Posted by: David M. Hazen | January 25, 2013

Guns don’t kill, people do

When I was much younger, I struggled with rage and thoughts about killing others and myself. I have learned a healthier lifestyle, and am still happily learning. Re-education works, and I want to explore that potential in this post.

The gun rights activists are partially correct when they say, “Guns don’t kill, people do.” It would be more complete to say that people lacking skills in conflict resolution attack other people, oftentimes with guns. One of my friends posted “You don’t wake up at age 24 filled with anger and the desire to kill. So we need to go back and back and back. We need to work on the issues that cause the disfunctional families, and we need to give the tools to cope.” Some people learn how to cooperate with others, some people don’t, and for those who do not, we cannot say they are unteachable. We may be able to say we haven’t found the most efficient teaching method.

As for the people we label “insane,” the loners, the very scary people: I believe they are redeemable, just like teenagers whose brains are deep into a process of re-organizing. Teenagers are exceptionally open to new information if it offers them a way to thrive. There will always be a small percentage of organically damaged people. Conflict resolution skills are not a panacea. Yet, there is a field effect from a shift in the social context in which we live. Many things that we learn as children are nonverbal and absorbed as if by osmosis. There are many variables in our social fabric today which are generating emotionally unstable individuals at an alarming rate. We need to ask where is the greatest leverage point for bringing us as a group back to sanity?

Repression of weaponry will not reduce the dependency on violence to resolve conflict. It will be quicker, more cost-effective and sustainable to provide universal conflict resolution skill support than to orchestrate responsible gun ownership with more laws, rules, and enforcement. Personal education in compassionate understanding the goals of violence, and awareness of alternative strategies for reaching those goals without violence offers a radical shift in our treatment of violence from symptoms to root causes.

It really is “sensitivity training” to know when and why a conflict has arisen or is about to arise, and how to intervene constructively (i.e. with love and compassion) without making the situation worse. There are many anecdotes of people defusing other’s anger, aggression, and even disarming them with simple empathy. Of course, the added secret bonus of learning to defuse conflict with others is that we get to witness and defuse the conflicts within ourselves! How cool is that?

I propose that students at all levels, people incarcerated, as well as every public employee and candidate for office be required to demonstrate their competency in conflict resolution. Just as we require demonstrations of certain qualifications in order to grant degrees, access to employment, and even driver’s licenses, this would be a policy decision, an administrative task. To place it in legislative bodies would be a disaster at this point, I think. The educational resources for that skill could be offered in partnerships with non-profits, churches, and neighborhood associations or the long-delayed legislation to establish a cabinet-level United Stated Department of Peacebuilding (new name). The funding for such a program would probably be a small fraction of all the repressive measures now being proposed. TV stations could be enlisted to air PSA’s and programming that supported conflict resolution skill-building.

Can you imagine how such a program would reduce the use of any weapon — including verbal abuse — to resolve conflict? The benefit-to-cost of implementation would be huge.

 

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