Prejudiced people will listen only to one side of a story. Swamiji had an open mind. He would take every point of view into account. He had a generous and forgiving heart.
– Swami Turiyananda speaking of Swami Vivekananda2
My whole life I have never been much into guns, and never had a good feeling about people who used them on others. You know? Violence seems like a bad way to try to solve problems, at least the vast majority of the time.
More recently I’ve had friends who owned guns, and I started getting curious about this topic of “gun control”. Why do people feel the need to have guns? Sometimes if I can get inside people’s heads and see how they see the world, it makes it easier to have a dialogue, to cooperate, to find new solutions together.
Does that make sense?
In this article I’ve summarized some rationales I’ve discovered for why some people have not been favorable to so-called “gun control”, including Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) of all people, one of the most famous promoters of non-violence in living memory. And I’ve tried to take a step back and put all this into a spiritual perspective that we could consider, no matter what religion we might subscribe to.
Warning: this article describes situations that might be uncomfortable for some readers to think about. Actually, what am I saying? It should be uncomfortable for all readers. But whether we like it or not, violence seems to be one of the issues we must face and understand in this “late time”3 of the “kali yuga”.4
1. Gandhi: courageous, spiritually-inspired non-violence is best
Gandhi said that when faced with a difficult situation – sorry to be graphic, but let’s say you’re living in a ghetto and a gang of hoodlums wants to harm your teenage daughter or sister5 – there are three basic ways6 to deal with the situation. Gandhi believed the best way is courageous, spiritually-inspired, non-violent intervention.
The idea is that you stand up to the aggressors, put your life on the line, and because of the spirituality that radiates from your body, the other people back down when they look in your eyes.
This, Gandhi felt, was the best approach for dealing with an aggressor, especially when done by a person with real moral fortitude, real backbone. If you are a man or woman of God, someone deeply respected by friends and associates because of the peace and integrity you constantly radiate, this method is best, and might even work sometimes.
One thing Gandhi liked about this is that it is non-violent. You don’t commit any violence, even in self-defense or in defense of your family. The trade-off is that, if necessary, you might die right then and there, or get severely beat up.
In The Mummery Book,7 the protagonist stands up non-violently to a gang of corrupt cult members, even though he gets thrown into prison and dies a painful death. Gandhi, I suspect, would appreciate this.
The qualification for this approach is that you really do have to have a strong relationship with God, or to put it another way, you must care more about truth than your own bodily safety. In many cultures this trait was said to be essential for men, who were tasked with defending the community and defending their families.
2. Gandhi: courageous, not-non-violent resistance is 2nd bestThere were two remaining options Gandhi considered for dealing with an aggressor – in our example it was a gang wanting to harm your daughter or sister.9
The least of these three options, in Gandhi’s view, is to turn aside and let your innocent dependents be harmed. Abandon your family, save your own skin, and allow the violence to take place. Gandhi said people who do this might even puff themselves up with the idea that they are being “non-violent”. Gandhi said this is the way of cowards, not the way of men.
There is hope for a violent man to become non-violent.
There is no such hope for the impotent coward.10
– M.K. Gandhi
Instead, Gandhi would say it is better to roll up your sleeves and fight the gang members, instead of letting them rape your sister. He said that if you are incapable of non-violent intervention – staring down the aggressors and intimidating them by your own spirituality, perhaps asking God to send angels to protect the situation – then the next best thing is to intervene using ordinary human means, such as your fists.
The absolute worst thing, in Gandhi’s view, was cowardice. It was more important not to be a coward than to be non-violent.
This was somewhat surprising for me to learn – what with my upbringing of emasculated male role models on television, cozy middle-class neighborhoods and all the rest of it. But it makes sense, since Gandhi was a man with balls who lived by his convictions.
3. Gun rights advocates don’t trust corrupt gun ownersAnother thing I learned about advocates of private gun ownership is that they do not trust people who a) own guns but also b) have a corrupt or criminal mindset.
So if a law is passed making it illegal to own a gun, and all the decent, law-abiding folks turn in their guns, the concern is that only immoral, non-law-abiding people like meth-heads, gang members and so forth will have guns after that.
Thus, one researcher claims:
Strict gun control laws in Great Britain and Australia haven’t made their people noticeably safer, nor have they prevented massacres.14
This seems anti-intuitive at first, but there’s a logic to it – basically, criminals don’t turn in their guns or buy them legally so the laws have not as much effect on them – which I invite you to explore at your leisure.
Then, taking it a step further… It is unpleasant for many of us with “liberal” backgrounds to contemplate, but when gun-rights people say they don’t trust gun owners with a corrupt mindset, this includes people in government office. Just because someone gets a job working for the government, or controls the government, does not always guarantee that they are 100% completely free from corruption or violence, is the idea. Is a violent, predatory government safe with all the guns? I dunno.
Warning: some of the images that follow may be disturbing.
I find strength in the words of Gandhi:
A coward is incapable of exhibiting love;
it is the prerogative of the brave.15
. . .
