My Turn: In my New Hampshire, guns are not ‘essential’

For the Monitor
Published: 4/3/2020 6:45:21 AM
Modified: 4/3/2020 6:45:10 AM

The 50th anniversary of Earth Day arrives on April 22.

The first Earth Day featured the image of the cartoon character, Pogo, observing a forest cluttered with trash with the caption, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

This year, Earth Day will include not only observing the signs of pollution and its causes. This year our consciousness is consumed with the spread of COVID-19.

So, I can imagine friend Pogo reading the March 28 edition of the Monitor, “Stay at home order: What you need to know… What’s still open…Firearms and gun stores have been deemed essential too.” I can see Pogo standing in front of a firearms store watching people exiting with their brand-new guns. The caption still reads, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Gun stores essential? Wait. Wait. Perhaps I can stay at home with my new firearm purchase and defend my family from those tiny COVIDs passing by or trying to enter my house. Good target practice? How absurd!

Okay, so why then are firearms essential at this time? Perhaps we need to take them into grocery stores to defend our scavenged last package of toilet paper from the hordes. Yet, that seems a bit dangerous, particularly if our neighbor is armed and eager to hijack our treasure. How absurd!

But, let me think it over again. Maybe we need a firearm to enforce social distancing. It might be a good companion to go with the medical mask imprinted with the word “Beware” illustrated in a New Yorker cartoon. We may appreciate a little gallows humor, but it’s also absurd.

In the March 30 Monitor I read there has been a report that “residents (of Vinalhaven, Maine) with guns … cut down a tree to block a road and force three people from out of state to quarantine.” Now that may be absurd, but it is also a distressing account of a real event flaunting a flagrant use of guns.

Another reality is research reporting that people isolating in homes where there is an abuser increases danger to victims. Confined abusers are more likely to release their anxiety and anger on others living with them. The abused have less contact with the outside world and fewer ways to call for help or to escape.

Providing access to firearms in this time of a stressful pandemic is dangerous, invites complicity with abusers, sacrifices safety for the abused and is indeed seriously absurd.

Therefore, it is difficult to understand Gov. Chris Sununu’s executive order declaring that firearms and gun stores are essential in some way to keep us healthy. It is particularly confusing in parallel with his statement reported in the Monitor, “If there is one thing that I know remains true, it is that Granite Staters are resilient. We believe strongly in the power of community. And it is in that spirit of New Hampshire that I know we will get through this together.”

His executive order and this statement put together seem to be saying that firearms and gun stores in some way contribute to maintaining health and community! Facing a neighbor with a gun does not seem to be community enhancing.

To the contrary, with no guns in sight, a clerk in my grocery store was pushing a basket full of scarce toilet paper to restock the shelf. On the way, with a conspiratorial grin, he tossed every customer he passed a four-pack of the sought-after commodity, even before being asked.

For a fleeting moment, even six feet apart, there was a connection of caring and understanding. That simple experience is an example of the “spirit of New Hampshire.” Resilience does not require brandishing a firearm.

So, who is the enemy in a pandemic that demands we have access to firearms and gun stores? Unlike Pogo, the world population and our leaders are still debating the identity of the enemy.

President Trump has named China as the inflictor of “the Chinese virus” (COVID-19). Some people see the enemy as outsiders from other countries or those returning from other places. Some people look at their neighbors as carriers of the invisible enemy. Some identify the stumbling state and federal administrations for their lack of preparedness. Some identify the stressed economy as the greatest danger. Many identify fear of the virus itself.

Except for the president’s view, all of these perceptions hold some credence. Indeed, the danger is real, a threat to be overcome. But the way through is not to wave weapons at one another but to recognize when some people suffer from the virus, we all suffer.

The enemy is the fear that drives one to threaten relationships, to extend suffering.

Humans are skilled and creative enough to cope with more than one predicament at a time. Let COVID-19 serve as motivation to also deal with the underlying condition of wounded relationships.

While we are staying at home to help conquer the virus we are free to heal broken relationships with one another. Every day the media enumerates many ways to reach out to each other with concern and support while maintaining physical distancing. None of these suggestions include the necessity of weapons possession.

This Earth Day, when Pogo reminds us, “We have met the enemy and (the enemy) is us,” perhaps we shall be able to answer, yes, it is true. But we are striving to become friends – with ourselves, with our neighbors near and far, and with the global environment to build a healthy, thriving community. No firearms needed!

Now that is “the spirit of New Hampshire” where I make my home.

(The Rev. John Buttrick, United Church of Christ, lives in Concord.)

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