As I look out the window of my home in New York City, the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, the sun is shining. And the birds are chirping. On a typical NYC day, I rarely ever hear the birds over the noise of the city. But now the city is so quiet, and the only other occasional sound is a police or ambulance siren. The ever-present silence is a constant reminder of a new normal, which hangs over everyone like a cloud. This is a new normal that I don’t want to accept even though I know that I must, for the well-being of others and myself — a new normal that brings with it fear and anxiety.
Such fear was a central point of discussion during a recent gun violence webinar that I produced titled “Get Your Guns: Why Americans Buy Firearms in Times of Pandemic.” This was part of the “Standing Our Holy Ground” webinar series for the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. During our webinar conversation, we dissected the reasons Americans are buying guns and ammunitions at nearly unprecedented rates as a response to the current pandemic. What are people trying to solve by purchasing weapons? The answer always came back to fear and a sense of hopelessness. Our insightful panelists, Rev. Laurie Kraus and Rev. Robert Hoggard, named numerous fears including:
- Fear of not having control over our lives and what is happening around us
- Fear of society and civil order breaking down
- Fear of losing rights
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear of the “other”
Rev. Kraus and Rev. Hoggard provided an excellent analysis of these fears and how to respond to them as faithful Christians. I won’t repeat what they said; rather, I encourage everyone to hear it for themselves.
But I do want to pose the question: are these fears really new? Or were they already present even before the COVID-19 pandemic, even if only in our subconscious? The current circumstances have just brought them to the forefront, the same way they have exacerbated and amplified the issues, such as poverty and unemployment, plus lack of opportunity and access to resources, that lead someone to pick up a gun for violent purposes in the first place.
Additionally, will these fears remain even after the current pandemic is over? Does purchasing a firearm ever really make our fears “go away?” When things do slowly return to “normal” as businesses re-open and people are allowed to gather, they still won’t be exactly the same as they were before. People will still be afraid and on edge because of COVID-19 and the social and economic effects it has had on our society.
Furthermore, if we do not address the underlying inequalities and social issues that this pandemic has made even more apparent, the only things that will have changed will be reduced faith in our social systems, heightened fear in our hearts, and more guns in our homes and on our streets. Re-opening our states will only return us to a more fear-ridden, less functional, and perhaps even more dangerous version of the status quo.
But if we work to remedy and fix the root causes of the injustices and social issues that we previously swept under the rug, everyone will have less cause to be fearful. Our society will be better at taking care of the marginalized and vulnerable, and we will be better at taking care of each other and ourselves. In that kind of society, gun owners would likely not find themselves in situations where they would need to use their firearms. And if they did, they would be better equipped physically, mentally, and spiritually, to store and use them safely and responsibly.
We should use the lessons from this pandemic to change our society for the better. But to do this, we cannot be reactive, acting only once we have death numbers to chart, case rates to document, and income gaps to bridge. We cannot keep playing catch-up, trying to flatten the curves of contagion and social inequality. We have to be ahead of them. Fear cannot distract us from solving the root causes of the issues that really matter.
Simon Doong served as a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) in South Korea from 2016-2017 and in New York City (2017-2018). He is currently a Mission Specialist for the Peacemaking Program of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). His primary work includes the webinar series on how faith communities can address gun violence, Standing Our Holy Ground.