Gun Violence, Quakers, and the Presidential Election

February. Trayvon Martin killed in Sanford, Florida.

July. 12 killed, 58 wounded when a doctoral student opened fire in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado.

August. 6 killed, 3 wounded when a white supremacist opened fire in a Sikh temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

August. 3 killed, 4 wounded when a mentally ill man engaged in gun battle in his home in College Station, Texas.

August. 1 security guard wounded when a man took out a gun and said, “I don’t like your politics” at the Family Research Council offices of Washington, D.C.

And yet these episodes barely scratch the surface of the number of people dead from gun violence in 2012 alone.

America seems to be getting a strong message. Will we listen?

A few months ago, my town planned a special event called the “Heritage Festival” to celebrate its history. Vendors lined up to sell jewelry and baked goods and pass out flyers about their organizations. Men and women dressed in nineteenth century costumes and led townspeople around an old cabin, complete with sepia-toned photographs and antique furniture. After strolling for a while, my family and I sat down in the grass to eat cupcakes and watch the pony rides commence.

That’s when the shooting started. The fake shooting. From men in Civil War gear who were huddled closely together, aiming their rifles into the brush.

My five-year-old son, newly curious about the role of guns and violence in his favorite shows and video games, immediately started crying. He was scared. He knew that in the presence of guns, people got hurt and often died.

I ran up to the costumed Civil War general as he proudly monitored his troops. “Why are you shooting? Kids are crying! This is a family event.”

He looked over to me, confused. “You’ll have to talk to the person in charge. We’re only doing what we were asked to do.”

For some reason, celebrating our town’s history meant we all had to spend an otherwise calm and sunny afternoon jumping at the intermittent blasts of gunfire from the fake battleground. From what I could tell, no one else spoke up. People rolled their eyes and shook their heads, but the expectations was that the disturbance would go largely ignored.

Sounds a lot like the way our presidential candidates are handling news of recent gun violence, doesn’t it?

With the November election approaching, neither presidential candidate has spoken at length about what he’s going to do to prevent further massacres. This might be what we expect from Governor Romney, who will no doubt have the support of gun lobbyists and the NRA. But on the Democratic side, I can’t figure out whether President Obama’s silence is a shrewd strategy to get re-elected so he can prevent further gun violence, or if it’s just simple cowardice.

As Quakers, how do we respond to the continuous news about gun violence? How do we show that peace is the way while dodging bullets and fretfully anticipating another massacre?


Image: “Non-Violence or The Knotted Gun by Carl Fredrik Reutersward, UN New York” by mira66.

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