. . .
. . .
. . .
. . .
. . .
. . .
4. True peace: from a parent-like bureaucracy or from a change of heart?
At times it might seem ideal if we could just out-source all our responsibilities for growing up and being mature human beings onto someone else. Like a new kind of government bureaucracy which is scientifically designed to solve all our problems.
However, some people say this is not the way forward:
A truly rational and benign politics cannot be enacted merely by investing humankind in a worldwide system of parent-like bureaucracies.
The abstract system creates childish dependencies and illusory solutions, and it discourages the general possibility of genuine personal responsibility, or daily “right life”…27
In other words, the more dependent we are on massive bureaucracies for everything – including perhaps our safety and well-being – the more discouraged we are from living responsibly, according to this way of thinking.
The true politics of the individual is in relation to what is intimate to him or her. Truly human politics is in the sphere of directly effective relationships, experienced on a daily basis – where the individual’s voice and experience can be directly heard and sympathetically felt. That, fundamentally, is politics. All the rest is only the vulgar and inherently disheartening daily “news” of the world-mummery of human egos.28
So as we go about our day, each time we interact with someone – whether it’s apparently our “friend” or our “foe” – it’s an example of human-scale politics and it expresses what kind of person we are.
This is sooo much simpler and feels so much more genuine than a lot of other stuff I’ve heard said about politics, which always seems to involve manipulating someone in order to accomplish some idealized solution to everything.
Presumably, true peace will also come from true politics…?
I still am not a big fan of guns. I still do not own a gun. However, I also have the luxury of not having a family to protect.
Part of me would much rather live in a world with zero guns, zero bombs, and zero attack drones, where animals don’t have claws, and women don’t have fingernails. Let me know when that happens. :)
For me, the real question is not whether I am for or against “gun control” – which as I understand it, usually means disarming all the decent, law-abiding people of some or all of their weapons, while allowing criminals and questionable organizations to have all the guns.
The real question for me is why is this made into such a big deal by the U.S. media, to the exclusion of so many other issues?29 And it is always portrayed as a civilian-gun-only issue, rather than a problem of violence in general.
The other real question for me is: which of Gandhi’s three options would I choose when faced with a difficult situation? Would I choose courageous non-violent intervention? Would I choose not-non-violent intervention? Or would I choose cowardice?
Please share your thoughts below.
- What does Swami Turiyananda mean when he says “prejudiced people will listen only to one side of a story”?
- What causes violence in the world?
- Buddhist teachings say that violence is caused by 1) ignorance / prejudice, 2) greed, and 3) the need to control things we don’t like. They call these the “three poisons”.30 What’s your take?
- Going back to our earlier example of a gang wanting to harm your daughter or your sister in a ghetto, which of Gandhi’s three options would you choose today? I think it’s important to make these considerations about us, here and now, otherwise they too easily devolve into vague abstractions.
- Are your views on gun control the same or different from those of your parents? I’m curious because often we assume our parents are unquestionably right about many things, and don’t consider other p.o.v.’s, even throughout an entire lifetime.
- What is meant by saying “the abstract system [of parent-like bureaucracies] creates childish dependencies and illusory solutions”? When is a solution “illusory”?
- If anyone has a real story about facing a violent situation, I would appreciate hearing about that.
- If someone wants a safe & non-violent world to live in, what would you tell them?
- Saying from Adi Da Samraj (1939-2008). ↩
- July 4, 1915, as quoted here. I suppose Swami Vivekananda is part of the inspiration for this blog, as an important forerunner to Adi Da’s recent work. ↩
- Christians sometimes refer to this as the “end times” – meaning the end of the world is upon us, due to global breakdown of society economically, morally, spiritually, and in every other way, but Adi Da instead called this the “late time” which might be more palatable for some readers. Actually not just Christians but Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews all predicted a breakdown of society to occur, or a “tribulation” of some kind, possibly followed by something positive for some people, depending on our faith and attitude… ↩
- “Kali yuga” is a Hindu term meaning again that we’re in the “end times” where society breaks down ethically, spiritually, economically, and in every other way. See previous footnote. ↩
- This sort of thing really happens. Pastor Earthquake Kelley recounts a story growing up in the projects of Stamford, Connecticut where a gang invited him to come along when they were out hunting for a girl to rape. He was young and misunderstood what the purpose of the outing was. He said “I watched as twenty gang members raped one girl. Even as a young boy, I could not understand how someone could do that to another human being.” From his book “Bound to Lose, Destined to Win”, published in 2011. ↩
- This is based on an analysis of Gandhi’s philosophy of violence and non-violence provided by Unto Tähtinen in his book “The Core of Gandhi’s Philosophy” from The Basket of Tolerance. It seems that Gandhi himself did not spell out his entire philosophy in words, but said “my life is my message”, so Mr. Unto Tähtinen’s book is one attempt to determine his philosophy by analyzing his actions. ↩
