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Mark Ridley-Thomas

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The National Rifle Association Is Correct: I Do Want Your Guns

Posted: 01/17/2013 5:46 pm

Let's stop mincing words; Let progressives -- not all but certainly many -- stop feigning tolerance for a gun culture we abhor and rampant gun ownership we cannot comprehend.

Since December, when the nation was devastated by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I have watched with dismay as leftist punditry attributes our nation's horrific level of gun violence to some variation of the same recipe: the availability of rapid-fire weapons, the ease with which obscene amounts of ammunition can be purchased, and the deadly combination of firearms and mental illness.

We talk of compromise with a group that is unwilling to come to the table. We seek to close a loophole here, toughen a restriction there, and pray these efforts save lives. Without a doubt, I support President Obama's common sense recommendations to reduce gun violence. But tied to that approach, there needs to be something bigger. Something that transcends new laws and executive orders. We must commit ourselves to establishing a peaceful culture dedicated to the principles of nonviolence.

That proposition, nonviolence, is at odds with the policy pathways carved out by both the political left and the right. It is at odds with the proliferation of murderous depictions in movies and video games. It flies in the face of the Wild West narrative of our history, runs counter to the business interests of arms manufacturers and fundamentally contradicts everything for which the gun lobby stands.

It is perfectly in accord, however, with the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., of whom I am a disciple. As we approach the national observance of the King Holiday, we need to stop dressing up his memory in sepia tones and refocus on the teachings of the man who preached and practiced nonviolence as the single most powerful tool to effect social justice and social advancement.

No, I am not proposing that government strip citizens of their guns. I am calling for something more serious -- that the ethos of nonviolence reenters our national dialogue. In King's day, nonviolent direct action dismantled a system of segregation. Today, we must adapt those principles to our daily lives -- to our personal relationships, in our neighborhoods and in our communities. Let us banish violence and choose peaceful means of conflict resolution, such as mediation. I reject the idea that our destructive gun culture is an American legacy to defend and uphold.

Choosing the nonviolent approach was a controversial proposition in the 1960s, and it is no less controversial today. It is a difficult path to follow, but it worked. It worked for Gandhi, King and later, Cesar Chavez. King was committed wholeheartedly to the philosophy and ideals of nonviolence because they worked. The nation's most prominent theologian transformed America's view of itself and ignited liberation movements around the globe. Today's crisis is no less urgent.

According to HealthFinder.gov, "Americans are seven times more likely to die of homicides and 20 times more likely to die from shootings than their peers in comparable countries." On average, 32 people are murdered every day in the United States. The numbers should be astonishing: About 100,000 Americans are shot or killed with a gun every year and 20,000 of those Americans are children and teens. There have been more than 70 mass shootings since the massacre in Tucson that took six lives and gravely injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Our culture is sick with the contagion of violence. Our children play with guns, and digest murder and rape in video games. They engage in appalling scenarios of violence where women are tortured, dead bodies are used as shields, limbs are blown off and virtual blood splatters on the screen. I could go on.

The problem is we accept this as normal.

The National Rifle Association asks us to accept this as the norm -- not the virtual atrocity of movie and game images, of course, but our heartbreaking tally of gun-shot victims.

We don't have to live like this. Are we only going to "dream" about what kind of society we want? Or are we going to create a new norm?

The NRA is unrepentant, recalcitrant, calcified -- refusing to consider even incremental progress on gun laws. Why? Because the gun lobby understands, as I do, that a reduction of gun violence will require a reduction in gun ownership, and that will come from a desire not to own guns.

So no, I'm not "coming for" your guns. I am asking you, for your community and for our country, to give them up.

 
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