An Open Letter to Open Carry

Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.

That’s what I’ve heard almost every time I make comments or suggestions regarding gun control.  I have had patronizing videos posted on my FB timeline showing a gun sitting on a table, a static shot with a voiceover: Just waiting. Waiting for the gun to kill someone. Laughter in the background. Snorts of derision and utterances of stupid libtards. 

And this does nothing to advance the discussion. It keeps us polarized. Look, I know a number of responsible gun owners. People who understand the dangers of firearms and undergo the requisite training; store the weapons correctly; and have no interest in brandishing a gun in public. They understand the panic and concern that it elicits. I have genuine disagreements with gun owners who feel it is their responsibility to carry weapons in the open to “get people comfortable with seeing them and not panicking.” Frankly, I find such an attitude to be patronizing and disrespectful. Each one of us has the ability to acquire guns, be trained in guns, and interact with guns if we so choose. When I go into a public space, I am not interested in someone else thinking I need to be educated on guns. And I am not asking for fellow citizens to protect me through the use of guns. In fact, doing so would be an insult to who I am and what I believe. 

But I also understand the perspectives many gun owners have, and I absolutely agree that we do not want the only armed people to be our police forces. Not the way they have been militarized and trained. I am not a second amendment opponent. Truth be told, if shit ever goes down, I know that I’m driving to Baltimore to sleep in the basement of a friend who is a Marine and figure some way to make myself useful. Bottom line: I will not do well in the apocalypse. Believe me, I appreciate people who are trained and know how to use weapons. I am not anti-gun for everyone. I am anti-gun for myself. 

As a social activist and a religious leader, I find myself in spaces in which hard truths are lifted up into the light. Situations in which feelings can run hot and tempers quick. Weapons can exacerbate tension. And I understand that there are well- intentioned, sincere people who feel that being present at these events will discourage violence. I do not feel that I have the right to tell them that they are wrong. We live in a society of laws, and right now laws allow for open carry. But as a staunch advocate of nonviolence, I feel it is incumbent upon me to help create and secure safe spaces in which guns are not permitted. This Sunday, there will be a silent protest in downtown Yellow Springs beginning at noon. During that time, the lawn and porch of First Presbyerian will be a gun-free zone, as it always is. And I ask anyone from Ohio Open Carry who might be reading this to please respect the sanctity of our house of worship. My commitment to nonviolence means that I am sensitive to the ways in which the mere sight of a firearm can be upsetting or triggering for others. And I am tired of hearing how “safe spaces” are really just code words for people who are weak or want to be mollycoddled. I ask proponents of open carry to remember that even you affirm that guns are used to kill people. You never know what someone has experienced in their past. You never know if they have had a gun held to their heads (as friends of mine have experienced), or if they might have witnessed violent crimes involving firearms, again as friends of mine have. You never know how an AR-15 might look to a veteran or a police officer. When you bring guns into these spaces, you derail our conversations. You make the issue about you; you use a right and turn it into a privilege that makes other people conform to you simply because you have decided carrying a gun is more important than the purpose of the event. 

This is my perspective, at least. 

I’m not trying to take away your guns. I’m not. I’m saying that while I respect your rights, I also respect the rights of others to not be in the presence of these dangerous weapons. They make us nervous. And we don’t need to get over that; we see them as part of the problem, and we are not going to change our minds. You have the right to leave your house with a weapon, and we have the right to say that you need to leave it behind if you want to come onto sacred ground. 

I’m tired of fighting against one another when what we should be fighting is a system that keeps us all from having equal rights and protection. I understand that we have legitimate philosophical differences on the gun issue. I’m willing to have civil conversations, but I’m tired of conflict because it distracts me from the work I believe God has called me to do. If you are a person who supports the Black Lives Matter movement, supports other justice groups gathering to stop the slaughter of people on our streets, then we have much more in common than we do not. I get that we are going to use different methods and approaches. I am asking you–lovingly, respectfully–to not make our desire for a gun-free zone an issue. If you want to have your voice heard, join us for the silent protest. If you need to bring your guns, please think about the fact that doing so can potentially derail the purpose of the event.  And perhaps this legitimately is your issue, and I do not judge that this is the way you believe you are contributing to the movement. I’m not saying I’m right. But please respect the church. Please do not take this time to force a conversation that can be had at another time and in another place. Please do not assemble at a place where you know others have gone to be away from guns. We are seeking as much unity as possible, and I am trying to do everything I can to help facilitate that.  

I write this in sincerity and faith that we are all people of good will who are authentically committed to ending the corporate oligarchy that is passing for democracy in this country. That we are people who want to destroy every vestige of white supremacy culture with such ferocity that no horcruxes can be made. I write this to help break down the walls that keep us using language such as “us and them.” Most binaries are bad, and I do not see philosophies surrounding guns as something that should divide us from our intrinsic human connectedness. 

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