Living without guns – shifting behaviour

In the last post on guns and what to do about them, I wrote about changing people’s attitudes towards the guns that they first acquired for protection but that lead to escalating violence. As well as shifting attitudes, there needs to be a shift in behaviour. How can people be supported to stop actually using their guns?

In Maralal, shifts in behaviour began with a simple resolution that had the power to change everything: “Let’s stop shooting on sight”.

Neuroscience research, in studies of empathy and decision-making, shows clearly that our immediate reactions are driven by emotions, and that we may act differently given time to think. The agreement to stop shooting on sight gave that precious time to think: to think about the consequences of shooting; to think about the situation and see it more clearly.

Imagine two men, each with a gun, coming face to face on a path. What  would help them to resist the urge to shoot on sight? Each needs to trust that the other will not shoot. That tiny amount of trust was provided by having an agreed signal of peace, a raising of the arms. Seeing this signal allowed the time to think before shooting, to find out the other’s business, to connect.

From this first simple rule and signal, they gradually built up new roles for the guns. To begin with, people came to peace meetings with guns:

at the beginning it was very difficult.

They had to come with their guns. 

Then they talked. 

They said, 

“These guns are not good in the peace meeting.” 

So they decided they will come with the young men.

These young men were armed, but they stayed out in the bush and did not come into the meeting. Each side brought the same number of young men:

They will stay there and then for us, 

We will meet here without any gun. 

They’ll take care of us, 

so our warriors will be there. 

So we’ll talk. 

After some time doing this, they felt safe together:

Then they said, 

“We really don’t need those guns”, 

So they told them, 

“Next time don’t come with your guns in this meeting.”

This move away from guns was happening in different parts of the diocese.The pastor from down in the valley told us how he and his colleagues had mediated between communities in conflict to remove guns from meetings, not just getting agreement but walking ahead as one group went to meet the other. The peace-makers supported going without guns by walking ahead and taking the risk:

And we climbed this hill several times without guns. 

That hill, without guns. 

And normally, 

comes a very dangerous point, 

you climb that hill without your gun and you will be killed. 

Or you kill. 

But we tell them, 

“We will be ahead of you, 

and we want to go without any guns”. 

And we meet up the hill, 

and we had a very good meetings,

and no one had a gun. 

And so we tell them, 

“These guns are there to destroy us”.

The guns are still there. In some areas, people have agreed “to walk without their guns”. But close by, guns are still visible. The next challenge is to spread the change.



One Response to “Living without guns – shifting behaviour”
  1. The patience to go slowly, step by step, is such a virtue in peacemakers. And researchers.

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