On Saturday, March 24th, students everywhere will be front-and-center at the historic nationwide March for Our Lives. A flagship event in Washington D.C. is featuring survivors of the Parkland massacre, who are using their newfound unintended celebrity to push for a change in gun laws in order to prevent future gun violence. Local marches in solidarity with the main march will be taking place in various cities across the country.
However, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and their bottomless lobbying war chest are determined to stop any of those potential changes from ever becoming law. Since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which killed 17 students and faculty on February 14, the NRA’s acolytes and apparatchiks have been instigating (and quickly losing) social media beefs with some of the Parkland survivors who have become the faces and voices of the movement to end gun violence.
Some of the most prominent casualties of those Twitter beefs include Infowars founder, Newtown massacre (and anti-gay frogs crusader) Alex Jones, 44, who accused 17-year-old Parkland survivor David Hogg of bullying him (Hogg called Jones a “shit journalist” in reference to Jones’ assertion that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre was a “hoax“). Parkland survivor Sarah Chadwick also parodied NRA spokewoman Dana Loesch’s “hourglass” video in a video of her own that went viral on her Twitter account calling for an end to gun violence:
"To every spokeswoman with an hourglass who uses free speech to alter and undermine what our flag represents…Your Time is running out. The clock starts now."
–@sarahchad_ #MarchForOurLives pic.twitter.com/k29FB2vHPI
— Sarah Chadwick (@Sarahchadwickk) March 6, 2018
Although, the entertainment value of watching a gang of heavily armed and easily frightened adults attempting a Twitter war with teenagers speaks for itself, the standard NRA vitriol has not been without its unintended nuggets of wisdom.
“Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”
The age-old NRA mantra on bumper stickers everywhere has been the tried and true punchline delivered repeatedly and expeditiously every time the topic of gun violence makes its way to the news. (That is, of course, unless the victims of said gun violence are black. In those instances, the conversation predictably shifts to whether the victim had ever smoked marijuana, whether their cell phone looked like a gun, how dark it was, or the completely understandable personal sensitivities of the person who killed them. But let’s save that for another article.)
Although the statement itself is rightfully written off as NRA propaganda, its deeper meaning has merit, a value that completely undermines the posturing and aggression the NRA has become known for.
At closer examination, this statement both calls for and supports a fundamental reformation of the individual as a means of preventing gun violence and all violence. Its deeper meaning implies that we not turn our backs to violence committed against our children, our neighbors, friends, or even strangers. It implies that we confront the more challenging work of addressing the human proclivity for violence itself.
In a recent article published by The Nation, author Alex Kotch describes how billionaire industrialist and conservative donor Charles Koch approaches his crusade in favor of neo-Confederate values and white supremacist capitalism. According to Kotch, Charles Koch has used his wealth to fund higher education because, “educational programs are superior to political action.” That is, why focus energy and resources on making a political statement when you can own the hearts and minds of the masses?
Although Charles Koch and his army of nonprofits is known for bankrolling right-wing candidates and causes, his educational approach is one that emphasizes the importance and value of philosophy — influencing the hearts and minds of people is where real power lies. This inadvertently exposes the NRA’s favorite defense mantra, revealing the posturing and cowardice of many gun proponents.
Thoughts and Prayers
In his essay, Violence Is Weakness, Prayer Is Power, author Shin Yatomi describes the specific type of thinking that leads an individual down the path to violence. He describes the dichotomy and deep confusion of individuals with a propensity for violence to both imagine themselves fighting authority while simultaneously giving up their authority to others.
”Violence is often an outcome of an authoritarian orientation – a willingness to give up our freedom and independence to external authority in exchange for the false, temporary sense of security that may be felt upon our release from the burden of responsibility,” Yatomi wrote.
“Personal responsibility” is often touted by conservative gun proponents across the country. However, what they often fail to recognize is that personal responsibility is exactly what their argument and position lacks.
If we continue down the path of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” we inevitably find ourselves at the crossroads of “do nothing” and “do something.” This is a critically misunderstood point in the “people kill people” mantra, as the “do something” inference is often equated with getting more guns, shooting people, or generally suggesting violence as a cure for violence.
