I used to hunt people.
They were violent men who were trying to kill other people. Sometimes it was the innocent they were after. Other times it was the less innocent—my friends and teammates.
My job was to find them and stop them. And to aid others in killing them if necessary.
Despite the violent nature, I’m proud of the role I played to serve my country and keep others safe.
I’m not delusional about the nature of the wars in which I fought. They were problematic in their best lights. Immoral or even illegal in their worst. For whatever reasons though, be it chance or purpose, I always found myself somewhere after the iron die had been cast.
After the conquering.
In war, it was always my team’s job to keep things safe. The reality of 21st Century American conflict is the duality of that experience. The destruction takes weeks. The rebuilding takes much longer. And so, it has been for most of us who served in recent times. Our view of war was trying to stop the war.
Mostly, we failed.
It was our responsibility to take life only in service to protecting it. To be so willing and eager to do it leaves a mark though. We were willing to commit incredible violence in order to stop violence. The expansion of our human norms came at a cost to the world around us. We didn’t pay it though. Instead, it was those we were trying to keep safe.
I wield no power over anyone whose aim is to do harm to others any more. I have no sanction, by government or anyone else to stand in the way of violence. But it doesn’t absolve me from the responsibility to try, with whatever means I have, to stop it. Any more, I only have my words.
Here’s the best I can do.
Guns aren’t the problem. The darkness that lies in the hearts of men to destroy other men is the problem. But they use guns to do it. And without guns, they do it less. Once they’ve got one, the iron die is cast. And the only thing left is violence.
More times than not, like the communities that lived in the middle of the wars I fought, those around that violence pay the price.
The hard lesson I learned from war was that a society where a belief that violence is the only appropriate answer to violence is not in equilibrium. It is not a zero-sum game. The notion that the only way to stop a bad man with a gun is by being a good man with a gun has a harmful shelf life.
I was once a good man with a gun. The things I had to do may have been necessary. But they weren’t good.
Violence, in any form erodes the fabric of communities. Justified violence doesn’t lead to safety. It leads to a cynical, untrusting world. Ask people who have lived somewhere where only violence stopped violence.
“When the chips are down these, uh, civilized people? They’ll eat each other.” says the Joker to the Batman.
I saw it first hand in Iraq. In Africa. In Southeast Asia.
People aren’t marching for their lives today. Not really. Americans have never been safer. Statements to the contrary are delusional. That doesn’t make the march wrong though. People are marching because they don’t believe the legend any more—that guns are worth the risk.
They don’t believe that justified violence to stop violence is the best way.
They don’t believe that something that makes our society less safe is inherently worth it because someone else told them it is despite all evidence to the contrary.
We don’t save people from earthquakes by stopping earthquakes. We do it by making the buildings that fall on them less likely to fall when they happen. We don’t save people from floods by stopping the weather. We do it by keeping the water away from them.
And so, we don’t stop bad men with guns by being bad men with guns. If we do it right, we do it by having less bad men with less bad guns.
The days when guns can protect us from tyranny are over. The days when guns protected us from violence have never been.
And people all over the America are marching to let us know they’ve figured it out.