Cook: Aware, awake and armed

Cook: Aware, awake and armed

June 25th, 2014 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Earlier this month, Mayor Andy Berke proclaimed June 2014 as Gun Violence Awareness Month. As far as proclamations go, this one's a jewel.

Whereas violence continues to be a devastating crisis throughout the nation ...

Whereas the damage caused by violence is not limited to gender, race, sexual orientation or ethnicity ...

Whereas it is imperative that there be a greater public awareness of this serious issue ...

Whereas increased awareness and coordination among all stakeholders is critical to the prevent of violence, including gun violence ...

Whereas our Violence Reduction Initiative has been established ... to reduce violence and decrease shootings, ensuring our streets are safe for all Chattanoogans.

It all started with an email from New York.

"My name is Sarah Paden," the email began. "And I am reaching out to ask for Mayor Berke's support of the June Gun Violence Awareness Month Initiative."

Paden is a Baylor School grad -- you may know her dad, Carter -- who works with a firm in New York City that prompted the New York General Assembly to pass a Gun Violence Awareness Month resolution last year. The vote was unanimous, and major cities across the state then signed on for similar resolutions.

So Paden looked homeward.

She emailed city halls across Tennessee, yet Berke's proclamation made Chattanooga the first city in Tennessee -- and possibly outside of New York -- to pass a Gun Violence Awareness Month proclamation, Paden said.

"We're not saying guns are bad and we're not saying to take away your guns," Paden said. "We're saying: we have a problem in our community and we need to talk about this."

Her vision: to promote national and local dialogue about gun violence through everything from town halls and Sunday sermons to NFL players wearing orange on Sunday, just as they wear pink to promote breast cancer awareness.

• Since Berke made his proclamation on June 5, at least six people in Chattanooga have been shot by guns. Five of them were shot in the last six days.

• Since Sandy Hook, there have been 15 school shootings of a similar nature. (So numb to the headlines, I couldn't remember five of them.)

"That works out to about one such shooting every five weeks," CNN reported.

• Last year, the FBI named Tennessee as the most violent state in the nation due to our rates of murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

Yet perhaps instead of talking about guns, or violence, we could focus on the other word in the proclamation.

Awareness.

The theologian Walter Burghardt once described contemplation as "a long loving look at the real." In order to understand gun violence, we need a long, hard and loving contemplative look at ourselves.

"War and peace begin in the heart of individuals," Pema Chodron writes.

To reduce gun violence, we must reduce the violence within ourselves. Yes, we must work to find common ground on good legislation -- like universal background checks, a policy supported by incredibly large numbers of Americans.

Yet equally as important are the ways we view others around us. The words we use. The images we see and promote. The ways we support the systems and cultures -- both rural and urban, both Republican and Democrat, both rich and poor -- that lead to violence.

As the old prayer goes, we must become aware of the things done and things left undone.

(A tiny example: I've heard the city inspector involved in the doughnut mural mess has gotten death threats and been called a Nazi and other expletives. If my columns played any role in encouraging that, please forgive me. I meant to argue, but never humiliate, insult or encourage such.)

Three questions can help lead to awareness.

How do I harm others?

How do I heal others?

What am I afraid of?

All conversations about guns are wrapped up in these larger questions, and any movement toward awareness must involve a long and loving attempt at answering them.

If any readers are interested in exploring these questions further, please send me an email.

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