- This is a story by Adi Da; see the Mummery Book page on this site for more info. ↩
- According to Castiglione’s classic text “The Courtier” among other sources. ↩
- Again, this isn’t an arbitrary example – it’s from a true story I just read just a few days ago by a man who grew up in the projects of Stamford, Connecticut. Except in the story, he wasn’t the brother of the girl. See earlier footnote about Earthquake Kelley. ↩
- From Gandhi’s “Non-Violence in Peace and War” as sourced here and referenced here. NOTE: I added the word “coward” to make the meaning more clear in my opinion, because he speaks again and again and again throughout his life of cowardice, and is not speaking about sexual impotence. ↩
- per here. ↩
- See abc news for more info. ↩
- U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, “The Armed Criminal in America: A Survey of Incarcerated Felons,” Research Report (July 1985): 27. I did not review this source personally, but saw it quoted here. ↩
- Joyce Lee Malcolm, writing an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal. Ms. Malcolm, a professor of law at George Mason University Law School, is the author of several books including “Guns and Violence: The English Experience,” (Harvard, 2002). ↩
- From “Wit and wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi” (1960 edition), according to here. ↩
- Gandhi printed this on leaflets during WW I. The earlier Indian Arms Act of 1878, which, through its provisions granting the goverment unlimited arbitrary power to forbid possession of any and all arms by anyone or everyone, in practice meant nearly complete disarmament of the native Indian population, according to here and here. ↩
- I found info about this on wikipedia and here. ↩
- From “Black Elk Speaks”, by John Neihardt, as quoted at wikipedia. ↩
- “In 1933, Adolf Hitler, seized power and used (gun registration) records to identify, disarm, and attack political opponents and Jews. Constitutional rights were suspended, and mass searches for and seizures of guns and dissident publications ensued. Police revoked gun licenses of Social Democrats and others who were not ‘politically reliable.’… The Gestapo banned independent gun clubs and arrested their leaders. Gestapo counsel Werner Best issued a directive to the police forbidding issuance of firearm permits to Jews… SS chief Heinrich Himmler decreed that 20 years be served in a concentration camp by any Jew possessing a firearm.” (source: How the Nazis used Gun Control, by Stephen P. Halbrook, PhD.). ↩
- “Russians never had a tradition of gun ownership before or after the Bolshevik Revolution. The Czars, like most Royal rulers, never allowed the ‘right to bear arms’ for their people… The Bolsheviks… when they took over… murdered (people) en masse and confiscated all of their property including their guns, if they had any. The Soviet gun law passed in 1929 was aimed at the military officers and military retired (the only groups in Russia that possessed guns of significant quantities,) whom Stalin planned to purge… Stalin killed and imprisoned millions in the 1930s…” (source) ↩
- “The Chinese Communist party has, from its earliest establishment, made it a practice to carefully control weapons in its areas of control. In this respect it is not much different than most political and military movements that are attempting to gain control of a territory or overthrow a state. The degree of strictness the party authorities took with view to weapons in the possession of anyone not officially tied to the army (e.g. 8th Route Army etc.) or affiliated with its armed militia units varies from location to location… It is important to recognize that the ‘armed workers and peasants’ referred to in a document like this is not anyone and everyone: as the party penetrated various rural communities, technically only those registered in an ‘armed unit’ (武裝部队) or ‘armed cadres’ (武裝幹部) should be armed. In the postwar period, these would either retain their weapons and become part of the army, or surrender them when their units were dissolved…” (source: write-up by Konrad M. Lawson, Lecturer in Modern History at the University of St Andrews, Scotland). ↩
- See here and here for more info. ↩
- “Jamin’ in New York”. source: wikipedia. ↩
- Image from here c/o here where they show tons more examples. Also, one blogger summarizes a lot of questions about Sandy Hook at Fellowship of the Minds. I don’t know what to make of all this but it does raise questions for me. ↩
- As quoted here. ↩
- From LA Times article. The shooter was a member of the O.T.O. organization (made popular by Aleister Crowley) and stated openly that he hated Christians. For more examples of mass-killings stopped by armed citizens, see here and here and here. ↩
- From “Reality-Politics for Ordinary Men and Women”, by Adi Da, as published in Not-Two Is Peace. ↩
- Also from “Reality-Politics for Ordinary Men and Women”, by Adi Da, as published in “Not-Two Is Peace”. ↩
- For example, I came across this statistic: “You are more than twice as likely to be a victim of knife crime in the UK as you are to be a victim of gun crime in the US (but there is no media debate about banning kitchen knives).” This is based on 2006 data. Quoted from here, which provides sources for all statistical data. Obviously kitchen knives serve a useful purpose that everyone can see, and perhaps guns don’t. But that doesn’t mean victims of knife attacks don’t deserve our sympathy just as much as gun victims? The incredible, overwhelming media emphasis on civilian gun violence to the exclusion of so many other issues makes me uncomfortable. ↩
- They are also called the three main “kleshas”, and are sometimes referred to as ignorance, attachment, and aversion (or ignorance, passion, and aggression.). ↩