The Tenth Greatest Mystery of All Time:  Do Weapons Prevent or Create Violence?

peace textGuns don’t kill people, people do!  Obama wants to take our weapons away so the Communists can take over the country.  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. We have the right to defend ourselves.  What if someone attacked us and we had no means of self-defense?  Ridiculous, you cannot eliminate weapons.  If we did not have guns and missiles, people would kill each other with sticks and stones.  They always have and they always will.  You can’t eliminate violence by taking people’s weapons away!  Or can we?   (Listen to Give Me Love by George Harrison)

“If everyone demanded peace instead of another television set, then there’d be peace.”  ― John Lennon

There are several paths to take that would help us solve this mystery.  We could look at all the time spent in current and previous wars and compare that to periods of time when the earth was relatively peaceful.  We could look at countries where dollars spent on weapons are high and compare war or violence in those countries to their counterparts where dollars spent on weapons on low.  We could look at the per capita number of weapons in various countries and compare that to crime rates.  Unfortunately, each of these we are warapproaches has been tried and they actually prove very little.  For the most part, it would be a toss-up for each approach.  Those in favor of weapons would argue that without them, there would have been even less peace and those against weapons would argue that the weapons caused the wars, violence and crime in the first place.  They might say “Can you imagine ISIS attacking with flowers and cotton balls?”

“Dad, how do soldiers killing each other solve the world’s problems?”  ― Bill WattersonCalvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995

Looking at the role of weapons in violence actually misdirects us from a more important question. The more important question is how effective are weapons at resolving violence?  While it can be conceded that weapons do not create violence, are they the most effective means of dealing with violence?  It has often been said that “war is a continuation of politics by other means.”  It might even be more true to say that war represents a failure of politics and a resort to violence to solve problems.  So who is right?  Were Gandhi and King right or were Generals Sheridan and Patton right?  There has been some research which might cast light on this second question.

non violenceResearchers Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth show that non-violent movements are twice as effective in achieving their political goals as violent movements. For example, in Timor-Leste, where violent revolution failed, non-violent tactics secured independence and the country now earns a peace score of “high” in the GPI. (Timor-Leste scores 1.95; a score of one is perfectly peaceful.) When people choose non-violent movements they may be improving the structures that support peace in the long run even when governments respond violently in the short run.  http://economicsandpeace.org/

Let’s take a hypothetical case.  Paul and Mohammed are arguing over whose religion is best.  Paul is a Christian and Mohammed is a killed manMuslim.  The argument gets more and more heated until Paul slanders the prophet Mohammed and calls him a pedophile.  Mohammed fires back that Jesus Christ was a fake and not the son of God.  Paul is armed with a concealed carry permit and carries a Glock 36 in a concealment crew neck shirt.  Mohammed is carrying a small 6 inch Jambiya in the waistband of his trousers with a special quick draw holster concealed under his shirt.

“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”  ― Albert Einstein

Paul throws the first punch at Mohammed who is knocked to the floor.  Mohammed starts to get up and reaches for his Jambiya.  Paul upon seeing the blade being pulled out of Mohammed’s waistband, draws his Glock.  Mohammed (still feeling the effects of Paul’s punch) lurches forward.  Paul aims and fires three times hitting Mohammed in center mass and right arm.   Mohammed dies almost instantly from a hit to the heart.

anger-cycle-3When the police arrive, Paul is very sorry. He did not mean for this to escalate as it did.  The police charge Paul with manslaughter.  Paul goes to court and is found not guilty.  Paul is then charged in a civil lawsuit with a wrongful death claim and found guilty.  The financial costs of Paul’s argument are well over 100 thousand dollars.  The mental and emotional strain to Paul and his family are incalculable as are the losses to Mohammed’s wife and children.

The strongest defenses to a murder charge are provocation and Self-Defense. If the defendant acted completely in self-defense, this fact may relieve the defendant of all criminal liability. If it does not relieve the defendant of all liability, self-defense at least may reduce the charge from murder to manslaughter. Provocation rarely results in complete absolution, but it may reduce the defendant’s criminal liability.

Now let’s rerun the same scenario with a few minor changes.  Paul is not carrying a gun and Mohammed is not carrying a knife.  The same argument ensues and Paul punches Mohammed.  Mohammed rises shakily from the ground and stumbles to his feet.  Mohammed is too disoriented to counter-attack and has no training in hand to hand combat.  He has no knife to rely on.  Instead, Mohammed asks Paul “Why did you hit me?”  Paul, now on the down stage of the Anger Cycle is feeling remorseful and says “I am really sorry.  I don’t know what got over me.  I did not appreciate your calling Jesus a fake.”  Mohammed says “well, you insulted the Prophet but I did not hit you.”  Both men go their own way vowing never to talk to each other again.  No police have been called and the only physical damage is a sore jaw for Mohammed.

“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”  ― Mahatma Gandhi

Road-RageAt this point, you might be laughing at my scenarios and decrying their likelihood.  However, I have been in many situations where fighting has occurred and the second scenario was the more likely of the two if no weapons were involved.  Put weapons into the mix, add alcohol and I guarantee you will be looking at the first scenario.  Add alcohol san weapons to the second scenario and you will simply have two drunks cursing each other but going home physically sound.

So, what role do weapons have in peace making?  Did the Russians not nuke us because we had a greater nuclear deterrent?  Quite likely this was the case during the Cold War.  However, what if neither side had nuclear weapons, or bombers or aircraft carriers or machine guns or hand grenades or napalm or bio-chemical weapons?  What if diplomacy and persuasion and peaceful non-violent protest were the only weapons to grace each side?  Would the world be more peaceful or simply less violent?  What is the difference you may ask?  A good question.

Peace can be defined:  A state of mutual harmony between people or groups, especially in personal relations.

Non-violence can be defined as:  The policy, practice, or technique of refraining from the use of violence, especially when reacting to or protesting against oppression, injustice, discrimination, or the like.

gun store 047Peace is never likely to exist perpetually.  People, nations, religions, ethnic groups will always have a degree of enmity between them.  Peace will be cyclical as the nature of the world is in most things.  Periods of civility will be interspaced with periods of incivility.  But incivility does not have to turn into violence.  Without weapons of mass destruction, without weapons of mayhem, without weapons of killing, people may be more likely to find non-aggressive means of settling disputes. The disputes will most certainly arise but a focus on peace as opposed to aggression can mean that we minimize violence and decrease the amount of murder and wars that our societies have seen since the first cave-people.  We must substitute non-violence for violence and teach peace and not war.

Time for Questions:

Do you feel peace in your life?  Are you confident in walking the streets at night?  Do you worry about road rage?  Do you carry a concealed weapon?  If so, does it make you safer?  What would it take to make you feel like the world is a safe place?  Do the Army, Navy, Air force and Marines help you to feel safe at night?

Life is just beginning.

“The artist is always beginning.  Any work of art which is not a beginning, an invention, a discovery is of little worth.”  ― Ezra Pound

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