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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February 19, 2018

When the Cries Bring About Change

Heather Booth is a professional book editor. On the weekend, she tweeted out a rather remarkable story and I quickly sent the link to several people I know who are connected to major media because I wanted to help “get this story out there.” Then, on Sunday morning it occurred to me that Thinking Out Loud is also media, maybe not major media, but instead of asking others to share this story, I could be part of making it happen.

I have a thing to say about growing up after tragedy. When I was a senior in high school, seven of my classmates were killed and 24 injured. It was an awful day full of fear, confusion, and pain. Press swarmed. News helicopters hovered overhead all day filming footage of the carnage.

Nothing made sense. Over the days and weeks that followed, we went to vigils, wakes, and funerals. We openly wept in the hallways. People who had never spoken before embraced, clinging to each other. We felt broken.

People said the things that are being said now. “I put him on the bus and sent him to school. He was supposed to be safe.” Classrooms were rearranged so the empty desks weren’t a constant reminder.

Time passed. We started living with loss, but we still startled at the noises that reminded us of that day. We were now people that THIS had happened to.

More time passed. I did the memorial layout in the yearbook. By then, our shock and raw pain had changed to anger and questioning. Why did this happen? What went wrong? Whose fault is it? Investigations, we learned, were ongoing.

A federal official said, “The thing that upsets me most–we teach our kids to learn the importance of accountability. In this, there was a failure of accountability by a number of organizations.”

And then, things changed.

29 recommendations were made by the NTSB and implemented from the local to federal level. Because this wasn’t a shooting. It was a train hitting a school bus. One train. One bus. Seven deaths. 24 injured. One year. 29 changes for 16 organizations.

And as kids, here’s what this meant: we saw something awful happen, then we saw adults support us, then we saw them make change happen to keep that awful thing from ever happening again. Now, I’m an adult who grew up having seen adults fix things.

Think about the worldview we create for youth when their awful experiences result in nothing but hand wringing and despair. Thoughts and prayers. When a tragedy hits that’s far more deadly and far less accidental than what Cary-Grove High School experienced in 1995 and nothing changes?

What kind of lifelong scars do we inflict on youth when the adults who are there to protect them don’t force change in the wake of preventable tragedy? What kind of foundation do we lay when their world breaks and no one fixes it?

I don’t care which avenue you pursue to change the scourge of gun violence against youth. There are plenty. Pick one. Do something. Call your reps. Donate. March. Volunteer. Vote. Force the issue. Empower teens. Don’t let them down. Make change happen.


Story reference:

Chicago Tribune: October 30, 1996.

To repeat, “One year. 29 changes for 16 organizations.” Changes were made to ensure that this type of thing would never happen again. Adults responded to protect children. Need we say more?

I am not aware if Heather has a particular faith-connection or if she does not. I felt this was worth sharing today irrespective of our usual considerations.

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