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Why the Violence? Moving Toward a More Peaceful Society

Last night I watched a CNN news story about a retired sheriff who killed a man in a Florida movie theater simply for texting during the previews. The Florida Pasco County Sheriff stated to Piers Morgan, “guns don’t kill people — people with guns kill people…If we could deal with the mental health and substance abuse issues, we will be much safer as a country…dealing with mental health issues is paramount to gun control.” I found this baffling. Of course guns don’t kill people. A gun is an inanimate object. People with guns kill people. Perhaps this retired sheriff did have mental health or addiction problems, but what about our tendency as a society to resolve our problems with violence? Another important point gun rights advocates fail to consider is that if a person doesn’t have a gun or doesn’t have access to a gun, he/she is much less likely to kill another person. John Lennon, serving a 28-year sentence for killing a man in Attica Correctional Facility, states in his essay “A Perspective on Guns, Murder, Suicide from Attica

“I’m sorry for taking his life, and all the life he could have had, but without a gun I would not have killed…If I didn’t have that perfect killing machine I would have had to earn the kill — like a seasoned bow hunter I’d have to hit him just right leaving no room for error. Could I have stabbed him? Strangled him? Bludgeoned him? The mantra “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” reverberates throughout our society. How about “people kill less people without guns?” 

The violence in our society is worsening. School shootings are occurring more frequently, and often the shooter is under the age of 16. A 12-year-old boy pulled a sawed-off shotgun from a bag and opened fire Tuesday morning at a New Mexico middle school gym, seriously wounding two students, before a hero teacher talked him into putting down the weapon. What is happening? Why is our country so violent? Why are our own lives treated with so little value? Nichiren Daishonin states, “Life itself is the most precious of all treasures. Even the treasures in the entire universe cannot equal the value of a single human life.” We don’t realize how precious our own lives are, much less anyone else’s. Each person’s life has infinite potential and infinite value. It’s as if shooting another person is no more out of the ordinary than having a disagreement with someone. Only instead of having a heated argument and either resolving the problem or backing down and cooling off, one person pulls out a gun and kills the other. Now, teens and pre-teens are using guns to vent their anger by murdering their classmates. I believe strongly in treatment for the mentally ill and those with substance abuse problems, but how is it that guns and access to guns aren’t part of the problem? 

Piers Morgan stated that on the average, 245 people in this country are shot by guns every day. I wonder, how often does someone use a gun to protect their family each day? Does this come anywhere near the number of people who are shot by guns? The arguments used by gun rights advocates are primarily the protection of our 2nd Amendment rights because we need guns to protect ourselves. From who? Other people in movie theaters or middle schools with guns? I believe the prevalence of guns in our society makes us less safe.

According to the Small Arms Survey, the estimated total number of guns held by U.S. civilians is 270 million – 88.9 firearms per 100 people. Joe Van Brussel states in his article on U.S. guns that the U.S. is not a uniquely violent society compared to other developed countries such as Australia, Canada and those in Western Europe. Where we stand out is our homicide rate and our death rate by firearms (homicides, suicides, accidents). The U.S. homicide rate in 2009 was 10,300, compared to 8,804 in Mexico and 12,808 in Columbia. The U.S. death rate by firearms in 2009 was 10.2 per 100,000 people. Compared to other developed countries, we are put to shame. Only Finland comes the closest with a firearms death rate of 4.47 per 100,000 people in 2008. The firearms death rate in Canada in 2009 was 2.5 per 100,000 people, and the U.K.’s rate in 2011 was 0.25 per 100,000 people. The U.S., with 4.5 percent of the world’s population, accounts for about 40 percent of the world’s civilian firearms. No wonder our homicide rate is higher than Mexico’s! Small surprise our death rate by guns is more than double any other industrialized country! How do guns make us safer? It’s exactly the opposite!

I read an email this morning from Jean Shinoda Bolen, about her perspective on the future. I really liked what she said about how this is the dawning of a new age. We have to make it so.

nonviolence, violence, peace, buddhism
Janus

Penny McManigal designed this banner for our Pomona College class — the “Janusites.”(I later transferred to UC Berkeley). With binocular and symbolic vision, I’m seeing the backward looking face as an old man, the forward looking face, as youthful and feminine. Might this symbolize the transition from patriarchy into a new egalitarian age?  We are in the “doorway.” Patriarchy resists with power and sees compromise and compassion as weakness. The old order is on the wrong side of the door and we are all in the doorway. It is here that women will make the difference, just as the twenty women United State senators (bipartisan, meet together regularly in circle) were able to prevent the second government shut down. Time magazine called them “the only grown-ups in Washington.”

Bolen states, “I’m seeing the backward looking face as an old man, the forward looking face as youthful and feminine. Might this symbolize the transition from patriarchy into a new egalitarian age? Patriarchy resists with power and sees compromise and compassion as weakness.” This is part of our society’s problem with violence. The majority, if not all of the shootings that have occurred over the past few years were committed by men or young men. Many of them did have mental health problems, but as Bolen states, “patriarchy resists with power and sees compromise and compassion as weakness.” It is this underlying behavior that prompts people to commit violent acts, including murder. Many men don’t want to appear weak or emotional. Instead they view kindness as being soft or, heaven forbid, feminine.

As we move forward in 2014 and beyond, I hope we can all make an effort to work for peace.

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