counting sheep: one more thought about guns, fear and becoming a sheep

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Friday, July 16th, 2010

counting sheep: one more thought about guns, fear and becoming a sheep

ok, ok, i know: enough with the sheep, ryan. yes, there’s only so much ryan-poo-poos-on-guns talk one can take. i get it. i swear. one last post. 😉

in the aftermath of my previous posts about guns and the culture of fear, i got quite a bit of feedback. it varied from people retweeting the link to posting it on facebook all the way to people sending me rambling, scrolling emails telling me i suck at life (not really…but sorta…) and a couple people bravely posting actual comments on the blog. what i was most struck by were the couple people who said something like the following: “if you had ever been affected by violence you would think differently” or “just wait ’til you get a gun pulled on you and i think you’ll change your mind.”

well, i have.

and i thought i’d share about my experiences.

i’ve had two experiences in which death was genuinely a likely possibility, had the events turned even a slight bit more tense or rash. i’m not saying this in some kind of reality-show-melodramatic kind of way. i mean i legitimately faced the possibility that if the series of events kept escalating, death was a realistic outcome.

several years ago, i was in downtown little rock—literally within a block of my office and a 4-minute drive from my home—working at a conference. at lunchtime, i walked to my car, which was parallel-parked on main street down from bennett’s military surplus store. as i approached my vehicle, a man stepped in front of me asking for money. my general policy is that i don’t give money to people on the street, but rather, offer to buy them something to eat or drink. so, i offered. the guy, of course, declined and insisted that i just needed to give him cash.

as i began to refuse, his tone became more and more aggravated. as i felt the situation begin to get heated, i tried to step away towards my vehicle. as i moved, he suddenly pulled back his large trench coat to reveal a handgun in his pant waist. he placed his hand on it, cocked it and leaned in toward my face, telling me that he knows how to use it and that i should do what he says. i had little choice. i pulled out the lone $10 bill in my pocket and handed it to him. (yes, this was over $10…)

he uncocked the gun, stepped out of the way and i proceeded to my vehicle. rattled, i drove away.

fast forward a year or so and i was riding in the vehicle with a friend down arch street just off baseline. as we pulled into a gas station, a vehicle screeched to a halt directly behind and perpendicular to our vehicle. a very large guy jumped out and approached my now-open passenger side door, leaned in and began shouting at me wanting to know what gang i belonged to. confused, i told him i didn’t know what he was talking about. before i could finish telling him this, he reared back and began throwing punches as hard as he could.

as i was able to compose myself and fend off his blows, he and his partner (who was doing the same to my friend on the driver’s side) ran back to their vehicle, jumped in and peeled out as they sped away. stunned and disoriented, we took in the realization that it’s most likely that these two guys—beyond the violence we experienced—were carrying guns and the situation could have turned deadly had we shown any level of retaliation.

quite frankly, both of these things were terrifying encounters.

quite frankly, it would have been convenient to have a weapon.

and quite frankly, i felt very vulnerable and unprotected in those scenarios.

so yes, i have experienced the reality of gun violence. certainly it could have been worse, but with equal certainty, these are two events that would have prompted many—if not most or all—concealed gun carriers to use their weapon.

so why, after experiencing these two things, would i be so adamantly opposed to gun carrying and gun usage?

rather than in spite of these events, it is largely because of these events that i feel this way.

what would a gun have done? it could have put an end to the confrontation by simply scaring them off. or, i could have just shot them and ended it. i could have responded to violence with violence. fought fire with fire.

or, i could have only provoked the aggressors, leading to my death or increased injury instead of theirs.

but my fundamental issue, as expressed in the previous posts, is that none of the options that include using a weapon look like jesus. they don’t mesh with jesus. they don’t reflect jesus. they aren’t like jesus.

moreover, in retrospect, i no longer see my attackers as violent, evil enemies. at the time, they certainly, most definitely looked like that. but when i think about it now (and afterwards in times of reflection), it seems different. why do people act like that toward other people? is it because they’re fundamentally flawed or broken? is it because they’re animals, only able to engage society in ways that are hurtful? is it because they only prefer violence to civility and peaceful exchange?

or could it be something else? might they engage in violence toward others, strike fear in others, because—to borrow a cliché—misery loves company? is it because fear breeds fear? because fear breeds violence? it is because when people are surrounded by violence and fear-based ways of living, they respond in like ways?

my experiences were frightening and degrading and haunting and unwarranted and cruel. if i carried a gun, i could have returned the fear and the degradation and the nightmare and the unwarranted cruelty.

or i could be a sheep instead of a sheepdog.

quite frankly, though, why would i have been a sheepdog in that situation rather than a wolf? when one engages in acts of violence and aggression, there’s certainly a fine line between the sheepdog and the wolf. who is the decider?

so, i choose to live as a sheep.

maybe i’m naive. maybe i’m blind to a frightening reality. maybe i live in a utopian view of the world around me.

if these things are true, it certainly isn’t because i haven’t been offered the opportunity to respond to violence with violence.

sheep—like the “sheepdog philosophy” suggests—aren’t oblivious to the realities of the world around them. rather, sheep choose to walk in the way of peace and in the footsteps of the shepherd.

so, these are my final words about being sheep—i swear. 🙂 as i conclude, take a minute to consider what it might look like to live in a world of radical sheepness. where we willfully lay down our rational responses in exchange for following the good shepherd. that’s a world i’m much more interested in than the one we have now.