I watched several social media conversations unfold this past weekend about the mass murder at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. They went something like this:
Person A: If those students had all had guns this wouldn’t have happened.
Person B: I know the area, and believe me, most of the 3000+ people on that campus DO have guns. It is a community where everyone has a gun.
Person A: Well, it’s a shame the shooter didn’t try to shoot one of those with a gun.
The conversation went on, and on, and on. Except that it wasn’t a conversation. From my perspective, Person B tried several times to get Person A to expand a little and see that the ideas and defenses (of guns) that he was offering simply didn’t fit the reality on the ground. Person B never succeeded in turning this into a conversation. Person A has guns, likes guns and wants everyone to continue to be able to have all the guns they want. Person B even noted to Person A that where gun control laws are in place, gun violence is much lower. Person A responded: it won’t work. You cannot control guns with laws. Person B offered examples from various countries around the world where it does work–even pointed out that there are States in the US with stricter gun control laws than others, and they have lower gun violence than those without. Person A continued the refrain: It won’t work.
There really was no conversation because we have lost the ability in this country to have difficult conversations that are about the public good. I think this stems directly from what Rev. Jan identified in yesterday’s post through the quotations from Ta-Nahesi Coates. We have lost the ability to talk about the public good because we fear losing our “right” to plunder the earth. Giving up control over weapons somehow translates in a diminishing of life for many individuals even when it is clear that not controlling them makes schools, theaters and churches open targets for anyone with a gun.
I overheard two students talking this past week about the shooting and speculating about what would happen if someone came onto our campus with a gun like that. There was a momentary silence, and then one said: “we would have nowhere to go. There’s no way to make a campus like this safe from people like that.” It broke my heart. They understand what danger we are in. They know that they live in one of those States with little concern for stricter gun control laws, where “everbody has a gun.” It made me sad and angry because there are things we could do.
Perhaps we start where healing often takes place: by acknowledging, personally and in our communities, what it is that we have lost. We have lost the ability to hold difficult conversations about the public good. Shouting at one another is not a conversation. It is another form of plunder.