Glocks, Glatt Mart, Walmart, and Nonviolence

glocks@walmartThis past Thursday night, in need of Whole Wheat flour and sugar to bake challah, I attempted to use voice commands on my iPhone to find out when the local kosher supermarket closed. I said: “Find Glatt Mart.” Siri (the voice of the iPhone) returned a page labelled “Glocks at Walmart.” (see picture)

What is one to do with this information?

(Glocks, according to Wikipedia, is a series of semi-automatic pistols designed and produced by Glock Ges.m.b.H., located in Deutsch-Wagram, Austria.  By way of a rather brilliant marketing strategy (targeting Police Department with discounts, and then using the “cred” of being used by those Police Departments to move into the civilian market) the Glock has become the most popular American hand gun — for police officers, civilians, and criminals. It is easy to learn how to use and easy to fire. Once the guns age a bit, the Police Departments gets new guns and the used guns go on the largely unregulated second hand market.)

We live in a country which is infested with guns and infused with gun culture. There are some three hundred million guns in the United States. There is a small but growing population of Americans who believe that the second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is somehow a Divine indulgence justifying the ownership of powerful machines of death. The second amendment crowd crows about the violence that their machines can produce, the death they can sow, and in the same moment the security that they provide. These folks have taken to marching through the streets of cities armed with weapons that were made for war, that were made to kill, in an attempt to intimidate those who would disagree with the unfettered right to own these death machines. The supposedly rational claim that the second amendment absolutists espouse is that the guns are a bulwark against tyranny. That, if the time and need came, they would use their arms to overthrow an illegitimate government.

Well, it turns out that someone has researched whether armed resistance actually works in overthrowing tyrannies. Guess what? Aside from the fact (or partially because of the fact) that the biggest guns these so-called “patriots” can get their hands on are no match for the weaponry of the duly elected government, non-violent revolutions succeed far more often than violent revolutions. Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan co-authored a book which studied 323 violent and nonviolent conflicts between 1900 and 2006. Prof. Chenoweth, a domestic terrorism expert by training, started out as a sceptic of nonviolent resistance. However, the facts changed her mind. Chenoweth and Stephan found that “nonviolent resistance campaigns were nearly twice as likely to achieve full or partial success as their violent counterparts.” (Why Civil Resistance Works p. 7) This includes the finding that 60% of nonviolent campaigns for regime change succeed while less than 30% of violent campaigns to overthrow regimes succeed.

The rate of success for nonviolent campaigns has actually been rising, while the rate of success for violent campaigns is falling. Finally, states in which a regime has been overthrown by way of a nonviolent campaign have a far greater chance of becoming democracies than states in which regime change came about through violent means. (57% chance for nonviolent campaigns vs. 6% for violent campaigns. Why Civil Resistance Works p. 215)

Chenoweth and Stephan offer many interesting theories for why this is true. I want to suggest a theory which was formulated over a century ago by a Rabbi who had lived through both wars and revolutions.

When a person raises his fist against his fellow, if he was given the ability to see he would see how with this action he carved in the air fists which are already raised against him; if he raises his leg to kick his fellow he has already described in the air legs raised to kick him; if he sent an envious look to his fellow he has already drawn in the air envious looks back at him. If he stood as a lump of clay by the blood of his fellow, already drawn in the air are frozen lumps ready to stand idly by at the time when his own blood is spilled. (Aharon Shmuel Tamares, Mussar HaTorah ve-ha-Yahadut p.39)

Violence begets violence. Nonviolence begets nonviolence. Many wise people have said this for many years. The cost of “winning” a violent campaign is that, at the end of the day, the victory is Pyrrhic. The violence will inevitably bring in its wake more violence.

The claim, then, that at the heart of this gun culture is a desire to defend against tyranny is a dangerous chimera. The violence of guns, gun ownership, and gun culture; the violence of the implicit and explicit threats of parading long guns through public spaces, will only beget violence—it will make no one safer. The road from here to there, if “there” is freedom, safety, and peace does not go through the gun department at Walmart.

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Resources:

Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. Columbia University Press. {http://www.cup.columbia.edu/book/978-0-231-15682-0/}

Erica Chenoweth, “The Dissident’s Toolkit” Foreign Policy {http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/10/24/the_dissidents_toolkit?page=0,0}

Erica Chenoweth, “Why Sit-ins Succeed—or Fail” Foreign Affairs {http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/139638/erica-chenoweth/why-sit-ins-succeed-or-fail}

4 thoughts on “Glocks, Glatt Mart, Walmart, and Nonviolence

  1. I think that if I were to carry a gun to protect myself from criminals or unbalanced people, there would be a possibility that my gun could be wrested from me or, worse, that I might kill an innocent person. I would rather take the chance that I might be killed in a very unlikely event than carry a gun and risk murdering an innocent person. Crazy things do happen in our world, but to live in fear and feel threatened all the time can destroy our ability to see the godliness and good in each other. To lose our humanity in order to preserve our right to kill others when we feel threatened is not the path of a democratic society bound by law and a system to adjudicate wrongdoing. Neither is it God’s path for us in my opinion.

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