The question of the gun culture

February 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

It happened again. As southern California tries to recover from the rampage of Christopher Dorner, more lives are gunned into oblivion. Two days ago, 20-year-old Orange County resident Ali Syed killed three people and then himself. His closing act consisted of him pulling over on the freeway, randomly shooting at a few cars, and then terminating his own life. As of now, police have no motive. A sick man did a wicked thing. 

I’m still trying to understand these shootings (and the Newtown massacre) as a citizen, a lawyer, and a person of faith. But I also think about them as a teacher. In this role, I learn on behalf of others, and I search for insights to share. The deaths and carnage of the gun culture form part of our American context and, as we saw most grimly with Newtown, part of our educational context. The Ignatian pedagogical framework calls educators to survey and know this context as we form contemplatives in action.

And these growing contemplatives follow the news. They pose questions — about causes, possible responses, and ways to prevent bloodshed. However, evil stokes extremes, and people often look to these acts to confirm or deny some contested political belief. That can tempt our students — and faculty, for that matter — to do the same thing, to try to contort every event into a worldview for which there is no dusk. All is distilled into day or night.

Without discarding genuine conviction, without ignoring the need for moral witness, I want to help students enter twilight. I want them to consider that their instincts might be wrong. I want to persuade them to detach from the dichotomies of left and right, blue state and red state, and consider the deeper realities that underlie current events. I don’t exempt myself: After the Aurora shooting, I made a somewhat caustic remark about the murderer being a freak. I was thinking not only about the lives he had destroyed, but also about his Joker persona. It all haunted me, and I wanted to reject him as inhuman.

Twenty-seven wooden angels commemorate the victims of the Newtown shooting.

A student quickly rejoined (and I paraphrase): “Mr. Emerson, I disagree. By calling him a freak, we don’t consider the question of mental health. People aren’t born wanting to kill. Labeling him just makes it easy to dismiss the real issue.” She went on to talk about mental health and her interest in the subject, along with her compassion for those who are psychologically vulnerable. She was not, of course, trying to ignore the evil or dilute what he had done. But she had returned me to the human question: she had seen a deeper reality that my gut reaction had powered over.

I find myself searching for similar depth when it comes to the latest news concerning guns. One resource comes from the current issue of America magazine. It is an editorial calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment. Though it takes a strong stance, it is charitable. It also is well grounded in reasons; it is not political whim. It’s an excellent resource for our schools. An excerpt:

The Constitution is mere human law. It is excellent law, but it is not divine law; it is not revelation. We should be wary of amending the Bill of Rights. We should also be wary of idolizing it. The Constitution is the man-made law of a self-governing people; the people, therefore, are entitled to ask basic, critical questions about it. In our time, is a given constitutional provision a good law or a bad law? Does it promote the common good?

These are the questions that Ignatian educators, shapers of contemplatives in action, must ask, even if we arrive at different answers. They intersect with most of our subjects, including government, history, ethics, theology, and psychology. They require us to think about our context, and they center us in the principal theme of Catholic social thought: the inviolable dignity of the human person.

The rest of the article can be found here. I would love to hear feedback. I am also happy to draw attention to any counter-perspectives that readers may find.

Posted by Matt Emerson.

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