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When the same tragedy happens again and again, no matter how many rules and dollars we throw at it, shouldn’t we begin thinking outside the box?
For example, recently my wife, Lisa Michelle, and I reflected with deep grief on yet another deadly mass shooting in the U.S. Our hearts empathized with the pain and loss of beloved children, schoolmates, best friends, partners, and role models.
While reading posts from friends who were saddened, upset and calling for change, I became confounded by the volume of comments I saw from people ardently clinging to their rights to own semi-automatic guns capable of mass murder. These comments offered many varied explanations of why mass shootings occur, while avoiding the obvious, critical factor of access to weapons that are designed to kill. As I read the comments, I could not understand how people dismiss some relevant facts—or perhaps don’t seek them out. For example, in Australia there was a mass shooting in 1996; the Australian government, in response:
… banned automatic and semiautomatic firearms, adopted new licensing requirements, established a national firearms registry, and instituted a 28-day waiting period for gun purchases. It also bought and destroyed more than 600,000 civilian-owned firearms … – Krishnadev Calamur, “Australia’s Lessons on Gun Control,” The Atlantic, October 2, 2017.
Those things had an impact: “The number of mass shootings in Australia … dropped from 13 in the 18-year period before 1996 to zero after the Port Arthur massacre.” – Ibid.
The same is true in other countries.
While on the societal level, the Baha’i principle of collective security does not presuppose the abolition of the use of force—but rather prescribes “a system in which Force is made the servant of Justice” and which provides for an international peacekeeping force that “will safeguard the organic unity of the whole commonwealth”—the numerous comments that I read on social media distressed me, because they negated the illogical practice of allowing widespread access to firearms that are capable of automatic loading and continuous firing.
As a Baha’i, I believe that we can use logic and reason when seeking to arrive at the truth. Abdu’l-Baha said:
… we must not depend entirely upon the heritage of tradition and former human experience; nay, rather, we must exercise reason, [and] analyze and logically examine the facts presented … – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 327.
I began to ponder: what in our human nature allows this evasion of logic and common sense to persist, despite the fact that lives are at stake and this tragic problem continues unabated? Perhaps, I wondered, could subconscious fear lie at the root—a fear which sometimes masquerades as anger?
When we live in a state of fear, we often seek to change everything and everyone but ourselves, and we tenaciously avoid that which we believe might threaten what we perceive to be our only way to be safe. So what is behind this epidemic of fear that seems to afflict the U.S. more than any other nation on Earth? What lies at the foundation of this irrationality?
Could this be the result of social, psychic and spiritual wounds—those deep historical wounds that date back to two major traumas in the nation’s history: the genocide of innocent Native Americans and the enslavement and degradation of millions of noble African women and men?
Let’s consider that question.
First, we know this for a fact: the “powers that be” sanctioned slavery and genocide (for theft of land) as two central strategies for economic growth and other forms of hegemony. Since then, many believe that we’ve had insufficient reconciliation, or healing, of these traumas to right the wrongs of the past. The people descended from those who committed these injustices, while not personally responsible for them, still benefit today from the power and wealth their ancestors accumulated as a result.
So here is the question we can all ask ourselves: because little justice or healing has occurred, could the result be a subconscious fear that these marginalized populations might someday seek revenge to redress the wrongs committed?
This reminds me of family violence situations in which the person who chooses to use violence becomes irrationally angry at the victim for having “caused” the perpetrator’s bad behavior, initiating a vicious cycle of fear, anger, forcefulness, defensiveness and rationalization.
This same kind of fear may lie at the heart of the convoluted evasion of logic that allows easy access to weapons which enable the mass murder of many, many children. To be clear, I’m not referring to the fear of the mass murderers, or the nature of their choice of targets, but to the broader, subconscious fear of a nation terrified of and resistant to giving up its guns. This fear might underpin the irrationality which clings to current policy.
How, then, can we overcome this kind of subconscious fear? Spirituality can play a vital role:
Were men to discover the motivating purpose of God’s Revelation, they would assuredly cast away their fears, and, with hearts filled with gratitude, rejoice with exceeding gladness. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 175.
Many positive virtues help us overcome the negativity of fear—love, faith, courage, awareness, steadfastness, unity, and others. I believe the U.S. most needs the virtue of love—the all-embracing kind of love for humanity that extends to every person in the land, regardless of skin color, ethnicity, nationality or diverse cultural background.
In the Baha’i teachings, love is described as “a light that never dwelleth in a heart possessed by fear.” – Baha’u’llah, The Four Valleys, p. 58. Similarly, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that.” – A Gift of Love: Sermons from Strength to Love and Other Preachings, p. 123.
These profound statements suggest to me that love and fear cannot coexist—and that love can dissolve fear.
I hope Americans can generate enough love to drive out the irrational fear holding their country back from its potential—and from making good policy decisions that help protect its people.
Meditating on this recent shooting, I can feel the love which fellow students, parents, and teachers—and no doubt many of you reading this—have for the precious youth and teachers that we have all lost. I hope we have reached a turning point; if this love can become a social catalyst for unity, healing, and steadfast loyalty, it can shine a bright light into a new period of social illumination. I have hope. For this generation of youth, in particular, possesses great power to change the world. With all my heart, I long to see them become the vanguards of that transformative love.