Wheras some 20 years ago the fear of AIDS swept across our country and world, today the most destructive disease in America, according to New Republic magazine, is not AIDS but AFRAIDS. That’s the pervasive fear of violence that steals away our freedom, our sense of community, trust and security.
What happens to a city when everyone is afraid of everyone else? How many of us now think twice about going to the movies? As a result of that midnight shooter in Aurora, Colo., gun sales in Colorado rose tremendously. Jeff Taverner, owner of the Glendora gun shop, Gunslingers, said the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting caused a sharp spike in business. “The next day it was crazy in here,” Taverner said. People now have a new sense that they have to have a gun to protect themselves. Is this the way that we want to live our lives, packing a weapon on our hip or in our purse?
What happens to us – to our souls, to our psyche, to our children – when fear of violence is constant and pervasive? Years ago we were instructed to drive defensively. Now we have to live defensively. I am wondering if you are as appalled as I am that in Orange High School in Orange Village, Ohio, my grandchildren must now take a course called ALICE. It is training in life-saving techniques in case a shooter enters the hallowed halls of education. ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. Training begins with re-enactments of the Columbine shooting and others. They are taught how to barricade doors and how to inform others so they can evacuate. Is this how we want our children to be raised – to fear going to school, to be suspicious of everyone?
Since America’s worst shooting spree at Virginia Tech University five years ago, 14 more spree killings have cut short 135 lives and injured 167 innocent victims when mentally disturbed and heavily armed individuals have decided to wreak havoc. More alarmingly, the pace of spree killings is increasing and so, too, is the extent of the mayhem.
If the popular definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results and we apply this definition to the shooting massacres, then we have reached a dangerous level of cultural madness. Right now, our only response is rushing to express sympathies, wringing our hands, and then it is back to business as usual. That is buying into a culture-wide denial and giving assent to insanity. We need to talk seriously about guns in America, which is nowhere on the political agenda of any of the candidates.
About 30,000 people a year die from gun-related incidents. Excluding natural causes of death, guns constituted the second-leading cause of death, behind car accidents. If I were to warn you that 30,000 people would die next year on airplanes or at the hands of terrorists, there would be a human outcry to do something to prevent it. Perhaps we do need more gun control laws; maybe we do need more enforcement of the gun laws already on the books. Who knows what the best solution is? But this I know: We need to have a summit on guns immediately! We need to bring together members of the NRA, law enforcement officers and interested civilians and put them all in one room to figure out what might be a common-sense policy for America. The famed Steven Covey, author of the multi-million-copy “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” writes about ideas like this in his new book, “The 3rd Alternative.” He suggests there does not need to be a polarized solution to this problem of either-or, either the NRA’s opinion or more gun control. Somehow, some way, there has to be a third way to do things. Put knowledgeable minds together for the good of the country and I believe we will find a third way, one which saves lives, one which allows people to own guns but use them sensibly.
I may be a voice in the wind, but I have been taught that the job of clergy is to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. Right now someone has to disturb this lethargy that is going on while our best and brightest minds are retreating into the world of AFRAIDS.
Rabbi Daniel A. Roberts is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Israel, Sharon.