A few weeks ago, our family was picnicking at the creek with some friends when I noticed a man with a gun.
It was holstered to one side of his shorts and on the other side hung his bullet clips.
I’d heard about open-carry advocates showing up at Starbucks and Playgrounds around the country and hoped I wouldn’t have to witness such a thing.
But there he was.
My heart began to pound and I had the impulse to run away or scream at him…but then I walked up to the man (his name was Justin) and started asking questions.*
Why do you carry a gun? What do you need it for? Do people ever ask you about it?
Justin was appreciative of my curiosity and during our conversation I learned some things about my NRA card-carrying neighbor.
The most intriguing was that no one had ever approached him to discuss his gun before. In fact, the only public reaction he’d ever had was from a woman at Safeway who screamed in terror that there was a gunman in the store planning to shoot children. Which, of course, Justin would never do.
He was just trying to protect himself “in case something happens”.
He was a decent enough seeming guy who walked around with a German Shepherd, a sheriff-like swagger and detailed knowledge of the 2nd amendment.
And yet he had never considered how frightening it was for two mothers to be picnicking with their children and see a man with a gun. Nor had he considered that people might be too scared to talk to him because they’d witnessed gun violence (like my friend), been threatened with it (like me) or even suffered directly at the hands of a man with a gun.
So immersed was he in his perceived threat of constant danger that he didn’t get that – for most women – a man with a gun means being overpowered, disadvantaged and possibly raped regardless of how good your self-defense skills are.
As an anti-gun advocate, I am afraid of people with guns. But I am increasingly aware of how much more afraid they are…of assault…of home-invaders…of a government that uses force against its own people.
They are afraid – ALL THE TIME – and they want, they NEED, to be prepared “in case something happens.”
People who are gripped by fear do not respond to reason or logic. No heated “debate” would have convinced Justin that his gun was creating more – not less – danger in the park on a beautiful day.
And shouting at him may have convinced him more deeply that anti-gun advocates are hostile to his beliefs. And then he may have become even more entrenched in his 2nd Amendment inspired determination to carry arms. In public. All the time.
After all, who doesn’t tend to “dig in” when attacked?
But maybe our conversation made him less afraid of me as an anti-gun advocate and more open to our side of things. It certainly felt that way at the time.
There is no one solution to gun violence and the divisiveness between pro and anti-gun advocates – just as no mass shooting has only one cause. Blaming only the NRA, or psychoactive prescription drugs or mental illness or politicians oversimplifies the complexities of the situation.
But that day I realized my own solution is to be a stand for peace on all sides: by releasing the violence in my heart, by understanding my enemies and by showing courage in the face of fear.
*Veteran Civil Rights Activist and Congressman John Lewis was an inspiration in my moment of choice. From this interview, I learned how much courage Non-Violence requires and how much power lies in the mastery of one’s own fear. Please take the time to listen.