When Defense is Offensive

This week as the Supreme Court began grappling with Prop 8 and DOMA, the majority of the public began to be more public with their stance in support of marriage equality for same sex couples. This seemed to be the tipping point, where public displays of solidarity with gay rights and = signs  were everywhere. The Supreme Court will have an official decision on the Defense of Marriage Act ( the law that recognizes marriage as explicitly between a man and a woman) in June, but meanwhile, the court of public opinion has decided that the Defense of Marriage Act is indefensible. In fact, it is downright offensive.


Defending traditions and institutions is not unlike defending our homes and families. We have an instinct to defend– to protect and preserve.  We defend our ideas and ideals, our homeland, our selves. Psychologically, we employ unconscious defense mechanisms when we feel threatened in some way. We maintain that we have a right to defend what is precious to us. It isn’t always clear though, when defense becomes offensive.


The movement to control gun violence has gained traction in recent months especially in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre. Those defending the right to arm themselves with guns suggest that stricter gun laws will not prevent similar types of atrocities. Furthermore, the right to bear arms is considered sacred, as is the right to defend oneself. When does defense become offensive? In the Trayvon Martin case, self appointed watchman George Zimmerman invoked Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, essentially suggesting that Zimmerman shot Martin in self defense. This would not seem offensive had Zimmerman been followed and pursued by Martin, rather than the other way around. Zimmerman pursued Martin whom he thought might be suspicious of something nefarious. What that nefarious something might have been, I’m not quite sure. That Martin fought Zimmerman to defend himself from some guy (with a gun) who was following him, seems to me to fit the concept of defense–especially because Martin  used his fists. Zimmerman shot Martin and killed him, perhaps accidentally, but using lethal weapons is more likely to cause offense in the name of defense.


Thinking again about that tragic (and perhaps pivotal) day in Newton, Connecticut, and I think about the truest defensive-protective actions: those of the teachers and administration. They sheltered and lunged and took care of the children. Some instinctively sacrificed themselves to save the children. That instinct to defend can be life affirming, and in that elementary school, there was no potential for offense in defending those in the school. In contrast, the arsenal that was found in the Lanza home, and detailed in the media today, is a dystopian sort of defense, and one that was likely to produce harm, if not a massacre. As parents, educators, and citizens, we need to defend what is precious without  causing suffering (or worse) to others. It is incumbent upon us to cultivate a culture of respect and civility more than an armed society. We will not be able to prevent all harm, but we can mitigate some, and any reduction in violence is worth defending.  Any less, not only offends our sensibilities, it puts us all in greater danger.

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