Monday, December 24, 2012

What the World Says about America and Guns

Scripture for the 4th Sunday in Advent includes Micah 5:2-5a; Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-55

The world’s attention remains fixed on Newtown, Connecticut. As Advent opens onto Christmas, our own attention is torn between there and here, where the season of waiting, the season of training to welcome the Christ, wants to give way to celebration and pleasure. Yet it seems that the only way to there is through here, our present pain and struggle. So even as we may border on feeling some degree of compassion fatigue, I think we might do well to hear what people in other nations are thinking and saying about this American tragedy. I want to harvest a few comments from The Christian Science Monitor and Yahoo News.

In a nutshell, there has been an outpouring of sympathy from the international community, inevitably followed by utter bewilderment at America's continued obsession with lethal weapons.

The U.S. is home to 270 million privately held guns, which equates to an average of nine guns per 10 people. (In second place, with roughly one gun for every two people, is Yemen, "a conflict-torn Arab nation still dealing with poverty, political unrest, a separatist Shia insurgency, an al Qaeda branch, and the aftereffects of a 1994 civil war," notes Max Fisher at “The Washington Post”.) It is no coincidence that the U.S. also boasts the highest rate of gun-related deaths among developed countries — an American is 20 times more likely to die at the hands of a gun then another member of the developed world. Here, some reactions from around the world:

In Moscow, dozens of Russians spontaneously placed flowers at the US Embassy over the weekend in memory of the 26 victims who were killed on Friday. News of the tragedy was shared across the Internet in China, which witnessed its own school attack Friday. From Germany to Britain to France, heads of state expressed their grief, shock, and horror.

With their empathy, however, came an apparent mounting frustration with a US political system that has left weapons like the Bushmaster AR-15 – the civilian model of the M-16 that law-enforcement officials have said the shooter used on his victims Friday – legal and accessible to the public.

Canada's “The Globe and Mail”:

'There is something inexorable about the phenomenon of mass shootings in the United States. We have been forced to write about it with tragic regularity for years. We have exhausted adjectives to describe our horror and revulsion. We have stated and restated the problem…

'The time for platitudes is past... It’s time the U.S. cured its gun sickness.
(Steps Canada has taken include a 28-day waiting period to buy a handgun, and the clever safeguard of requiring gun buyers to have the support of two people vouching for them.)'

Anne Davies at Australia's “Sydney Morning Herald”:

(In Australia, following a mass killing of 35 people in 1996, a national firearms agreement was reached, banning certain rapid-fire guns and using a buyback program that removed 650,000 firearms from public hands.)

'To Australians it seems incredible that U.S. politicians will not move to control guns. It seems illogical in the face of global statistics and our own experience of the success of the gun amnesty.

'The bigger task for America is to become a gentler, more trusting society, so that school children do not have to be drilled in cowering in store rooms.'

Tzipi Shmilovitz at Israel's “Yedioth Ahronoth”:

'America is not ready to talk about how it is easier to get a handgun than it is to see a doctor, not ready to speak about the video games that have extreme violence. It is just willing to sweep up everything under the carpet of tears.'

India's “The Times of India”:

'For those griping about the American right to bear arms, wake up. This is the 21st century and America's a settled state, not the rough-edged, wide open spaces of the 1780s when the Constitution was framed and everything, from land to liberty, was based on violent contests. Bearing arms then might have made sense — doing so today is swallowing the nonsense posed as liberty by commercial lobbies. Some argue weapons empower victims against aggressors. If so, should second-graders pack pistols in their schoolbags? Such shaky logic simply intensifies dangerous situations.'

You probably heard that exactly such shaky logic moved the Michigan state legislature, the day before the Newtown massacre, to approve a bill that would have eliminated "gun-free zones," effectively allowing concealed pistol license holders to bring their guns onto school grounds across the state. The Atlantic Wire reports that this move, unsurprisingly, led to immediate outrage. Governor Rick Snyder had the good sense to veto the measure. Presumably, those legislators intended that their law empower adults to become vigilante intervenors. That fine point was lost on an eleven year old Michigan boy who was taken into custody early last week. He had packed a handgun in his backpack, in case his school was invaded by a deranged gunman. He may have been showing it to his buddies on the playground, but he was charged with pointing the weapon at other children.

Our Gospel today makes clear how central children are to the Christian experience of God. Two babies in utero are cradled in their mothers’ wombs, and before their births these little ones are seen to be great. Only Luke and Matthew begin their Gospels with high visibility of Jesus’s holy childbirth. Mark joins them, though, with the story of Jesus drawing to himself a child (doubtless one of the very children his disciples had tried to shoo away from him), dramatizing his teaching that the Kingdom of God belongs to children; which we take to mean that such qualities as trust, wonder, spontaneity, imagination, humor, playfulness, generosity, expectancy, and use of all our senses are essentials in our spiritual practice—and conversely, that fear, pretentiousness, over-intellectualizing, prejudice, alienation, and other adult pursuits can shut us out of the Kingdom of God. The Gospel message that children rule rings true in John’s Gospel, too, where the great Prologue promises that all who receive Jesus receive also power to become children of God, born not just once of blood and flesh, but born twice, born again of God whose Word, having become flesh, lives among us, full of grace and truth.

As we prepare to welcome the gift of the Christ child, we will honor his coming by recognizing how the children of Newtown are now leading us to make our nation a safer society for all children, and a society more alert, more effective, and more compassionate in treating children of God—and their families-- who live with mental illness. So must the Word be made flesh to dwell among us now, full of grace and truth.