A Few Thoughts on Violence in America

I hate that at this point, just reading the title of this post, I’ve already lost ~40% of you because of presumptions one way or another about what I’m going to write. I don’t like that we as a society have just decided to be angry with each other and that we can’t find ways that we can reduce violence and increase the well being of people. This post will not be well written or well organized, it’s just my raw thoughts from the past several months of reading and absorbing what people are saying and my thoughts on each.

I reject that we are unable to find common ground. I reject that we can’t do anything. I reject this idea that we are as a society stuck and powerless to do anything about the very real prevalent gun violence in this country.

“Shall not be infringed.” This was trending on Twitter earlier and I watched an old Penn and Teller video where Penn is going off about this phrase in the 2nd Amendment. People were going off about this because the idea is that nothing should infringe our right to get a gun.

Knowing that I’m not a constitutional lawyer, I have often looked at the earlier phrase “a well regulated militia being necessary to a free state” and thought the “well-regulated” part strongly hinted at the need for regulations. AKA laws. AKA limitations. Is not being able to own a tank an infringement to bearing arms? Should private citizens get to own nuclear weapons? F-16s? Missiles? Canons? Machine guns? Turrets? Where do we draw the line? Nowhere?

“Three fifths of all other persons.” Honestly, even if legal scholars decide that “shall not be infringed” means that we can’t restrict people from owning certain weapons such as nuclear weapons, tanks, missiles and automatic weapons—none of which were envisioned by the founders when this amendment was written—we can change the constitution. The constitution is not a divine document, and I’m tired of treating it like it is. It counted each black person as 3/5ths a person. We decided to change that.

Twenty Five Amendments. In fact, we’ve changed it twenty five times. There’s a built in mechanism to change the constitution when we decide that it no longer is suiting us. We’ve done things like prohibit alcohol, then oopsie daisy, maybe that was a bad idea. We’ve changed how the Vice President is elected. We changed how Senators are elected. Etc. We should change the constitution to work for us.

Is this working for us? More than one mass shooting a day so far. I watched an interview from a state law maker who said he’s not going to do anything about this, and when asked about his own kids he said he homeschools them to avoid violence. This has been a common attitude in my family. Why can’t we work to make the outside world safe? Why accept that you just gotta stay home, in your cocoon, and that’s the only safety you will ever get?

Air travel continues to get safer. MIT did a study and the statistics are fascinating to me. Worldwide, the risk of death in airplane accidents has been declining by a factor of 2 every decade. Every decade! Millions of people travel and despite the natural fears of flying, it’s one of the safest things you can ever do, even with the residual fears from 9/11, and mechanical problems, and crazy problems.

Air travel got safer through incremental improvement. I think the NTSB is a gift to the world. The National Transportation Safety Board is that rare government bureaucracy that I think about when I pay my taxes and I am head over heels excited to pay my tax bill for. They take a look at every airplane incident and investigate what went wrong, without blame or prosecution, and then make recommendations for how to make things safer. Whether it’s a weird failure from a mechanical component that needs a new inspection process, or new recommendations for how pilots communicate in stressful situations, they are just always looking at what went wrong to try to figure out ways to make it work better.

And it’s working. Turns out that if you put aside ego and ask how to really fix things, you get better ideas. And when you implement those ideas, you can learn from it, and improve those ideas further, and make things better and better.

We’re doing the opposite with violence in America. We just all have our opinions on what will make things better, shout at each other, and then nothing changes, nothing gets better, and we just shout louder and louder.

It’s worth shouting about. No one should be burying their children, especially not because of some crazy person with a weapon. Why can’t we put aside all our other differences and agree on this one thing: people are needlessly dying.

So, what should we do as a society in response? I sincerely don’t have the answer, but I think as a society we should take a less egotistical approach and a more NTSB approach. I think we should be incremental, and we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves.

400 million guns for 330 million people. These are big numbers. This isn’t, even in the best case, going to be solved overnight. We shouldn’t expect that any change we make will lead to zero mass shootings, the problem is too big for that. But can we improve the situation? Can we find ways for there to be only one mass shooting per day? Or one every couple of days? Or for the number to go down?

Not just guns, but not just mental health, either. I get a little frustrated when I read that people want to deflect from guns and say that we have a mental health crisis. Let me generalize only law-makers: why is it that the law-makers who are most likely to defend gun rights and decry mental health challenges are almost to a T the ones who also vote against all mental health support?

I think we need to have a conversation on what we can do as a society to help improve mental health outcomes. There’s a whole host of things we can do, a few that come to my mind immediately:

  • incentivizing people to become psychiatrists, therapists, and psychologists.
  • funding mental health programs across the country.
  • funding outreach services
  • funding R&D into better medication
  • funding medication so the people who need it most have access to it
  • making health care affordable so all people have access
  • making life more affordable so fewer people need crippling levels of debt

And probably a hundred more if I spent more than 30 seconds writing down only the things that first came to mind.

“But it’s not the role of the government to …” Says who? The Constitution? Well the government is “We, the People” — so the government does whatever we collectively decide to do. So if, we the people decide we’re finally fed up with a 1700s government in the 2000s, we can change it.

The Bible? Au contraire. Read Leviticus and all about how God uses the people collectively to care for the poor and destitute, especially (but not exclusively) through the jubilee. Then go read the minor prophets (you’re familiar with those, right? Since you’re such a Bible scholar?) and how God is fundamentally pissed off over and over again at the people for their collective sins for not taking care of the least. And over and over again, God connects how they treat the poorest and worst off in their society with how God judges their society.

I don’t think 21st century America would fair very well under that scrutiny. And I worry about my own complicity in my society’s sins.

We have collectively sinned against our children, against ourselves, and against God by not taking this seriously. Like when God told Jeremiah to stop praying because their words and their fasts were many but their lack of concern about the things God cares about angered him. (Jeremiah 14:10-12)

I think God cares about children suffering and dying, about poor people being trampled upon, and sick people being cared for. I think that because God says it over and over and over and over and over and over and over.

I don’t know what God is calling you to do specifically to help correct our collective sins. I felt called to foster care. I feel called to lead young men closer to Jesus. I feel called to be a voice calling for action amidst inaction. I feel called to repent of my own sins and failings.

But I think he’s going to call you to something. Be brave. Do it.