Supporters of this argument will frequently reach for World War II, Nazi Germany, or Saddam Hussein references to defend using violence to defeat violence. However, the point is not to suggest that the United States should have sweet-talked Hitler or any other adversary. The point is well-illustrated with Charles Koch’s approach to his own personal war against civil rights and equality — hearts and minds. In short, if guns don’t kill people, people kill people, what are we doing to cultivate the type of thinking that heralds and protects basic human decency?
Our Higher Humanity
In an exclusive interview with Grit Post, R&B Billboard Top 100 artist and Florida resident George Tandy Jr. described what it was like on that day in February and his unique approach to addressing violence.
“First, it’s a dialogue, right? It’s either an internal or a dialogue with other people. Sometimes both. The quality of the dialogue is what determines the moment and is what people leave with in terms of how this is acknowledging, respecting, and propelling my humanity forward without denying reality,” Tandy Jr. said in a phone interview. “With that in mind, when I’m creating, I think about how I can do it in a way that makes people feel moved adjusted, challenged and still grounded… I’m grateful someone is around to be connected to what I’m creating so that I can gauge how close I am to the goal of having a humanistic exchange.”
Tandy went on to describe the moment he heard about what was happening in Parkland.
“My reaction included two parts. The first was the fact that this was not surprising. This is not something new. The other part was feeling a whole lot of compassion and empathy for the people negatively affected,” he said. “My response is to keep creating because that actually represents what I think is the answer to some of the things that are happening in that some of us misunderstand what the seeds of violence are.”
“For me, I would prefer to get to the root of the issue, which is that the there are a lot of ways in which we are violent towards each other and it’s quite passive. We actually cooperate with a lot a systems that perpetuate aggressive mindsets,” he continued. “It makes me look around and ask myself when’s the last time I asked this person how they’re doing and are they okay, and then acted on it… I want to take [my response] so personal that it adjusts the way that I relate to people on a daily basis, where I don’t take for granted a moment to acknowledge someone in some way. And I think that’s art. Art is acknowledging what’s around us.”
“So long as I keep progressing with my art and make it so that it invites me into different dialogues that might help motivate people to value their lives more and regardless of the content that’s in my art, I’m doing what I’m supposed to do as a human being.”
Despite the unconventional connection, Tandy’s work directly addresses the “people kill people” mantra by being bold enough to consider how his unique and specific talents can contribute to what he described as a deepened sense of humanity, a humanity noted by Yatomi that is based on “the compassion to care for life and the courage to challenge disrespect toward life.”
“Violence is a deliberate wish, expressed or unexpressed in word or deed, for the destruction of life; it is a symptom of the weak, passive self that seeks to validate its existence through dominating and destroying other lives or things valued by others. Violent people are weak, for they cannot find the inner strength to overcome their insecurity and aloneness and, therefore, must destroy others so that they can feel empowered… Power derived by subjugating others is not real because it needs others and is dependent on them… Despite their aggressive appearance, violent people are passive at the core of their existence because violence is essentially an escape from an overwhelming sense of inner powerlessness and isolation, from the responsibility and effort required to make personal change.”
Not only is Tandy using his gift as a musician to address these issues, but he also has recently launched a community dialogue series, Talk to Tandy, in which he seeks out members of his community to have a meaningful exchange about issues the community faces.
This doesn’t mean our path forward in addressing gun violence involves singing and dancing. Rather, Tandy’s method of addressing gun violence and all violence involves acknowledging our common humanity, the unique talents we bring to this world, and then using those talents to connect with those we otherwise would not, for the ultimate cause of having basic human decency be the compass that guides us all.
Too often, the gun violence debate routinely degenerates to an “us versus them” debate, in which both sides attempt to force others to bend to their will. As Yatomi points out, the insistence that others bend to our will is just another form of violence and exposes those whose true colors involve weakness and self-centeredness.
We might not be able to buy our way into the hearts and minds of the masses like Charles Koch is attempting through his dubious investments in higher education. However, we can choose to place basic human decency above dogma and muster the courage to take personal responsibility for the positive change our society so desperately needs.
Shara Smith is co-publisher of Grit Post. She focuses on politics, economics, and social justice issues. Follow her on Twitter @writershara.