I grew up with guns. My grandpa had rifles and shotguns hanging on the walls. They were propped on ten penny nails driven just far enough into the paneling to support the weapon, and keep it out of the reach of a small child. Every year rural schools actually let the boys off a day for deer season. They were likely to skip school to go hunting anyway. In the late 1960’s the girls protested that they got no day off. So the schools gave the girls a day closer to Christmas as a shopping day. It didn’t occur to school officials, in those sexist times, that some of the girls might also like to hunt. Guns and hunting were so much a part of the culture that every boy begged for his first rifle long before the age of ten.
I was twelve or thirteen when I got a single shot, twenty-two caliber rifle for my birthday. I was as proud as any boy to have it. At first I did target practice shooting at tin cans propped on a fence post. Eventually, I took to shooting bull frogs around the edge of the ponds. I would bring them home, and Grandma would fry frog’s legs for dinner. One day I was hunting frogs near one of our muddy ponds when I heard a bird singing beautifully nearby. I stopped, searched the tree line, and finally spotted it on an oak limb hanging near the pond. A bright red cardinal was happily singing, bouncing around on that limb, either trying to attract a mate or bragging that he had found one. I watched the bird for a minute and then, a thought ran across my mind, “I wonder if I can hit it.”
Carefully, I took aim at the bird, with the wooden stock of the rifle sitting smoothly across the palm of one hand. The finger of my other hand caressed the trigger in anticipation. I found the bird firmly in my sites, and gingerly squeezed that trigger. The beautiful singing immediately stopped. The bird fell with a thud onto the shaded gravel beneath the tree, and my heart broke. A swell of guilt came over me, and flowed out my eyes as grieving realization hit me. The bird’s singing was forever gone. I went back to the house, hung my rifle on the wall and never fired it again.
I didn’t join the military when I turned eighteen, although I had cousins who did, and my father, a Marine, had been a Japanese prisoner of war in World War II. Neither did I get drafted, but they probably would not have taken me anyway since I had visual problems from birth that do not allow me to see in three dimensions. Nonetheless, it was during the final days of the Vietnam War, and I had grown up with a terror of being drafted and sent to die in southeast Asian jungles. I went to college instead.
I know there are times when it becomes necessary to kill another human being, such as someone sent to war, and placed into a kill or be killed situation. Whether they go by choice or the order of government, it becomes a probability they may have to kill in order to come home. When someone is attacked by someone whose intent is to kill them, it may become necessary to kill in order to survive. When one witnesses an attempt to kill another person, it may become necessary to kill in order to protect the innocent. However, it broke my heart at thirteen years old to kill a bird. I have no idea how I would feel, or what I would do, if I was ever forced into a situation where I had to kill another human being. I’m sure I would defend my life if necessary, but I pray that is a choice I never have to make.
That being said, I also understand [see “Hate (My Story)] what it is like to have enough anger and rage to feel murderous. Unfortunately, too many people in our society struggle with that kind of anger. Whether the anger is fueled by abuse, a struggle within themselves, or feelings of gross injustice. It would appear inherent in human beings that we contemplate the elimination of others as the answer to our woes.
It is a significant illusion to believe that we can eliminate an internal struggle by destroying something outside of us. The name given to the struggle is irrelevant. Whether someone is struggling with sexuality versus religion, sin versus religion, religion versus religion, ideology versus ideology, racism, jealousy or simple fear and shame, none of it can be resolved by murder. It is the assassin’s illusion. It was the illusion of James Earl Ray that he could silence the message of Dr. Martin Luther King by killing him. Yet the message of Dr. King not only survived that brutal attack, it is stronger and more poignant now than it ever was. There are few cities of any size that do not have a street named after Dr. King. His message of peace and justice for all resonates through every oppressed community, not just the black community. You cannot kill truth, and you cannot kill justice. Yet, to this day, some people try.
Regardless of speculation as to motive, the only person who really knows why Omar Mir Seddique Mateen walked into the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, and opened fire is Omar Mir Seddique Mateen himself. Ultimately, his motives are irrelevant. He was suffering the assassin’s illusion. Whether he was struggling with his own sexuality, religious belief or both is irrelevant. He somehow believed that killing people could eliminate some perception of evil. Regardless of influences he may have had from birth to the day he died in his own atrocity, he alone is responsible for his own perceptions and his own beliefs. The only choice any person can control is their own.
