The U.S. continues to wrestle with its collective conscience in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Conversations are becoming more urgent about how to make our cities, schools, and country safer. The discussions are involving a diverse range of people, from police officers to video game makers, victims of gun violence, and gun advocates. In all of the dialogue, though, there is one group it seems we are neglecting: young people. I’d like for us to actively engage children in the national conversation and listen to their views on how to create a world worthy of their futures. At our dinner table the other night, I asked my two children (ages 12 and 14) what they thought about gun violence. My kids were unequivocal about their desires: they want a world with less violence and more nature.
Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on gun control. And perhaps we can make things better by adjusting laws and placing more restrictions on gun ownership. Yet it seems to me that it’s also about changing social mores. YMCA summer camps for kids offer riflery as an activity option. Guns are sold along with toilet paper and shampoo at Wal-Mart. Children as young as four have received BB guns for Christmas. So what I wonder is this: how can we make being a “gun enthusiast” as bizarre and socially unacceptable as being a guillotine collector? Collecting guillotines would be weird and morbid and kind of creepy. Guillotines are instruments of death. How are guns different?
Major social shifts and the resulting legal reform are always preceded by a groundswell of citizens who press for an elevated level of consciousness. In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. William Wilberforce and his colleagues (spanning both liberals and conservative evangelicals) meticulously documented the horrors of slave transport and life. Wilberforce said “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” The weight of evidence ultimately made it impossible for men and women of conscience to ignore or dismiss. We too, can no longer say we did not know: we have mounting evidence each day of what the implications are of normalizing guns.
Now is the time for a new level of consciousness– for moving beyond mute acceptance of viewing guns, like slavery, as an inevitable but regrettable part of life. I’ll close with a quote from Half The Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
“Slavery was once widely viewed by many decent Europeans and Americans as a regrettable but ineluctable feature of human life. It was just one more horror that had existed for thousands of years. But then in the 1780s a few indignant Britons, led by William Wilberforce, decided that slavery was so offensive that they had to abolish it. And they did.”
When will we decide that gun violence is so offensive that we must abolish it? And have the courage to pursue the future that our children long for?
We can no longer say we did not know.