Waiting and working for peace in the face of gun violence

by Diane Brown, IU Communications Specialist

Waiting to exhale.

That describes our nation collectively whenever news of yet another mass shooting sweeps with lightning speed from the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans about which Irving Berlin wrote.

We wait to exhale because until the details are in, we don’t know if the shooting in question means we are facing imminent attacks from foreign terrorists, a limited case of homegrown American extremism, or an incident of workplace violence in which the suspects and victims knew each other.

And after we eventually breathe a sigh of relief, we begin our on-again, off-again public debate about gun control in America.

Maybe our reluctance to breathe is tied to our ambivalence about expanding gun control and what that can or can’t do to cure our nation’s ills.

Campus Flag lowered to half-staff in honor of San Bernardino shooting victims.

Campus Flag lowered to half-staff in honor of San Bernardino shooting victims.

Lawmakers who relayed their condolences regarding San Bernardino with “our prayers are with the victims …” were slammed and mocked by those who believe votes for tighter gun controls offer more hope for deliverance from the evil of gun violence than prayers to God or any higher power.

“God isn’t fixing this,” screamed the New York Daily News’ front page, which referred to the San Bernardino shooting victims as the “latest batch of innocent Americans,” and implied that certain lawmakers with NRA-backing are “cowards,” and labeled prayer-laced condolences as “meaningless platitudes.”

The San Bernardino shooting stirred up our collective memories of the Newtown school massacre, which occurred three years ago Dec. 14.

In July, a Pew Research Center poll of 2,002 adults found that 85 percent of Americans favored background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows. That poll showed little change from the 81 percent recorded in May 2013, practically in the wake of the Newtown school massacre.

But Pew polls show significant shifts in attitudes about gun ownership. In Dec. 2014, “nearly six-in-ten Americans (57 percent) say gun ownership does more to protect people from becoming victims of crime” compared to “the days after Newtown [when] a Dec. 2013 poll showed 48 percent said guns do more to protect people,” according to a Pew report.

Four decades ago, my then husband-to-be, a New York native, was surprised, to say the least, to see guns hanging on the wall above my younger brother’s bed. It raised questions about what kind of family he was marrying into.

Guns have played various roles in my life — most times for good, some not.

Recently, one family member armed with a long gun fired from 10 feet away to save a sister from a poisonous snakebite.

Years ago, a stranger armed with a long gun took the life of my 21-year-old brother in a surprise attack.

That assailant should not have been armed. State law at the time prohibited him from possessing a gun because he was on parole.

And therein lays one choke point in calls for stricter gun control. Laws made to curb gun violence are often ignored by those at whom they are aimed.

That is not to say that stricter laws should or shouldn’t be passed.

My brother’s talents to make the world a better place as a gifted poet and budding craftsman were lost. So are the gifts of those whose lives were cruelly taken Dec. 2.

We must find common ground to pass laws that will stop the flood of lives being cut short by so-called “needless” gunfire whether those lives are taken en masse or one at a time.

“I’d like to write a great peace song,” Irving Berlin told a reporter in 1938 as World War II was brewing, according to Performing Songwriter Enterprises’ account of the making of “God Bless America.”

Reworking lyrics he originally penned during World War I, Berlin crafted the song that Kate Smith turned into a national anthem during World War II and Celine Dion revived in the aftermath of 9/11.

The song’s intro lyrics, “as we raise our voices, in a solemn prayer,” leave no doubt that Berlin believed his vision of world peace required divine intervention.

As the nation’s flags fly at half-staff for the most-recent victims of mass violence, and as we contemplate more homeland gun control, would Berlin say we should think differently?

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