The American Gun Question

In the wake of the shootings at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, we’ve seen predictable results in the American news media, on social media, and among our politicians. Some call for more and tougher gun control laws, while others rail against any such suggestion, or simply ignore it altogether. We can likely be sure of just two things. First, little or nothing will come of this verbal brawl. Second, it’s only a matter of time before another such tragedy occurs.

We are not making our communities safer by persisting in divisive argument, with its attendant insults and slurs and its mangling of statistics to suit our whims. Bickering and fear mongering have never done one good thing for us. Never. If we really want to solve the problem, we need a new approach. We need to forge bonds of unity among all people, all elements of society. Only then can we hope to build a secure home for ourselves and our children.

Let me put that in practical terms. In decision-making of all kinds, Baha’is employ a process they call consultation. Consultation is a complex subject, but in brief it means setting aside all prejudices and entrenched views and joining forces to examine the problem honestly and fairly. It means considering, without any selfish motivation whatsoever, how to deal with an issue for the good of all involved. It means actually listening to each other, trying to understand each other’s thoughts and views, and then critically examining every suggestion, including our own.

In consultation, we share facts and opinions. We listen to everything, giving it all due consideration. We allow our views to be shaped by facts, guided by a few core principles. We might all come out of the process altered, with new insights and views. Ultimately, we seek a unified decision aimed at providing the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Consultation is not about compromise, not about selfishness, not even about so-called enlightened self-interest (an oxymoron if there ever was one; there is nothing enlightened about self-interest). It’s about working toward truth, resolved to support the decision of the group even if we don’t agree with it, knowing that the best test of a decision is how it actually works when tried in the real world. Bad decisions can always be changed, so long as we can clearly see their effects. But if half of us decide to torpedo a decision, how can we ever know if its failure is due to its merits or to sabotage?

To begin applying this to the question of gun violence, I suggest we consider two key questions: the root problem, and the urgency of the problem.

First, the root problem is not guns. People do not become homicidal maniacs simply because they possess a gun. The root problem is far deeper and can only be addressed through significant, long-term effort to transform our culture from one that breeds violence and injustice to one that breeds peace and justice. This truth urgently needs to be explored. Without a solution to the underlying problem, no measures to address gun violence can ever be successful.

Second, there can be no doubt that we face an urgent and growing problem. Reliable statistics indicate that the number of mass shootings–defined as one person shooting four or more people in a single 24-hour period–has been risen sharply each decade since the 1970’s. The vast majority of these shootings in the past 30 years have been committed by individuals with mental health issues. Given this and that the root problem cannot be quickly addressed, it seems prudent to take such steps as are possible to render gun violence less likely. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that immediate measures will prevent all gun violence, but neither should we ignore the matter. It’s worth viewing this from a security standpoint. We cannot make a breach impossible, but we can make it hard enough that few will bother to try, fewer still will succeed, and any who succeed will be caught.

You will note that I haven’t proposed any specific solution here. Rather, I’ve proposed a process to find solutions and offered a starting point. I’m not an expert in the many complex issues involved. I simply know–as do you, I’m sure–that continued bickering will fail to resolve anything, and in the meantime more of our neighbors and friends and children will needlessly die. Isn’t that enough to convince us to set aside our fear and our hardened political opinions, and instead to consult together in humility and unity?