I have news for you. We don’t have a gun problem. Well, we do, but we don’t. We have a people problem. And against all odds, eventually, the violence will stop. But not before we address the situation at its true source. And the signs are there that this is exactly what we’re doing.
This is intended as a message of hope for those who are in fear about the way guns are misused in our country, and what it will mean for our future. I would venture to put at ease at least a few troubled hearts. For others, these words may provide no hope at all, and they will conclude me to be a Pollyanna of the highest order.
They may be right. Only time will tell. But I don’t believe in doomsday. Mostly because it’s pointless to put our faith in the worst possible outcome.
I see evidence of the opposite.
Although I’m no sociologist, I feel a trend is visible in the way society reacts to growth. It doubles down against it. It first works all of its energy toward keeping things remaining the same. At the beginning of a movement, an idea may be a fly hardly worth swatting, but the more pronounced a movement becomes, the greater the reaction we see from the “powers that be” against it. Their response is always proportional, if not extra-proportional, to their annoyance. The “extra” is the red flag. The more strongly they react against progress, the more their fear of extinction is revealed.
When something knows it is doomed, it will use its last breath to fight back. The more energy and resources used to prevent it, the more confident we can be that a Hail Mary is all they have left in their arsenal.
But the tide they are attempting to hold back is not about guns at all. We know it’s people who kill people. Guns are inanimate objects as value-neutral as capitalism. Humans are what make things deadly.
So the source of our problem is not the guns; it’s the humans. And it’s not about punishing our way out of a problem. We happen to know for a fact that method doesn’t work very well.
Our methodology for improving the world should stop relying so much on retribution and vengeance against those who commit offenses against us, and start working more efficiently toward the real goal. When someone commits a crime, how proportional and responsible is our reaction to it? The more thoughtful our reaction, the more likely it is not to be a reaction at all, but a meaningful response.
Are we doing what’s best for the world when we choose how to mete out responsibility for someone’s actions? Are we making more criminals than we are healing? The answer is, statistically, yes.
I believe it is an inevitability that we will eventually figure out that we all do better when we all do better. We are, step by step, ridding ourselves of old ways of thinking about other people. Generation by generation, we are seeing ourselves in others.
This is good news. And much of the change we seek will occur in our own lifetimes. A lot more of it than I think we can presently guess. Because progress has been accelerating lately, and the absurdity of the response against it is the clearest indicator that we are witnessing the extinction of the old way of life — as well as its desperate fight to survive.
We are in a new age now. It’s OK to acknowledge it. What we might have suspected before to be true has now been confirmed and is being cemented as we speak, by our step-by-step survival through a global pandemic. The whole world has changed before our very eyes. There are consequences to that, and they are almost entirely emotional in nature.That is the source. The emotional health of humanity. That must be our focus. All good will stem from that mission.
Emotional health is achieved and sustained through proper education and physical health. We look to the government for these things. We pay our taxes and vote for these things. We donate to charities that make it a point to do these things. That is the trend and, increasingly, our society’s expectation.
Good work is already happening with regard to the subject of guns. But it won’t be our legislation about them that accomplishes it. The problem of guns will slowly fade away in direct proportion to our caring for humanity and the emotional health of our neighbor.
The good news is this: The problem with guns is on the verge of ending, but it will be difficult to see in real time. There’s a revolution of human awareness at hand because of all we’ve been through. That is a garden from which only good things grow.
Care for the people who hold guns. Care about their education and physical health. Support anything you can that enhances these two things for all people, but especially those who are susceptible to fear.
Take note of all ways in which this mission of human flourishing is already well underway. Good things are occurring everywhere in spite of the tragedy around us.
The increase in open-carry gun laws despite the number of shootings we’ve had is proof that they know their days are numbered. They are fighting tooth and nail, much harder than is necessary or called for. Why might that be?
The Second Amendment is not responsible for the gun violence we see. It’s that we’ve forgotten, or perhaps have yet to truly learn, that humans are our first priority. And few will truly prosper until we acknowledge it. In fact, only the few will.
But if we take more notice of the subtle changes we already see around us in these areas of progress, the writing on the wall becomes much more deeply printed. The use of guns in the way we presently see it will become a relic of the past, like cigarettes on airplanes and words about others we already no longer use. We will remember these times as a barbarous age, because it is. But one day we will more clearly see in hindsight the trends that were already working toward the right ways to support one another in the flourishing of humanity.
We are figuring it out. The signs of it are everywhere. More and more, sometimes still violently so, we are demanding equal and fair treatment in the world. That will have an immeasurable effect over time. It already does. You can see it in the violent reactions against it.
Put your heart at ease in this troubled time by consoling yourself with the rapid progress of humanity occurring all around us. Conserve your energy for serving those who are presently suffering because those changes have not yet fully come. Comfort the afflicted. Sit with those who will not enjoy the benefit of this growing age of human flourishing. Hold the hands of those who have lost loved ones in the fight toward this future time. Their sacrifice is noble indeed. And it is working to change us all.
Wil Darcangelo, M.Div., is the minister at First Parish UU Church of Fitchburg and First Church of Christ Unitarian in Lancaster, and producer of The UU Virtual Church of Fitchburg and Lancaster on YouTube. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @wildarcangelo. His blog, Hopeful Thinking, can be found at www.hopefulthinkingworld.blogspot.com.