Thinking Out Loud

February 26, 2018

Guns: The Road to Beating Swords into Plowshares

Today we move away from our usual faith-focused writing to something being discussed in the broader culture which, especially if you follow my Twitter feed, is a topic that’s been inescapable, even when writing one country away. That’s not to say that social justice issues should not be front-and-center for the Christ follower…

Another way is possible. I firmly believe that. But I will be accused of not being entirely realistic. Right now, the choke-hold the NRA has on the American public seems unchangeable. I’d like to give you some hope with two examples. You don’t have to buy in on both of them, just pick the one you like the best.


The Bell Telephone Breakup of 1984

In short, the U.S. government broke up a very, very large corporation because it was deemed in the public interest to do so.

At the time of the Bell system breakup in 1984, the monopoly advantages enjoyed by the company (which were wrongly attributed to the free market, not government favoritism) had created an economic behemoth with $150 billion in assets, $70 billion in revenues, and a million employees. The Justice Department had determined that the company had grown too big, however, and filed suit under the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1974. The case, United States v. AT&T, was settled by a consent decree in January 1982, under which the company agreed to give up its 22 local exchange service companies, but keep its interests in Bell Labs and Western Electric. The 22 companies were divided into seven independent Regional Bell Operating Companies, RBOCs, or “Baby Bells.” AT&T continued to operate its long-distance services.

…But the competition that AT&T had been successfully avoiding for so many years very quickly took its toll on a company not used to competition. AT&T’s Computer Systems venture failed; its purchase of NCR was a notable failure as well; and Bell Labs and Western Electric were sold to Lucent. The Western Electric manufacturing plant was eventually closed in the face of foreign competition. AT&T wound up being purchased by one of the RBOCs, Southwestern Bell, now SBC Communications, in 2005.

In the midst of “Ma Bell’s” troubles came the Telecommunications Act (TCA) of 1996, which was designed to open up the long-distance telephone service markets that had been closed to competitors since the consent decree. The act also forced incumbents to allow newcomers to enter their markets by giving them access to their own infrastructure, which was meant to allow competition. But the TCA didn’t lead to multiple companies working to improve existing long-distance service. What the TCA did, instead, was allow the free market to provide lower rates and better service to customers while resulting in the consolidation of the seven Baby Bells to the point now where there are essentially only two competing companies providing traditional hard-wire, plain old telephone service (POTS): AT&T and Verizon.

-Bob Adelmann writing in The New American, May, 2010

It’s worth adding that this was a business, whereas the NRA is a non-profit. Despite its status, the government stepped in to undo the monopoly market.


The Abolition of Slavery

13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery:
Passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th amendment abolished slavery in the United States and provides that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”.

-from archives.gov

Let’s not miss that this radical change in the social order involved a change to the — now treated as sacrosanct; untouchable — Constitution of the United States.

There’s another parallel as well; a National Geographic page on the history of Slavery invites readers to:

Browse through a timeline of America’s ‘peculiar institution’

in other words, while slavery existed and continues to persist in other parts of the world, the situation was unique to the United States and was eventually deemed untenable.

Sound familiar? 

Wikipedia adds another parallel:

Since the American Revolution, states had divided into states that allowed and states that prohibited slavery. 

in other words, like the situation today, much was state regulated but was overturned by a federal act.

See the similarities?


I know statistically that in this blog’s dominantly U.S. readership there are people who are opposed to gun reform and people who don’t see what’s wrong with the status quo. I really despair being drawn into the vortex of this discussion.

But for those who long for a different day — long for the realization of the dream of ‘beating swords into plowshares*– I wanted to provide some hope.


*Found in two passages:

The LORD will mediate between nations and will settle international disputes. They will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore.
-Isaiah 2:4 (NLT)

He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
-Micah 4:3 (NIV)

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October 3, 2017

Now: Las Vegas; Tomorrow: Anytown

Exactly two years ago we said to ourselves, ‘Surely this will be the last mass shooting.’

I had a couple of different directions I was heading for today’s blog post, but I feel as if not devoting some space here to the events of the last 48 hours in Las Vegas is somehow dismissive or insensitive.

I’m not sure that every person with a WordPress, Twitter or Facebook account weighing in on this is any way helpful, but I find this morning I cannot do otherwise.

I’ve already voiced my opinions here and here about the perplexing situation of viewing America’s “right to bear arms” from a distance; from one country removed. And I’ve tried to choose some of the better comments of the last 24 hours to post on my Twitter account. (Sign up not needed to view.)

I think back to the photograph above, and how we all thought, surely this will bring about change. The optimist in me still wants to believe this, but the forces for gun rights (groups like the NRA and others) are the U.S. is simply too powerful and too influential for change to happen. So the pessimist in me becomes the dominant voice: ‘They can’t change. They won’t change.’

Honestly, from a distance I think we who live elsewhere simply sit back and wait for the United States to implode. This can’t go on. It can’t continue.

To victims and families: I share your ache this day. I am so sorry for both losses and life-altering injuries. So sorry for all who witnessed this firsthand and will live with the PTSD of that forever.

To the rest of my American readers I can only say, Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy upon us.


“They will beat their swords into plowshares…”

May 27, 2014

When Will The Gun Violence End?

Last night I went to bed and this morning I woke up with a sound clip from the evening news playing in my head. It was the father of one of the victims of the recent gun violence in California. “Did we learn nothing from Sandy Hook?” he asked.

The question is rhetorical, and the answer is that to truly learn something is to put it into practice. I personally do not believe that the framers of the U.S. Constitution had anything like the domestic gun violence that now seems to occupy a weekly place on the news in mind when they wrote that citizens had the right to take up arms.

The problem is that changing the culture, and making the legislative changes necessary that father would like to see are both big tasks. It’s hard to change course when piloting a large ship. It would also require major capitulation on the part of both the gun lobbyists and the senators and members of congress they own.

This morning it occurred to me that change on this level will truly only happen at the second coming of Christ. Yes, I know. Not the kind of thing you’re accustomed to reading here, but radical change will only happen in the face of radical events; and gun violence in the United States is no longer the exception, it’s now the norm.

But a day will come when “they will beat their swords into plowshares.” That day will come eventually.

In the meantime, I believe individuals can still make a difference, and it’s not wrong to push for gun law reform.  The day after Sandy Hook, I wrote this.

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