Consider the ongoing debates we have in the United States about gun ownership and use. First and foremost, the ownership and use of guns directly impact our sense of safety. Individual security as well as corporate/community security are at stake when we consider gun ownership and use. We become very anxious when our safety is threatened.
I may have a very different tolerance level for my own security than you do for your own security. What is my tolerance level for my own security? What is my tolerance level for community security? I might be far more willing to risk my own personal safety than the safety of others.
You might have different feelings about your individual safety and corporate safety. Are you more or less willing to risk personal safety? How do you feel about corporate safety? Are you more or less concerned about community safety than individual safety? The emerging differences in tolerance, with associated anxieties, can create significant conflict.
Let’s stay with the same issue of gun ownership and use as we think, secondly, about the importance of identity. The right to keep and bear arms is a part of the Constitution of the United States. The Second Amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” However the Second Amendment is interpreted, its existence makes the right to legally keep and bear arms a touchstone of American identity.
If I grew up in a regional hunting culture, gun ownership is going to be an even deeper part of my identity. On the other hand, if I grew up in a historic pacifist culture, not owning or using guns may be essential to my identity. The Society of Friends, Mennonites, and the Amish are Christian sects with long histories of non-violent resistance and pacifism.
A Raleigh, NC, Mennonite congregation in 2017 hosted an event where blacksmiths refashioned gun barrels in to garden tools. The congregation linked the event with a Sunday morning worship service lamenting those who died due to gun violence.
Identity relates intimately to belonging. In a strong sport hunting culture, shooting one’s first deer is often a right of passage. Hunting deer will be a marker of my belonging to that particular culture.
If gun regulations threaten my sense of belonging, I will become anxious. When I am highly anxious, I am more likely feel strong emotions or opinions. I am probably less able to listen to another person whose sense of belonging is not as threatened. My anxiety about belonging makes it harder for me to speak calmly and even harder for me to listen carefully.
The same anxiety surfaces if the ownership and use of guns threatens my sense of belonging.
The Big Three
I am not advocating for one position or another about gun ownership and use. I am offering a way to frame debates. Debates about gun ownership and use can be ferocious because of The Big Three. Emotions often run very high because issues around guns ownership touch on security, identity, and belonging. When we can hear where a person’s sense of security, identity, and/or belonging are threatened, we understand more about the person and more about the conflict at hand. If an issue touches on ALL of The Big Three, we are in the perfect storm. We might encounter hurricane-type conditions!
Let’s put on our rain gear, lash ourselves to the mast, and face in to the storm, knowing that we serve the Master of the Storm. The disciples woke up Jesus as they were in a violent storm on the Sea of Galilee. The boat was swamping in the waves and they were afraid. Jesus woke up and reprimanded the raging wind and the swelling waves. The wind and waves ceased and there was a calm. Who commands the winds and the water, and they obey him? Jesus is the One who meets all of our needs for security, identity, and belonging. No one can out storm the Master.