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30 December 2012 @ 01:08 am
Blessed are the Widowmakers  
I was rather pleased, without examining the reason why I was pleased, that the Obama children were sent to a Quaker school when their father became President. It has emerged that this school is permitting armed guards to be on the premises.

This news is being discussed in Quaker circles a few weeks after a primary school shooting in Connecticut. Once again, the UK media has forgotten that the USA is a separate country and the debate over US gun control has been getting a lot of attention. Many British people have been trying to understand US gun culture and whether it is really insurmountable. In the paper I read, The Guardian, some American guest writers and British columnists have done editorials that seek to excuse/explain American unwillingness to address/reign in their gun culture.

In Britain, we may have a stereotype in our minds of the sort of American who believes the propaganda of the National Rifle Association. We may sort of understand that gun culture is so embedded that it's just taken for granted and not questioned by most Americans. It turns out that there are Quakers who also take gun culture in their stride.

I admit I don't stand apart from mainstream society myself to the extent that the early Quakers did. Not many of us do, these days. Society has caught up with Quakers to a large extent. I do wish that we had continued a corresponding radical drift though. Individually, not many of us are moving out of our comfort zones. One of the few ethical stances I tend to take for granted though is that we have the peace testimony in common. Then I saw the thread on the Facebook Group Quakers in which Chuck Fager, among others, approve of the Sidwell guns.

This discussion does more than showing Friends taking a comfortable acceptance of their country's mainstream culture. The school's decision, and this discussion reflects a fundamental lack of integrity around the practice of the peace testimony.

To summarise some of my views on this issue:

- Just to get it out of the way - I'm not in favour of private schools in the first place and do believe they are not in keeping with our testimony to equality.
- I would expect a Quaker school to not have weapons on the premises - not in the hands of students or staff.
- I would expect a Quaker school to bear witness to this by having a public statement on the website about refusing weapons.
- If a pupil's admission depended on them having armed guards, I would expect a Quaker school to refuse admission and to explain the reasons to the family.
- Publicly refusing weapons is a counterpoint to gun culture, just as refusing to keep slaves was in Woolman's day.
- Publicly refusing weapons as Quakers is a form of outreach.
- Publicly refusing weapons is a challenge to us a Quakers - we benefit from being reminded of the testimonies and encouraged to apply them in our lives.
- Accepting weapons undermines peace and undermines our integrity as individuals and as a church known for peace.
- If Quakers don't take a stand on this, who will? What are we waiting for? Do we draw any lines anywhere?

One final point, the pro-guns Quaker thread missed a very important point made right at the beginning of the thread. A link was included to a post by a right-wing blogger sneering at Barack Obama for sending his children to a school with armed guards. The blogger was undermining Obama's attempts to address gun culture. How much more undermining is it that not even Quakers are challenging guns in schools?

Lorcan Otway has been having some photoshop fun about the Sidwell guns. Many more examples are on his facebook.

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