Gun violence: an early Quaker insight into keeping weapons

William Heath writes

Last Sunday, no doubt as with many Meetings and other gatherings round the country, Bath Quakers’ Ministry drew on last week’s tragic events at a Florida school.

What business is it of ours? No-one asked Bath Quakers’ opinions or will take any account of them. There’s plenty of suffering elsewhere in the world and indeed on our own doorstep. We have no special insight into the mind of one far-away troubled youth, the mass of US gun-owners, or US policy makers. The British have their own cultural hangups for sure, but they’re different. The bulk of our violence in the last two centuries was overseas; our home territory doesn’t come with a legacy of conflict with Indians or mass slavery.

Like Americans some British hunt, and some also watch violent Hollywood films. We have overlapping religious traditions. But in all this this the differences seem greater than what we have in common, and the resulting gun culture could not be more different. We were broadly fine to see hand guns banned after the Dunblane massacre. It seems to have helped.

Are we just feeling morally superior in peaceful Bath, yet again turning our thoughts towards American gun advocates and victims of gun violence?

I think not. Our Meeting last Sunday directed its compassion to the Florida victims of course, and also to their friends who are not just traumatised but energised, articulate, angry and planning to march in Washington. Also to the perpetrator, reflecting on his life journey up to that dreadful day. And we have to think with sympathy of the huge numbers of Americans who cling to their guns muttering about their cold dead hands.

Where do we find hope faced with this intractable problem? It’s pretty clear there is no public mood for US authorities to take guns away from people now or in the foreseeable future.

Gun lover Scott Pappalardo takes an angle grinder to his beloved assault rifle.

Perhaps there a glimmer of light in this news clip of long-term gun enthusiast Scott Pappalardo, his change of heart, and the start of a #OneLess movement. His stark action echoes the profound insight of one of Quakers’ favourite passages about pacifism and self-defence. It describes an exchange between Quakerism’s founder George Fox and William Penn (who went on to found the “Quaker state” of Pennsylvania). Penn was at that time in the habit of wearing a sword, but he had a change of heart:

Being one day in company with George Fox, he asked his advice concerning it, saying that he might, perhaps, appear singular among Friends, but his sword had once been the means of saving his life without injuring his antagonist, and moreover, that Christ had said, ‘He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.’ George Fox answered, ‘I advise thee to wear it as long as thou canst.’ Not long after this they met again, when William had no sword, and George said to him, ‘William, where is thy sword?’ ‘Oh!’ said he, ‘I have taken thy advice; I wore it as long as I could.’

Building on an earlier fundamental insight about non-violence, this seems a wise and effective way forward. We’re grateful for Scott Pappalardo’s reflection and his action, and we hold our American Friends in the light, especially the young people planning to March for their Lives on 24 March.

Mr Pappalardo’s rifle (image from his social media page)

 

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