Saturday, December 15, 2012

Pandora's box and gun control

In classical Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman on Earth. The gods had endowed her with many gifts, such as beauty and speech. She was also given a beautiful container which she was not to open under any circumstance. Impelled by curiosity, however, she did open it, and all the evil that it contained escaped and spread over the earth.

She hastened to close the container, but the contents had already escaped. Pandora was deeply saddened by what she had done, but Zeus did not punish her, because he knew beforehand that this would happen.

What Pandora did is similar to what Christians call "original sin." That too cannot be undone. And in this case, God did punish Adam and Eve. Moreover, the results of that sin are still with us today, as is evident to everyone, whether or not they read a newspaper or watch TV.

Today, the phrase "to open Pandora's box" means to perform an action that may seem small or innocuous, but that turns out to have severe and far-reaching consequences.

When the Second Amendment to the US Constitution was approved that country opened Pandora's box. The right of people to defend themselves and the state by possessing arms seemed good at the time, but today it has many unfortunate consequences: among other things, it seems impossible today to get rid of the 300 million guns that are currently in circulation in the US.

Effective gun control may possibly be forever beyond the reach of those who advocate it, although I pray that is not the case.

The parents of the twenty children who were brutally murdered in Newtown might wish that Pandora's box could be closed again and they could have their children back, but that will not happen.

Instead of effective gun control, guns are becoming even more prevalent on American streets. In many states of the union people are allowed to carry guns openly. Illinois was recently added to this list.

No doubt, after the Newtown massacre, there will be renewed cries for gun control. President Obama now that he is in his second term has the political freedom to propose such legislation, but whether he will be able to get it through Congress seems very unlikely, if I gauge the current mood of the American people correctly.
This poster only accounts for handgun killings, not all guns; I am not sure of 
 the year it refers to, but that is not as important as the comparison that is made

Personally, I am in favor of eliminating all guns, but that will never happen, at least not in the US. Many other countries, however, have managed to greatly limit the number of guns. In Britain, for example, guns are very difficult to acquire, as is ammunition.

In Canada, guns are easier to get than in Britain, but people may not carry them openly on the street. Some people do have handguns illegally, and killings using guns happen here too, but they are nevertheless a rarity.

I am very disturbed when I see a policeman carrying a gun. I dislike guns very much. I think the private ownership of guns is a tragic mistake, but a majority of Americans think otherwise.

Some of them very strongly support the right to bear arms, and use the Second Amendment as support. The NRA, which promotes this idea, is probably the most powerful lobby in the US.

The NRA is well financed, of course, by gun manufacturers who sell guns with a total disregard for the consequences, just as big tobacco did with cigarettes.

This poster aptly summarizes a current interpretation of this amendment

I share the gloom of Lexington in the Economist, but I do not despair. I suggest that people of faith, and these in the majority in the US, use their influence to change the attitude that is represented by the NRA.

That will not be easy. Some Christians, for example, are members of the NRA or are at least supporters of gun ownership. But that is where pastors and other church leaders can play an important role.

Christian leaders must try to convince gun supporters to put their trust in God, not guns. The motto of the US is "In God we trust," and they must demonstrate that by not carrying guns.

There are legitimate uses for guns, such as for hunting. But handguns and semi-automatic weapons can serve no other purpose than to kill people; there are already too many guns in the US that are not used for hunting.

After every massacre the NRA invokes the same tiresome slogan, "Guns do not kill, people do!" I want to turn this slogan on its head. Since people are the ones who kill others, we should use whatever means we can to keep guns, particularly handguns and semi-automatic weapons, out of the hands of people that may misuse them. Gun control is necessary because of people who kill and maim others.

The killers, in many instances, may be mentally ill, but how do we prevent people like Adam Lanza from perpetrating their evil deeds before the event? We cannot weed out everyone who might possibly become psychotic. We cannot read their minds and anticipate what they will do.

As I am writing this, the police have not yet revealed Lanza's motives, but it probably would have been very difficult to have stopped him ahead of time.

Christians should not be afraid to label such deeds as sins. Mental illness is a serious, although neglected, issue today. Yet even if mental illness is involved, they should not use that label to explain these killings, so that gun control need no longer be an issue. Mental illness is only one factor among many.

Mental illness is certainly not the only reason. Christians can also become mentally ill, but that does not mean that they are not responsible for what they do.

Pandora's box was opened when the Second Amendment was passed. It would be difficult to repeal this Amendment today. The climate in the US is not ripe for that. Even the US Supreme Court now sides with those who own guns. Not even the deaths of twenty children in Newtown is going to change that climate. 

After learning about the Newtown massacre, someone close to me remarked, not entirely facetiously, that if effective gun control is not implemented in the US, she intends to invite Americans who are dismayed by the lack of movement towards gun control in their country to move to Canada. 

I am not naive when it comes to gun control  in Canada. My country is not nirvana. The government recently destroyed the long-gun registry that the police had endorsed enthusiastically. But the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, explained later that semi-automatic weapons would continue to be restricted.

Canada has its own problems with gun control, yet these pale in comparison with those that the US faces. I am concerned with what is happening in the US not only because of this recent massacre but also because my grandchildren live in a neighboring state. I don't want what happened in Newtown to happen to them. 

No one does. But Pandora's box cannot be closed anymore. That, it seems, has made gun control almost impossible. Yet my trust too is in God. I believe that he is ultimately in control, not the gun lobby.

I pray that gun control may become a reality yet in my lifetime and that I may be able to visit the US without worrying about being shot. I also pray that my grandchildren, and everyone else's children and grandchildren living in the US, will be safe whether in school or elsewhere. Amen.

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