You see, beliefs are chosen. They are not inherent. We are not born with what we believe. We develop it. We may have been taught what to believe from the time we were able to think, but there are those who go against their upbringing, and change their beliefs. Sometimes we develop beliefs out of our own experience. We draw conclusions from our experiences, make decisions based on those conclusions, and then firm up our belief based on those decisions. We develop beliefs about everything including religion, sexuality, marriage, race, money, life, love, our worth within society, our rights and more. All our beliefs are erroneous. We may convince ourselves that they are true, but belief is a perception about something. It is not something itself. We may have a belief about truth, but belief cannot be true, for truth is that which is irrefutable. It cannot be argued. Since all belief can be argued, no belief can be truth. All conflict comes out of belief, whether it is a child whining because he believes he got the smallest cookie or a government sending its citizens into war over differing ideologies.
It was belief that killed all those people in the Pulse Nightclub. It was belief that killed the children at Sandy Hook. It was belief that killed every human in every murder ever. It was belief that killed every soldier in every war that was ever fought. Sometimes beliefs are personal. Sometimes we share them as a group. However, nothing changes the fact that conflict arises over what we believe, not what we know to be true. Some might have believed gay people deserved to be killed in that nightclub. Thankfully, belief in the value of life appears to be gaining some popularity. What so many people have not yet come to understand is that we don’t need to kill each other over what we believe. We only need to spend time with each other and offer logical reasons for our beliefs. If the other accepts what we believe or does not accept what we believe, killing them does not change what they believe. It only stops them from thinking. Perhaps the most insane of all beliefs is that truth and justice can be silenced by killing. It never has been. It never will be. It is the assassin’s illusion to believe that love and truth can be killed.
That being said, why do we make it so easy for them? How is it that anyone who is not strictly vetted is able to walk into a gun store and buy anything remotely like an assault rifle. The one and only purpose of an assault weapon is to slaughter human beings. The object itself was created out of a belief that life deserves no honor or respect. It was created out of the belief that the possessor of the object is allowed to play God and determine who will live, and who will die. The purpose of an assault weapon is in the name itself—Assault. The purpose is to kill as many as possible as quickly as possible. The purpose is murder. It is not a self-defense weapon. It is not a hunting weapon. It isn’t even a target practice weapon. It is a weapon that allows criminals to do things like what Omar Mir Seddique Mateen did to the people in Pulse. When will we say, “Enough is enough.”
I am not against guns. I’m against murder. I am against the belief that anyone has the right to defend their belief by killing others. I am against the belief that anyone should have even a moderately easy access to weapons designed to do what Omar Mir Seddique Mateen did in Pulse. Maybe, just maybe, if it is not so easy for those who harbor insane beliefs to access means by which they might act on those insane beliefs, they could have enough time, and opportunity to consider that there is another way of looking at it. All we need to do in order to find truth is to suspend our belief long enough to consider that there is another way of looking at it.
The most insane of all beliefs is that you can kill truth by killing those who speak it, and live it. Truth does not determine that anyone should die because of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, culture, appearance or belief itself. Truth knows better. Truth knows that any attempt to impose your belief on another is like trying to hold beach balls under the water. It never has worked for long. It never will. The right to freedom cannot be suppressed. Love cannot be killed. Truth cannot be killed. Countless saints, sages and philosophers have proven this over and over. It is the assassin’s illusion to think that popping a balloon will destroy the air within it. Yet they seem to persist, and do not recognize that a terrorist attack is like a wasp sting. Although it may be very painful, it does not kill the host. It only makes the host more determined to find the nest and destroy it. So long as belief in an eye for an eye exists, this will seem to be human nature.
Yet, I hope for a day when we all will realize how truly precious and beautiful every person is. I hope for a day when all people respect themselves and others equally. I hope for a day when everyone realizes that no belief is worth killing for, and all belief, ultimately is only illusion. Until that day comes, I comfort myself with the words of Mathatma Gandhi who was himself killed by an assassin’s bullet.
“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it—always.”