The Heart of Things: The Other Side of the Gun Debate

The 22 year-old Deaf woman probably didn’t hear the commotion, probably didn’t have time to react. That’s what we said in the aftermath of Daniella Josberg’s death at the hands of a gunman at a nightclub in Stockholm in the early hours of the morning on December 4, 1994. Daniella and three others were killed, and over 20 people were injured in the attack.

Yesterday President Obama talked about how other countries also have people with some sort of sickness in their minds, people who wish to cause others harm, but other countries don’t have these kinds of mass shootings over and over and over again. When he spoke I thought of Daniella and tried to remember.

When Daniella Josberg was killed, I was living in Stockholm, where I was employed as a teacher at the Manilla School for the Deaf. Some of my colleagues there had taught Daniella when she was a student at Manilla; others had known her from their own time in school. Whether or not they knew her personally, everyone in the Deaf community knew OF Daniella. She had worked for the Deaf news broadcast “Sign News,” and had just the previous year published a book about her life and finding her way in the world as a Deaf person. This was a tragedy that hit close to home and made many of my Deaf colleagues and students feel especially vulnerable. And yet, my memory is that the feeling was completely different from what we are feeling in America now in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting.

When this mass shooting happened in Sweden, it felt like a freak occurrence. We were shocked and grieving, yes, but we weren’t reliving the numerous similar shootings that had taken place in recent history and we weren’t already bracing ourselves for the next one.

I wonder if that’s not the worst of it for us now as Americans, at least for those of us who are fortunate enough not to be living or re-living our own tragedies this time: the bracing ourselves.

It’s hard in a time like this when emotions are so raw to begin sorting them out. We are angry. We are grieving. We are tired. We are remembering Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook and others… Some of us are trotting out our old arguments for or against gun control and once again getting mad at each other as we face down the other side on Facebook, but… we’re just so tired of this, aren’t we? And it’s the knowing that this isn’t a one time freak occurrence, the knowing that we have every reason to believe that this will happen again, that gets us.

As someone who loves and tries to follow Jesus, I am against all forms of violence. If that’s not an obvious statement to you, don’t worry, I’ll come back to that one day, but for now I’ll just leave it as the obvious stance for me, even though on some days it’s an easier stance than on others.  (I’m usually really good at loving my enemies in the abstract. Pray for Osama bin Laden? No problem. And sometimes I’m even really good at doing the hard work of being up close and personal and loving people who have done bad or even horrible things. When I sit down and I talk to inmates one-on-one and I hear their stories, I know that they are hurt and broken people, like me, and I don’t want them to be hurt in retaliation for the things they’ve done. But then at other times I want to take the 17 year-old boy who broke my daughter’s heart and somehow do something to cause him to suffer debilitating shame and humiliation, or else I’d like to just see him strung up by his balls. Literally. But I digress… Where were we? Oh, right. Nonviolence. Loving our enemies. It can be really, really hard.)

I think my point is that when I see the arguments flying around–and I have seen them again since yesterday’s events–that we need MORE guns, that if only more people open carried, these things wouldn’t happen, I’m tempted to get frustrated and angry and call people idiots and bang my head against the wall. I hate feeling that way, and I hate knowing that these arguments are going nowhere. So today I stopped to really think about it, and to think about my friends who truly believe that we need more guns. I decided to try to figure out what they are thinking and feeling. Part of me can understand the instinct to want to carry a gun around at all times in the hopes of being able to fend off anything and anyone who might want to hurt the ones I love.

I guess I just wish we could admit that we’re all really sad and we’re all really scared, and, more than anything, we desperately don’t want the ones we love to be the victims of the next horrific event. Isn’t that really why we’re all so passionate? Because we love people and we want them to be safe? I wish that we could begin by agreeing to recognize that that is the place we’re all coming from. Maybe then we could be a little kinder to each other and gentler with each other and actually get down to the hard work of finding some real solutions. I believe that real solutions exist, but to find them we’re going to have to stop seeing the other side of the gun debate–whichever side we’re on–as our enemy.