old Spiritual has put it: we will find a way when there is no way.