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David Cook

Gun control?

This is not about something as narrow or singular as gun control.

Just days before the mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Florida, which killed 17 people, national leaders in Washington passed a budget bill that elevated military and defense spending to unprecedented amounts.

"It's the biggest budget the Pentagon has ever seen: $700 billion," reported the Chicago Tribune. "And next year it would rise to $716 billion."

We cannot discuss school shootings without discussing the larger context of top-down violence in this country. Mass shootings are the fruits of a poisoned tree, emerging out of a policy of national violence, sanctioned and endorsed, both directly and indirectly, by a government that outspends the world in weapons, bombs, and, of course, guns.

In 2016, the U.S. spent $611 billion on military spending, which was one-third of the world's military spending.

"This is nearly three times the level of China's spending," reports the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

That $611 billion was more than the next 13 nations' military spending — from Russia to Saudi Arabia to Israel — combined.

There are spiritual, moral and cultural consequences of such priorities, as they create a trickle-down militarization, thickening a thread that runs like sick arteries from the Department of Defense down to rural, gang, domestic and urban violence across the U.S.

Mass shootings do not occur in a vacuum. Gun violence is and has been an extension of our nation's psyche. It's in the water. It's in the air. It's exalted, funded and celebrated, from Hollywood to Washington to Wall Street.

To talk today of gun control outside of this context is like examining a virus without searching for its host, like studying a stone yet ignoring the mountain behind it.

If we are to challenge our politicians' allegiance to the NRA, then we should also challenge their fidelity to a $700 billion defense budget.

Because it's killing us.

"We must devise a system in which peace is more rewarding than war," proclaimed anthropologist Margaret Mead.

Let me be clear: I am not criticizing armed service, which fosters a selfless devotion to something larger than oneself, teaches heroic discipline and has become our nation's largest initiator of boys into men.

Nor am I criticizing individual soldiers. Or their families.

But there is a stark difference between a healthy warrior culture and a culture that idolizes gun-tank-aircraft carrier-drone-nuclear weapon violence.

In such a culture, we normalize AR-15s and other weapons of war.

We normalize a military that is the largest and most over-funded in human history.

We normalize unending and perpetual warfare.

We normalize a traumatized and haunted generation of veterans.

We normalize mass shootings. ("After Sandy Hook, More Than 400 People Have Been Shot in Over 200 School Shootings," proclaimed the New York Times headline.)

We normalize the idea of teachers carrying guns.

(My God, how absurd. Arm teachers? They're already armed — with the weapons of education, transformation and love. Every teacher in America is on the front lines of the ongoing act of creating a less violent America. What, pray tell, do our leaders think teachers are doing other than creating peace through education? Building more disciplined and wise men and women? Opening the soul and enlightening the mind? Are these not anti-war acts that oppose violence and build peace? Go arm somebody else.)

Yes, we need a comprehensive, wise and urgent response to the ongoing evil that is school and mass shootings.

But we must see clearly in this fog of war.

The solution is not solely about background checks and bump stocks.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prophesied in 1967: "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfree or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.