Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Guns, Violence, and Hunting

Guns, Violence, and Hunting
Growing up in central Pennsylvania, I rarely remember hearing of the need for gun-control.  Guns were and continue to be an accepted part of my community's culture and not viewed as an unnecessary evil. As a child, it was not uncommon to walk into a home with a gun case by the door and a deer head mounted on the wall.  While my family did not hunt or own guns, most of my friends grew up looking at guns, hearing hunting stories and even hunting with their family.  I grew up in a culture where guns represented our rights.  Patriotism was connected to the right for gun-ownership and even the churches taught this was a God-given right.  Perhaps being from a family that did not own guns or being active in urban ministry from a young age gave me a different perspective, but I still understand the historical and cultural value of owning a gun in many American communities.  

Until this week, I did not know that gun violence was not a wide spread issue until after the 1980s, when the gun industry needed to revamp marketing strategies Any rural community member knows the handing down of hunting rifles from father to son is a rite of passage, but how many of us ever thought about how this ritual impacted gun sales?  The demand for hunting riffles was decreasing, so guns as a means of protection became a strategy to access a new market of customer.  Unfortunately, this marketing strategy created a new societal ill along with more revenue.
I will not go into the statistics, but studies by reputable institutions show the irrefutable truth that the presence of guns increases gun-related deaths.  I must emphasize, for the sake of rural communities though, that the need for regulation is not necessarily to impact the sale of  hunting rifles but instead handgun sales to the general public.  Guns designed to kill people, not animals, are by far an unnecessary evil in communities. 
Legislation must be changed enforcing more thorough background checks, to create limits upon purchasing, and improve regulation on gun-shows as well as other measures to eliminate straw purchasing.  If you are not aware of why these reforms are necessary, I urge you to research!

At a conference I attended last week (2011 Congress on Urban Ministry), I had the pleasure of participating in a workshop facilitated by Dr. Drick Boyd, faculty of the Urban Studies Department.  In this workshop, Dr. Boyd emphasized the importance of reaching the complacent middle.  This makes sense, as the majority of people are not extremists on either side of the issue.  Therefore, if we are going to reach the complacent middle, I believe we must bring an particular experience to places, like my hometown, that the NRA culture fails to expose.

I admit that I have been a part of the complacent middle.  What made it easy for me to be complacent as a young person was that I was directly impacted by gun-violence, at least this is what I though.  After listening to Dr. Boyd’s presentation, I now realize my life was very directly impacted by gun violence.  For the predominately white rural community, citizens may never have had a loved one murdered or killed by a gun.  Furthermore, they may never meet someone who has had this experience.  What they will more likely have experienced is the loss of a loved to a self-inflicted gun-related death.  Suicide is an issue that my community has experienced many times.  Suicide has been a tragedy I have experienced.  At age 4 my uncle committed suicide with a gun.  My life was greatly altered as the result of gun-violence.

I do not bring this point to the table saying that limited access to guns will eliminate gun-related suicides.  Instead, I am challenged to think of what it would have been like to have lost my uncle to gun-related homicide. I am challenged to think about how it would have impacted me, if he had been killed just for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Legislation reform could eliminate some of gun-related homicides completely.   In my home community, many people can relate to the pain and anguish of losing a loved one to gun-related suicide.  When given this reference point, people can begin to understand the cries of victims who experience other-inflicted gun violence.  This reference point helps people to relate with a mother who has lost a son to an accidental shooting.  This reference point helps people to relate with a husband who has lost a wife in a hold-up. 

In order to move from complacent to active, people must have the ability to relate and understand the necessity of change.  Dr. Boyd talked about the importance of story-telling and shared symbols to combat the culture created by the gun industry.  I have experienced this necessity and agree that facts are facts, but there is a reason our history is but a shared collection of stories.  Facts cause us to shudder but go back to our own daily lives.  Experience and empathy is what causes people to act!  What I propose is bringing stories told by the victims of gun violence as well as raising awareness of the amount of gun-related suicides in rural communities and in predominately white suburban communities, where the complacent middle tends to live. 

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