I have long reflected on what we could do to reduce the level of violence in this country. I have no magic answer, and certainly have no plans to run for office—so bear with this rant, and take it for what it is—a blogger puzzling her way through what is essentially a senseless event.
I grew up in an Anabaptist church tradition. One of the hallmarks of Anabaptists is that they began as people who resisted the government intrusion into their lives by using non-resistance—or passive resistance. This history became very clear to me when our family went on a trip some years ago, going to my husband’s European ancestral home. As nearly as anyone has been able to trace, his family came from Switzerland, and from the area of Germany called the Bernese Oberland. They were Anabaptists who eventually traveled up the Rhine, ending up in the Netherlands. From there they sailed to the New World, America, settling in Lancaster County, PA, which looks remarkably like the rolling hills of some parts of Switzerland and Germany (without the Alps, of course!)
One day on the trip, we visited a farm with a cave that had a waterfall spilling over the opening of the cave (Täuferhöhle). This site was known to have been a worship place for these Anabaptists—a perfect setting: hidden, sound muted by the waterfall, and high enough to allow some advance warning of encroaching authorities. What did these Anabaptists have to fear? Well, they were hunted by both Catholic and Protestant authorities. That area of Switzerland is where the cantonments divide between those with historically Catholic government and those with Protestant. In the 17th and 18th century, the state and the church in Europe complemented each other. Absent governmental systems to keep track of population—births, marriages, and deaths—the state relied on the church to do that work. So, babies were born, baptized and registered in the churches. People got married in the church, and the event was recorded. People died, and the church kept the records.
The Anabaptists had a central tenet of theology that argued for adult baptisms. Along with other Protestant reformers, they searched the Scriptures to guide them. But on one issue they parted with other Protestant reformers. Nowhere could they find convincing support for infant baptism. They found several examples of adult baptism, so they staked their theology on adult baptism. The result was—no registration of birth and baptism: a clear challenge to the state/church agreement. So Calvin and his reformers in Geneva went after the Anabaptists, and the Catholic Church also went after them as reformers. The Anabaptist way was to not conform, to resist but not by force.
Why do I recount all this history? Because deeply ingrained in me, even though I am now a Presbyterian (heir to Calvin!) I very much hold with a personal philosophy of non-violence. And that brings me back to the events of last week.
There are things that I think could be done to bring down the level of violence in our country. The first step would be to reduce our infatuation with personal ownership of handguns. The statistics speak for themselves.
In 2004 (the most recent year with full data available) there were 29,569 gun deaths in the U.S:
--16,750 suicides (56% of all U.S gun deaths),
--11,624 homicides (40% of all U.S gun deaths),
--649 unintentional shootings, 311 from legal intervention and 235 from undetermined intent (4% of all U.S gun deaths combined).
Note that the number of suicides by gun exceeds the number of homicides.
Writing in the Journal of Trauma, A. Kellerman noted that : “A gun in the home is 4 times more likely to be involved in an unintentional shooting, 7 times more likely to be used to commit a criminal assault or homicide, and 11 times more likely to be used to attempt or commit suicide than to be used in self-defense.” (I added the italicized emphasis.)
Now compare us to other industrialized countries. Below are the homicide by gun rates for several other countries. The last year that comparative data was available was 1998: Killed by homicide by guns were
--373 people in Germany
--151 people in Canada
--57 people in Australia
--19 people in Japan
--54 people in the United Kingdom and
--11,789 people in the United States.
I am enough of a researcher to know that you really should do an incidence comparison, that is how many homicides by gun per 100,000 population. So, here’s another way of looking at gun deaths: in the U.S. for every 100,000 people there are 4 homicides and 6 suicides; that compares to .5 homicides and 2.6 suicides in Canada; .25 homicides and .5 suicides in the UK; and .04 homicides and .04 suicides in Japan in which guns are the cause of death.
The second thing we could do is reduce the emphasis on violence all around us. Our children are raised with so much violence that they really become desensitized to it. The American Academy of Pediatrics has addressed this problem and gives a great overview of the exposure from television here.
I was probably a very quirky mom when it came to raising our children with as little exposure to violence as possible. My husband and I did not want our children to play with guns when they were small. So we forbade toy guns as gifts. I remember being infuriated with my mother-in-law when she presented our son with a small cap pistol one Christmas. I could barely speak, but she said—oh, it’s only a little play gun. Yeah, I muttered inside my head, but it’s a gun. Thankfully, our son fired it a couple times, then discovered that it was much cooler to take the caps out and explode them on the sidewalk with a hammer.
Our daughter had very little exposure to toy guns except for one day when she and some of the neighbor kids were playing. I found them with a toy gun of some sort, and marched out and demanded that she stop playing with it. No doubt she was mortified at my temerity to interrupt their play. I recall that I launched into one of my “love is stronger than guns” speeches. I think the kids all rolled their eyes and probably said—whatever.
This post is already way too long, but there are so many other ways we could reduce the violence we experience. We really do live with a culture of violence, certainly in our country, and of course to an extent in the whole world. I don’t know if humans are hard-wired to be violent, as some researchers have argued. But I do believe that we can intentionally determine that we will be more civil, that we will take less confrontational approaches to daily conflicts, that we will in every way possible eschew violence as the first or only course of action.