Cook: A violent man, a coward and fool

Cook: A violent man, a coward and fool

April 1st, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Me. I'm the fool.

It happened last week when Georgia's new gun law hit the headlines. Only needing the governor's signature, it's being called the most pro-gun legislation in America. As custom, I started banging out an early draft of an angry column about the madness of such a law.

• Why allowing the unprecedented spread of guns into our schools, government buildings, churches and bars is like a virus making us sick.

• How the law handcuffs police, who would be forbidden from checking for proof of a conceal carry license without probable cause.

• How felons can kill someone and gain immunity under the Stand Your Ground defense. How a drunk person could, too.

The column was hot and bothered, like I was yelling. That's when it hit me: in writing about guns, I felt like my words had become one.

It was hypocritical, arguing for peace while insulting. Not one mind would be changed, not one heart opened, only more of the same: division, entrenchment, hostility.

So I deleted the column, and started over, with this:

The push for more guns in public spaces is ... admirable.

And brave.

And, to a degree, virtuous.

Over the years, I've spoken with plenty of conceal carry folks, and often heard a similar message: we want to protect ourselves and our loved ones. Then, they present me with a series of midnight hypotheticals: how are you going to respond when someone breaks into your home while your family sleeps? What happens if you break down on a lonely road? Or bad neighborhood? And so on.

That's why we arm ourselves.

It's admirable, such armed courage, such willingness to be proactively protective. Gandhi once said that given a choice between a violent man and a coward, he'd take the violent man every time.

Because they're willing to act. They're willing to defend. They're willing to put their necks on the line. They're quite ready to fight fire with more fire.

In all the gun rhetoric, that quality of bold, decisive action often gets lost.

So does the real condition behind such a public-gun push.

It's fear.

Our growing, gnawing national fear.

It's become the American condition: When we see the world as such a threatening place, then our priorities turn inward. We arm ourselves. We horde. We scapegoat. We watch zombies on TV and await the apocalypse. We trade our faith for a handgun class.

"Disordered and excessive fear has significant moral consequences," writes theologian Scott Bader-Saye. "It fosters a set of shadow virtues, including suspicion, preemption and accumulation, which threaten traditional Christian virtues such as hospitality, peacemaking and generosity."

His book, "Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear," examines the ways that fear alters our spiritual selves.

"When our moral lives are shaped by fear, and safety is worshipped as the highest good, we are tempted to make health and security the primary justifications for right action," writes Bader-Saye, a professor at the University of Scranton.

In a nation of fear, our main desire becomes safety and security, which then trumps other desires -- toward democracy, justice and peace -- sending us jittery and distrusting into a distorted America where we begin to see others around us as threats and potential enemies.

And it is impossible to build neighborhoods, work toward the common good and strengthen our democracy when we're afraid of each other.

That's the real issue. Georgia guns is just a symptom.

Remember what Gandhi said about preferring a violent man to a coward? The violent man is already courageous, and to Gandhi, courage and bravery are most needed in becoming a person of nonviolence. Yet instead of using a gun to defend yourself, you're using another set of spiritual weapons.

To Gandhi, nonviolence was synonymous with fearlessness and true justice, which seeks to keep all people safe.

Here's an idea: if there are a dozen or so gun owners out there interested in talking about this more -- honestly, off-record and face-to-face -- then email or call. I'll share what I know about Gandhi, you share your reasons for carrying a gun.

Fools? Perhaps. But at least we won't be afraid of one another.

Contact David Cook at dcook@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.