Let’s go where the wisest of leaders fear to tread: the number of homicides and suicides that occur in America today, and their relationship to guns. And let us go there in the context of leadership, rather than in politics.
First, two fundamentals about responsible leadership:
- Responsible leadership is informed leadership; and informed leadership is therefore intelligent leadership. In turn, intelligent leadership – if it shall make that claim about itself – should follow the best principles of research, which involves wide vision, and a dispassionate appreciation for as many sides of an argument as are possible.
- Responsible leadership is balanced leadership; it seeks to address the reasonable needs of all the members or stakeholders of a given community. It subscribes to a win-win philosophy, not a zero-sum game.
To responsibly lead a people, a party, or a nation to consider the matter of American homicides and suicides in relation to guns requires, at the very least, two things that correspond to the two fundamentals identified above: first, an appreciation of all the components in this issue, and second, a willingness to make adjustments to all of the components in this issue. Once both sides of the divide are prepared to embrace these two fundamentals and two requirements, we may make some progress with the matter.
First, the components of this American-homicide-suicide-gun-issue are multifarious. The order in which they are listed is not meant to indicate any bias or priority, and the list is not exhaustive, but an attempt to show the multifaceted nature of the “beast”:
- Lack of anger management
- Lack of economic viability and opportunity
- Poverty and entrenched injustice
- Lack of community policing
- The devaluation of the sanctity of life and human relations
- Gun and ammunition availability
- Public places (including schools, cinemas, workplaces) as “soft targets”
- Missing connectivity between security agencies
- Mental health and mental health care issues
- The fact that this happens nowhere else in the world
- The ethnicity of mass shooters versus other murderers
- The interpretation of the 2nd amendment
- The political power of the NRA
- The nexus between some religious positions and arms.
Yes, the parts are many. And our aim is not to attempt to argue each or any. It is simply to indicate here that any true attempt to address our problem here in America must be prepared to consider the impact of, and the contribution each of these items makes, to our problem. We assume that the folks who claim a willingness to work towards solutions really do believe, in the first place, that we Americans do have a problem; we assume that we have not become so deluded, blind, hypocritical or pompously stupid as to look other nations in the face, who do not have this problem and conclude that we are either just like or better than they in this regard. Each of these (as well as others that might be added to this list) contributes to our problems.
Secondly, each of these items must be viewed as targets for honest examination and adjustments if any sustainable and thorough set of solutions are to be had with our only-America-in-the-whole-wide-world problem. Every single one of them. So those on one side should not dismiss out of hand, for example, the mere thought of regulations or allowing the Center for Disease Control to study gun deaths as a health issue. It is not just that 33,000 people a year in America are not well – they are dead! Then, those on another side, should be willing, for example, to examine whether or not they harbor a tacit disdain for the perspectives held by the other side. There must be a willingness on both sides to win some and lose some, although the truth is that the losers are people who will die before both sides arrive at something sensible. This is the painful, ugly, and ridiculous reality: that we are debating human life!
And what may each side give up so that human lives might win? What if all politicians who are suspected of being beholden to the NRA (by virtue of the ridiculous millions of dollars they have taken from the NRA), refuse to take any more money from the NRA, thus disempowering that political stranglehold? After all, the power that an entity, such as the NRA, can hold over politicians can arguably result in the same danger, were a religion, or religions – or any other single entity for that matter – able to contribute this heavily to politicians, thus skewing the one-man-one-vote principle. We desperately need campaign finance reform. And what if all politicians, suspected of really aiming at “taking away all our guns” passed a law that retains Americans’ right to bear arms and not “take their guns away”? But wait! There is that law already! It is called the second amendment! And it is virtually impossible to repeal that law, even if one party occupies the 535 seats of Congress and the White House and the nine of the Supreme Court. Aside from that incredible feat, that party must also hold the majority in the legislature and the governor’s mansion in 38 states who would be willing to repeal. That is never going to happen. We must cast out fear, and the paranoia that accompanies it. Responsible leadership is never executed on a platform of fear, but on boldness. Once the fearful and paranoid ones know that the law won’t go away, perhaps they might be willing to not see a “slippery slope” behind even the most sensible action desperately required since yesterday.
Houston, we have a problem, and until it is fixed, Americans on earth will keep dying, 33,000 per year. This thing needs leadership. Our legislators need to step up to the plate, and show up as leaders – not as politicians, thinking about their next election. The people elected them and they should serve the people. But in that service, leadership – neither servitude nor self-service – is desperately required.
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Michael Friday is an organizational leadership specialist, working through Transition Ministries, American Baptist Churches, USA. He is author of And Lead Us Not Into Dysfunction.