Guns and Immaturity
But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. Matthew 5:39
Up to now in this series I have primarily focused on our desire to arm ourselves for purposes of self-defense – in order to incapacitate or kill someone who is threatening us or threatening to take something in our possession, whether those threats are real or imagined projections. I find no justification for gun possession for these purposes in the life and teachings of Jesus. I confess my feelings about civilian uses of firearms are mixed. Although I choose not to participate in activities with firearms, I do not necessarily see hunting for food as problematic, nor do I have a problem with shooting firearms at non-living targets for entertainment. So called “trophy” hunting, or hunting for the pleasure of killing another living being, is bothersome to me. Shooting a coyote that is killing the chickens from whom one derives food is not problematic to me. There are other ways firearms are used, however, that have nothing to do with self-defense, hunting, or target practice. The other excuses given for firearm possession, in my opinion, are rooted in immaturity and greed.
As I consider immaturity as a motivation to possess guns, I will consider those who forcibly take something from another (like the adult version of a 2-year-old), but I will also consider greedy people (who may or may not possess guns) who create or help sustain conditions that leave swaths of humanity in a state of want such that they feel violent means are the best option to obtain their basic needs. Both sources of greed stem from immaturity and a lack of understanding our interconnected natures, the former being a personal greed of wanting something one does not have, and the latter being both a personal and societal greed of wanting more than one currently has while the basic needs of others go unmet. The former typically brings violence upon one to a few other people in isolated incidents. The wake of the latter tends to devastate numerous innocent victims over wider areas and longer time-frames across our nation. Indeed, the latter is likely the cause of the former, at least in many cases. Both are tragic and difficult to understand or know how best to deal with. That I attribute violent greed to immaturity should not imply that I minimize its potential impact. With easy access to military-grade weapons by civilians today, one immature person can inflict more damage more quickly to more people than an entire military battalion of old. The nature of the immaturity of which I speak has to do with the level of behavioral constraint an individual is capable of acting out of and not with the degree of devastation they are capable of inflicting.
Guns provide a sense of power to those who feel powerless. And greater numbers of guns provide greater perceptions of power. The same for more powerful and capable guns. In that sense, we can attribute a lack of or loss of a sense of power as a cause of much of today’s gun violence. That perceived lack or loss of power is what I label as immaturity, at least in the context of the life and teachings of Jesus which direct us toward a non-material, non-violent source of power. If the immaturity we suffer from is manifesting in the perceived lack or loss of power, what is causing the perception of such a lack or loss? How can we, as a society, restore an acceptable level of perceived power? How can we open non-violent options to those feeling powerless, isolated, lost, angry, or hopeless?
Our sense of power and our sense of control over our life and life-circumstances are directly related. If we feel life is being done to us instead of by us, we end up feeling like victims instead of participants, and we seek ways to reestablish a sense of control over our lives. Increasingly, that sense of control is gained at the butt-end of a gun. Not only is that dangerous to others, it is ultimately an ineffective way to obtain what one is actually seeking, a case I have attempted to make over the past weeks. Our immature belief that a gun can restore a sense of control over our lives, that a gun can help us obtain what we want or need, is an example of allowing the ends to justify the means. What we need are more non-violent means that allow people to accomplish reasonable ends without resorting to violence.
Maturity, in this sense, has little to do with age and much to do with the non-violent options one is capable of identifying and accessing as reasonable responses to life’s challenges, as well as the degree of personal threat we feel from those challenges. More next week…
This is the 6th in a series of Life Notes titled Guns, Mental Illness, and Jesus. The opinions expressed here are mine and are not intended to imply the agreement or support of other individuals or organizations. If you wish to respond to my thoughts, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.