Fighting gun violence like cancer

Nov 7, 2017 by

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What if this amendment had become a part of our Constitution?

“A well regulated tobacco industry, being necessary to the prosperity of a free State, the right of the people to grow and use nicotine products, shall not be infringed.”

At our house church meeting Sunday evening one of our members shared the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, this one at a little Baptist church in the small rural town of Sutherland Springs, Texas. As of today, 26 people are reported dead and an equal number are injured.

Can none of us be safe anymore, anywhere?

I propose a kind of war on gun violence that would resemble the one we are waging on another killer — cancer.

Here are some parallels:

Cancer is a major cause of deaths among adults and children alike, as is gun violence. No one is safe from either threat, and no one knows all of its causes nor all the different forms these two killer problems can take. We recognize that no groups or individuals are immune from their harms or free of blame for contributing to them. There are no simple answers, no easy cures.

Since cancer is a complex disease which takes many forms, most reasonable people agree that ongoing research is needed over whatever time necessary in order to reduce cancer deaths and produce cancer cures. In the case of gun violence, Congress, under intense and ongoing pressure from the NRA, has actually withheld funds for such research.

In the case of deaths by cancer, we would consider it inadequate and inappropriate for legislators refusing to fund research or work at solutions to simply offer condolences to victims, as in, “You are in our thoughts and prayers.”

Just because we can’t pinpoint all of the reasons for deaths from cancer, we don’t throw up our hands and assume nothing can be done. As with any killer disease, we know some of what we need to know already, but recognize much more needs to be learned, and we are willing to join hands with people everywhere in search of a way to save as many lives as possible.

If one “shoe bomber” was given three life sentences and the rest of have had to take off our shoes at airports ever since, we can likewise commit to “regulating” the use of all explosive devices in the interest of saving lives, whether musket loaders (as allowed by the founders), hand grenades, shoes packed with gun powder, or other far more deadly weapons.

Tackling gun violence in these ways should never be seen as a left or right, liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican issue. This is about about saving the lives of men, women and children everywhere. In the near term, we won’t be able to save everyone, but we can and must do everything possible to preserve as many lives as possible.

Harvey Yoder is an ordained pastor and member of Family of Hope, a small Virginia Mennonite Conference house church congregation. He blogs at Harvspot, where this first appeared.


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  • Jack Rutt

    As is usually the case, Harvey Yoder offers clear and concise ideas about issues we face today as individuals and communities. Thanks, Harvey, for these words about an issue that will continue to wreak havoc among us until something is done to significantly reduce the presence of military-grade weaponry among the general populace.

    I have one additional comment that has nothing to do with Harvey’s content. It’s about the headline, which I assume is created by the editor(s) of MWR. I wince, a bit, whenever I see the word “fight” or “fighting” in an advocacy headline in publications that value non-violence and peace-building (which I assume to be the case for MWR). Are there not a number of other verbs that would work equally well for this purpose? IANAE (I am not an editor), so I admit to being out of my area of expertise, but several that come to mind include, challenge, resist, address, stand up to, confront, engage, treat, encounter.

    To be clear, I very much appreciate the good work of the editors of MWR and thank them for all they do. This is one of those things that has felt incongruous to me for some time and, in this particular article, seemed seemed to provide an opportunity to ask the question.

    • Harvey Yoder

      Thanks for your response, Jack. The title I gave the piece on my blog was “Gun Violence–Our Out-Of-Control Cancer”.

  • Rainer Moeller

    By the way, there’s hope at unexpected places. For example Charlottesville:.Both sides there were heavily armed, but in the end there was no gunfight. The weapons, as far as i know, were fists, pepper spray, a kind of self-made flame-thrower and a car. The gunners themselves behaved reasonable and disciplined.

  • Rainer Moeller

    One of the problems: Smoking is solitary behavior; violence is communicative behavior. To change this communicative kind of behavior we’d have to establish trust: experience that agreements are possible and people (most people, some people) do keep their promises.

    A singular problem is trust about constitutional principles. Rightists fear that a path to weaken the Second Amendment would show Leftists a path how to weaken the First Amendment. This fear is completely justified – a way out of this dilemma would be to combine the weakening of the 2nd Am. with an expressive and offensive strengthening of the 1st Am.