We cannot reconcile our differences in this nation with firearms. We cannot reach a level of mutual respect if one side always brings guns to the conversation. We cannot shoot away our fears.
On a fundamental, visceral level, George Zimmerman was afraid of Trayvon Martin. He was afraid of the parts of Martin he did not understand — the cultural influences, the profoundly different views of the world they lived in.
Zimmerman brought a gun to the encounter and Martin died.
There are six steps in Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s philosophy of nonviolence. The last — and by far the most important — is reconciliation. It is impossible to find reconciliation with one's opponents with a gun.
The gun lobby knows this. It is the fundamental strategy for the gun industry and the gun rights groups to keep everyone afraid, to prevent that reconciliation between human beings that would make a gun superfluous. They help generate the fears, exacerbate them, and exploit their effects. They sell all sides the guns.
It is impossible to overestimate how far the gun lobby and its apologists stand from those who want to see change in America's gun culture. But that huge chasm is slowly being bridged by those who understand that achieving reconciliation requires completing King's five other steps: information gathering, education, personal commitment, negotiation, and direct action.
Information gathering about the impact of gun violence is ongoing because Congress's ban on firearms research created at the bidding of the National Rifle Association has now been lifted by the Obama administration. Education is being conducted every day in communities across the country by local leaders, activists, and organizations who are outraged by the tragedies of Sandy Hook, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Sanford, Fla., and the gunshot victims in their own neighborhoods. Personal commitment is rising as Americans begin to realize that, for the foreseeable future, overcoming gun violence will require stamina and patience and an unwavering determination not to become like their opponents.
Negotiation had been relegated to counting the votes of hostile lawmakers who are afraid of the Second Amendment argument, but recently this step has taken on new meaning as more and more elected officials decry gun violence and more and more citizens express outrage and demand workable solutions. Direct action has come in the forms of demonstrations, voter registration and education, rallies, and boycotts.
And finally we arrive at that last, most difficult step — reconciling our differences, bridging the misunderstandings, standing for justice and safety for all. We are called on to demonstrate the moral authority of activists such as King, Nelson Mandela, and others whose undeserved suffering forged a steely and absolute refusal to become like the oppressors. To refuse the easy satisfaction of revenge. To work for the long-term reduction of fear.
Alice Johnson is the executive director of Georgians for Gun Safety.
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