Another mass shooting. Another AR-15 semi-automatic weapon. Another troubled young male. Another tragedy. What now?
The aftermath of the Parkland, Florida tragedy is playing out in similar fashion to mass school shootings of the past, though it seems like this time a heightened wave of energy is propelling those most directly affected by it — students — to take sustained political action. Today is March For Our Lives, the most publicized event of a growing movement of school boycotts organized in effort to demand that Congress take meaningful legislative action on gun control.
I, and I assume most of this readership, agree with what many Americans deem to be "common sense" gun control. That is to say, at a broad level it seems fairly common sense 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 of 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 the associated 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 had 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. I believe this action will most likely 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 can't even comprehend 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.
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 the extremes of any group in the news media when in reality there are lots of good people fighting the good fight — both politicians and everyday citizens alike. And perhaps the growing political movement expressed in today's March For Our Lives event will help to ignite new gun control legislation that enhances public safety while also protecting the freedoms provided by 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. Dharma is a multi-faceted element of yoga philosophy, and various Eastern philosophies, 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. There are enough good people stomping the pavement of this long road already.
While others focus on the portion of the iceberg seen above the water, perhaps it is the dharma of some of us to dive below the surface and work in the deep waters at the portion 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 our true identities that involves moments of realization, struggle, emotional release, joy, certainty, doubt, pain, and clarity. It's a powerful path that can heal wounds which are the source of hate, violence, and despair and can illuminate awareness, faith, self-love, and gratitude — the foundational sources of purpose, fulfillment, and joy.
Smart government regulation of firearms will affect a nation of millions and should 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.
So'ham Hamsah ("I Am That, That I Am"),