I joined the struggle to keep guns from our public institutions of higher education in Arkansas. The bill in question would have allowed faculty and staff with concealed-carry permits to bring their weapons on campus; it was ultimately amended so that our Board of Directors can now vote to opt out of that law every year. If they do nothing, or vote in favor of it, then concealed-carry is legal on our campuses. The anti-gun lobby, in effect, won a concession, but we have to be ever vigilant, every year. Both sides celebrated.
Our Board is appointed by the governor, and so these appointments, and accordingly the gubernatorial election of 2014, take on great significance in the coming gun wars. We know this, and the NRA knows this. For campuses that elect or appoint their Board independently, like Northwest Arkansas Community College, their policies will be determined by their own Board. That's the way things stand now.
I say I got schooled because, although I'd grown up in a gun culture years ago, I'd never dealt with the NRA's lobbying wing nor confronted the radical gun market that the NRA targets in its ad campaigns. Politics generally is a bare-knuckled endeavor, I knew, but the NRA over the past forty years has built one of the most powerful and ruthless—some say the most powerful and the most ruthless—lobby in Washington, DC. They assign letter grades to our Senators, based on their conformity to the NRA's legislative agenda. It's embarrassing.
Like all good lobbyists, the NRA hasn't become powerful by sticking to the facts. Facts are at times, as my three-year old daughter would say, sooooo booooring. And often they aren't useful because they don't support the points you want them to support. They have to be contextualized. Or spun. And the NRA is very good at doing that. And the gun-control lobby is getting better at it.
But I learned things this winter. I learned a little bit about lobbing statistics at the opposing camp and waiting for the return volley. I studied the veterans of political action, both here in Arkansas and across the country, and I took notes. My friends here in Fayetteville and in Little Rock, the ones who wade deep into our state's politics and who are really making a difference, patiently explained to me the nuances of legislative language, process, and inuendo. I took more notes.
I learned too that I'm not a political animal, to use an over-used phrase, nor was I meant to be. In some ways, I'm a political animal's nightmare: I'm a single-issue advocate. My political vision is narrow, obsessive, committed, limited.
I was drawn to the gun issue by a perfect storm of interests: I grew up in a gun culture; I used to hunt; I fell out of love with hunting; I've had a life-long interest in nonviolence; and I went to a Who concert back when the boys were boys, and I decided then and there that I too wouldn't get fooled again.
I also learned from this past legislative session that most of us think exclusively of gun-control when we think of lessening gun violence, and that's clearly one of the major avenues we must investigate. But even though gun-violence in America is a large problem, so too is plain old violence—in the way we think, the way we dream, the way we conceptualize our communities, and the way we resolve our problems in those communities. The Washington Post recently featured a piece that explored this idea more fully. Thank the environmentalists and the consumer protection lobbies, I learned, for our falling crime rate because they were the ones that took the lead out of children's toys and our paint.
If you grew up in the Civil Rights era in the American South, as I did, or if you're younger, and you've kept your eyes open, you understand violence in one of its most potent forms—humiliation, descending from the legacy of slavery and share-cropping and extending to the latest barrage of voter-suppression legislation in our Assemblies or bullying on our school playgrounds.
And if you understand systemic humiliation, then you understand one of the first and founding moments of nonviolent action. "The first principle of non-violent action," Gandhi wrote, "is that of non-cooperation with everything humiliating."
So we no longer see gun reforms as confined to the bi-polar choices our legislators give us during their active legislative seaons. We support gun-control legislation, of course, and we encourage and assist our legislators in every way possible, but we realize that when our legislators go home, our job has just begun because we're starting a program of non-cooperation.
We look for other ways to advance the kind of nonviolent education that will gradually render gun-control less necessary because we are becoming less violent as a people.
And we make this promise to ourselves: we will not, as Tim Wise warned us about resisting the bombing campaign in Afghanistan, let the war-makers or the gun-sellers accuse us of being "insufficiently patriotic and dangerously naïve."
No. It is far more idealistic to believe that a bombing campaign or an AR-15 will renovate a broken society than it is to suggest that we can and must refuse to co-operate with humiliation and the fear that rises from an NRA ad campaign.
And we refuse this humiliation now. Today. That is not naïve. That is realistic.
I am not calling for us to become Gandhi, nor am I asking that we develop comprehensive school curricula that introduce our children to the power of compassion and the futility of war—although we certainly need a Gandhi, and if you have such a school program, I want to see it.
I am asking only that each of us spend some time learning how to avoid humiliation. Maybe we can reform one habitual perception we have of another person, a perception that would humiliate her if she learned of it. And maybe, even more importantly, we can learn to reform those self-perceptions that we use to humiliate ourselves, when self-humiliation is the order of our days. I can't stop the drone strikes on Afghanistan alone, but I am the only one that can stop the analogous destruction within myself.
I need to get busy and do that.
So until the next legislative session rolls around in Arkansas, and the South loads its chambers for another surge of gun legislation, let's educate ourselves about these guns in our culture, of course, but let's also take the first step on the path of nonviolence.
Let's stop co-operating with anything, anywhere that humiliates our human dignity.