Fear, Guns, and Kids

When we get scared, we seek protection.  And so many of us are scared – of increasing violence, of a precarious democracy, of growing polarization, of progressing climate change.  And on and on – a veritable cascade of fear.   One mode of protection for many, at least in the United States, is to procure more weapons.  And Americans have a lot of guns.  We are 4% of the world’s population, but own 42% of the globe’s guns.

People with guns typically say they feel safer, because of the added protection.  Those without guns often express a need to be protected from the people who are arming themselves, especially from those who make it a point to display their hardware (which is becoming easier to do in a lot of places).  The ‘have guns’ cohort and the ‘don’t have guns’ crowd tend to double down on their protective positions when the other side seeks to challenge their perspective.  And then the standoff becomes even more entrenched.

Into the mix comes a report from the Center for Disease Control that the leading cause of death among children under 18 is from guns.  For much of the nation’s history, most children died of disease.  In the 1960’s car accidents became the leading cause of death of kids.  In 2020, guns surpassed vehicles as the number one killer of young people.  The CDC reports that 3597 children died by gunfire in 2021; 2279 were homicides and 1078 were suicides.

Except for gun accidents of children (which have remained at about 150 a year) the homicide and suicide rates among kids have skyrocketed.  Why?  More guns.  They are available, more accurate – and easier to use. 

When we get scared, we seek protection.  As violence increases, and as more people arm themselves with weapons, especially in vulnerable areas, there is a louder outcry to beef up the police.  Get them more sophisticated weapons, get more officers on the streets and more offenders off them.  Lock the offenders up.  Keep us protected.

Which is understandable – and often necessary.  But I find that the impulse for more protection is closely aligned with punishment.  And punishment is often the first response from people who are scared.   And in my experience, the impulse to and threat of punishment causes people to double down in their behavior, and solidify the standoff.  And the violence continues.

Most police officers are in the work to protect the public.  To reduce fear.  Maintain public safety.  Yet as we have seen, in too many tragic cases, some officers are in the business to impose punishment.

Another strategy is emerging across the country.  It centers around prevention.  Often referred to as community violence intervention (CVI), prevention involves programs, resources and support for individuals and families.  After school programs, counseling, resource centers, community ambassadors – even planting trees, has had a demonstrated effect on reducing gun violence among children.  Veteran CVI advocates describe the need – not to defund, ignore or operate as an alternative to the police, but to work in partnership with police departments.  Prevention and protection need to be woven together.

Recently I learned of the extraordinary exploits of the Rev. Corey Brooks of Chicago, who spent 11 months on a rooftop drawing attention to the violence on the streets below.  He said that in one year his community lost 25 young men to gun violence.  Known as the ‘rooftop pastor’, he succeeded in raising $28 million dollars from celebrities, busineses and foundations to build a community center, which would have the effect of lifting up hope and lowering gun violence.  It has worked in other places.  https://www.cbsnews.com/chicago/news/pastor-corey-brooks-woodlawn-rooftop-community-center/

What Pastor Brooks has dramatically demonstrated is an ongoing act of love.  Love is a key ingredient of prevention.  Love is much more than a feeling.  It is an act of the will.  Love claims that everyone needs to receive God’s full blessing.  Love claims that no one is expendable.

Love is a life-giving weapon.   We know, only too well, of the weapons of protection, which often lead to punishment and more violence.  Love is a power – that more and more people, like Pastor Brooks and so many like him, are learning to use.  And having a positive effect.

Martin Luther King said it best:  “Power without love is reckless and abusive.  Love without power is sentimental and anemic.  Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting anything that stands against love.”

Let us be bearers of that life-giving love.

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