LOWELL GRISHAM: Guns as public health issue

Does “well regulated” create opportunities?

Posted: February 20, 2018 at 1 a.m.

Last Wednesday we suffered the latest of the school shootings afflicting our country. Again we ask, "What will we do about it?"

One of the most constructive responses comes from Fayetteville native Scarlett Lewis. When her first-grader Jesse was killed in Newtown, Conn., Scarlett started an initiative (jesselewischooselove.org) to teach emotional intelligence starting in the early grades. She believes that her son's murderer needed the capacity to choose love instead of violence when he faced conflicting emotions like anger and frustration. My first-grade grandchild is learning these skills at Washington Elementary.

The church sure could do a better job spreading Jesus' message of nonviolence -- turn the other cheek, love your enemies. The Quaker and Mennonite traditions have embraced that tradition more boldly than my denomination has.

Some Christians regard Luke 22 as a rationale for arming themselves. Just prior to Jesus' arrest and execution, he asked his disciples if they had lacked anything as they traveled "without a purse, bag, or sandals." They lacked nothing, they told him. Jesus replied, "'But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, 'And he was counted among the lawless'; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled. They said, 'Lord, look, here are two swords.' He replied, 'It is enough.'" Obviously two swords was not enough to defend Jesus by force, but it was enough for Roman law to have him "counted among the lawless."

Later that night, when a disciple used a sword to defend Jesus, he declared, "No more of this!" and Jesus healed the injured person. In the same scene in Matthew's gospel Jesus said to his defender, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword."

I confess that I do not have the faith and courage to be a pacifist. I think there are times when the strong may use force to protect the vulnerable. I am grateful to our law enforcement and military professionals who risk themselves to that end. But I want well-trained professionals to do that deadly work, and I want them held to a high standard of morality in the use of deadly force. I listen to the police when they say the proliferation of firearms in a civil society is a danger to them and to society.

It might help to see the issue of gun violence primarily as a public health issue. This week, columnist Nicholas Kristof reprised an earlier article inviting our focus to move from gun control to gun safety. (https://tinyurl.com/guns-health) Why can't we regulate guns in a similar way we regulate automobiles. We don't ban cars, even though they cause many deaths. Since World War II we've reduced the rate of deaths caused by automobiles from 9.35 to 1.18 per million miles thanks to thoughtful regulations about seat belts, safety standards, speed limits, airbags and mandatory reporting of defects.

The Second Amendment states, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Maybe we can think constructively about what "well regulated" might mean today.

There is a lot of public agreement. Ninety-three percent of people in gun households agree that there should be background checks for all gun buyers. Strong American majorities believe certain people should not be able to buy guns: those convicted of violent crimes, the mentally ill, people on no-fly or watch lists.

We don't allow children to drive cars. Shouldn't minors be restricted from purchasing guns? If a child or a thief picks up an iPhone, it is disabled without a fingerprint or PIN. Can't we protect our guns similarly?

And when law enforcement gets a tip about a potential perpetrator, they should be able to act to remove firearms pending a prompt investigation and hearing.

Adults need to know that a gun in your house makes your home more dangerous. It increases the likelihood of suicide and homicide in your house. If there is a gun present, it is less a threat to your family if it is unloaded, locked and the ammunition is locked separately. Occasionally a gun is used successfully to stop violence, but that is much rarer than these other tragedies.

Gun safety is a public health issue, and a nonviolent heart issue. I think we can do better.

Commentary on 02/20/2018