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Ending Gun Violence

In my field of Peace and Conflict Transformation, we analyze the outbreak of destructive conflict as requiring three levels of causation. If any of the three are missing, the conflict will not turn destructive.

First, there are a few necessary conditions without which a conflict cannot become destructive. These necessary conditions are primarily that the means to destroy are available and that a conflict party is willing and able to employ them.

Second, that the mix and intensity of contributory causes is growing toward the third level of causation.

Third, that the mix and intensity of those contributory causes, coupled with the necessary causes, reaches sufficiency, at which point the conflict becomes destructive. Once that tipping point is reached the primary question is how destructive the conflict will become.

A destructive conflict could be a war, could be lawsuit, could be a disagreement over a barking dog (actually the most common conflict in the US community mediation services) that turns violent or generally lose-lose. Increasingly, for example, the competition for electoral office has generally transmogrified (the opposite of transformation) from competition to destructive conflict. Results include massive disgust, disapproval, and disrespect for members of Congress, many of whom got there and stay there using negative attack strategies. Yes, they destroy their political opponents, but they also dissolve the admiration that polls suggest Americans once had for elected officials—back when politics more resembled a tennis match, not the current affinity for no-holds-barred Ultimate Fighting.

Knowing all this, what can we imagine would be important to ending gun violence in our increasingly Tombstone Territory USA, where cars are getting safer and guns are getting more lethal? I’d offer four starter steps toward addressing a combination of necessary and contributory causes.

1. Repeal the Second Amendment. It undergirds every rotten Supreme Court ruling that deprives states and local governments of their jurisdictional rights to regulate firearms as they see fit. While the Founders did not contemplate the Second Amendment as an anti-democracy measure, it is. Without it, guns can be regulated or not, left entirely alone or completely banned and everything in-between. The stupid Second Amendment is a guarantor of more Dylann Roof acts of terror, more Jared Loughner slaughters of innocents, more James Holmes delusional mass murders, more Seung Hui-Cho insane massacres.

2. Closeout US operations and leave Camp Lemonier, Djibouti, just one of many forward Pentagon bases we do not need. The US has needs at home, and should stop sending troops and guns to Africa. It would save almost $60 million just in one recent contract and untold millions more over the next few years. Use that money to fund auxiliary education in nonviolent conflict management methods for US schoolchildren and de-escalation training for school security personnel.

3. For states that want to radically reduce gun violence, institute much more effective background evaluations that would keep guns out of the hands of those who have websites or any other activities or histories advocating race war or any other violent abomination. Can we use a bit of common sense here?

4. Invest in dialog. Explore grievances. Invite open public hearings so people feel heard, not shut down and shut out. Yes, have ground rules. Establish social norms that preclude identity attack and focus on the impacts of our behavior toward one another instead. We need to learn to listen to each other. People need to begin to feel like society is fair, or at least that it listens when people say it is unfair. If you feel that I am unwilling to hear your words, you may consider fists, and if your fists aren’t able to force me to hear you, a gun may be next. Let’s walk it back to words, said and heard.

Will these four steps end all gun violence and save all 32,000 lives we are likely to lose to guns next year, a gun fatality rate 20 times worse than any other developed country? No, but what if we did these things and “only” saved 3,489 lives in America next year? That would be the same number as all US military and military contractor lives lost in Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. In other words, we are waging a war in the US against ourselves every year that is almost equal to an entire 14-year war overseas. Time to take these four steps and many more to bring some semblance of sanity to our country.

Tom H. Hastings is Founding Director of PeaceVoice

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Tom H. Hastings is core faculty in the Conflict Resolution Department at Portland State University and founding director of PeaceVoice

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