Another mass shooting. Another AR-15 semi-automatic weapon. Another troubled young male. Another tragedy. What now?
The aftermath of this tragedy is playing out in similar fashion to those of the past, though it seems like a heightened wave of energy is propelling those most directly affected by it - students - to take political action this time. I have seen numerous posts about upcoming student boycotts from schools until congress takes legislative action. This seems like a powerful idea that might be able to gain some traction in advancing what many of us believe to be “common sense” gun control.
Of course I, and I assume most of this readership, agree with such gun control. Without having detailed knowledge of firearms and the laws regulating them, at the broadest level I think it’s fairly obvious that the presence of semi-automatic rifles like the ones used in the recent mass school shootings is a massive public safety issue. The banning of any item always involves a slippery slope and the trade-offs between the benefits of the ban and corresponding restrictions on freedom should always be carefully assessed. But a quick glance of items that are currently banned in the name of public safety illuminates the utter ridiculousness of the allowance of high-powered firearms. One quick example is unpasteurized cheese. This is illegal in the US. Semi-automatic rifles are not.
One challenge in politics is that it is often rooted in the intellect. In school many of us learned how to write an argument both “for” and “against” the same issue. Our critical thinking capabilities enable us to do so. Good arguments are logical, and we can usually find enough data and evidence to craft a logical argument in whichever way we see fit. This is why politicians can argue until no end, because both sides can be right in their own logical arguments. Politicians are humans. And once humans stake their ground on one side of an argument - or in a broader sense, commit to a set of values and beliefs that create an identity - changing those beliefs is hard because change generates feelings of loss. Coping with loss, and pain, is a skill. And not one of the intellect. It is the emotional mind-body which must learn to cope with such sensations.
Yes, I believe semi-automatic rifles should be banned. But gun control is merely the tip of the iceberg of mass shootings - what lies below the surface is much more influential. Along with the AR-15 firearm, the common thread in the mass school shootings over the last few years has been the identity of the perpetrator: an emotionally disturbed male who has been hurt deeply in some way. The psyche of the perpetrator is the root of the problem, the gun is the branch which inflicts physical pain to others. Problems are ultimately solved by healing their roots, not by cutting off their branches.
Again, I 100% agree semi-automatic and any other type of military weapon available to the citizenry should be banned. This action will undoubtedly save lives, but unfortunately it will not end mass killings. For if an emotionally disturbed person wants to kill, he or she will. In the absence of guns, there will be bombs. In the absence of bombs, there will be chemical agents. In the absence of chemical agents, there will be some new way to kill with Artificial Intelligence that we don’t even know about yet. Ultimately it is not with the absence of existing tools that violence ceases, but only in the absence of emotionally pained people - mostly men - where we will find peace. Yes, guns make it easier to kill people. But ultimately it is suffering people that kill people.
Meaningful legislative reform is a process that takes hard work and time, no matter how common sense we may think the legislation to be. It’s easy to lambast politicians as many of them truly fit the stereotype of shifty, dishonest, power-seekers. But we typically only see extremes of any group in the news media when in reality there are lots of good people fighting the good fight - both politicians and average citizens. And perhaps these upcoming school boycotts will ignite some legislative action and the majority of Americans that agree on common sense gun control will triumph over the powerful minority that is seemingly unwilling to make any compromises on their interpretations of freedom and the second amendment. I hope this is the case.
But while governments can legislate guns, they can’t heal suffering humans. Just like the arduous process of political change, so too is the healing of emotionally hurting men a difficult process which takes hard work and time. Shedding the shame and guilt that builds up in the psyche of men due to the repression of emotions is difficult. Yes, men have had privileges relative to women over the course of history. But if there’s one aspect of life which is arguably more difficult for men than women it is the ability to experience, process, and express the emotions of existence.
We all have our battles to fight - which is to say we all have our dharma. This is a multi-faceted element of yoga philosophy which refers to both the “universal laws of truth and duty which uphold the cosmic universe” and on an individual level, the “true nature”, “essence”, “purpose” or “duty” of each item of existence. Walking the path of school boycotts, political lobbying, and policy development is not my dharma. Or at least not right now. Again, there are enough good people stomping the pavement of this long road already.
While others chip away at the tip of the iceberg, perhaps it is the dharma of some of us to dive below the surface and work in the deep waters at the portion of the iceberg unseen to the masses. The root of this solution is love, and the tool is yoga.. Yoga is a path to understanding dharma and the Atman, or the supreme soul. The path is unique to each and every one of us, just like our individual dharma, but contains universal realizations for all - just like the Atman is the universal constant within all of us. The yogic path is a journey of ever increasing awareness of Self that involves moments of realization, emotional release, joy, certainty, doubt, pain, struggle, and clarity. It can heal wounds which are the source of hate, violence, and despair and helps illuminate awareness, faith, self-love, and gratitude - the foundational sources of purpose, fulfillment, and joy.
Government regulation of firearms will affect a nation of millions and will undoubtedly save lives. Yoga touches one life at a time. But perhaps that one life is the next person harboring so much hurt that they will find a way to commit evil with whatever tools this crazy world makes available. And in that sense, yoga is a life saver too.