I contemplated this question while deer hunting, and it seems to me that Americans must be willing to submit to two limitations if we want to curb gun violence. We jealously guard individual rights in our country, which partly explains our greatness. We ought to curb, however, the right to purchase guns of mass destruction, and we ought to curb privacy rights for the mentally ill. Because they are hyper-ideologically driven, the NRA and the ACLU will fight for neither curb to occur, so both will share in the guilt of worsening violence.
There are historical and cultural reasons for America’s fatal love affair with guns. We were founded in armed rebellion and our Constitution enshrined the right to fortify ourselves against future tyrants. We fulfilled our manifest destiny of controlling North America by subduing, at gunpoint, native peoples and rival European powers.
Some of our most enduring cultural icons, real and fictional, have been armed individuals who faced down evil doers and secured our civil society. Some operated within the law: Wyatt Earp, Eliot Ness, and The Lone Ranger, for instance. Others took the law into their own hands: John Brown, Dirty Harry Callahan, and Jack Bauer, among others. All of them used guns against bad guys in archetypal American style. We cheer because we prefer the violent revenge of Die Hard’s John McClane to the sacrificial community-building of It’s a Wonderful Life’s George Bailey.
There are a variety of Christian ethical positions regarding violence and war; all of them acknowledge the deadly reality of human evil. The separations occur over what faithful Christians are permitted to do in the face of evil. Pacifists refuse to resist and pray for those who hurt them. Other Christians, myself included, believe evil and injustice must be confronted, with violence if necessary, but that confrontation is the responsibility of our governing authorities who have been established by God. For that reason, I have no compulsion to own a gun and no objection to tighter gun regulations.
What do we really fear? What is the source of terror that obsesses too many of us? The ownership of assault weapons and other guns provides a false sense of safety, protection and power that destroys the innocent everyday. Work of the faith community is to lower free-floating anxiety inside the sanctuary walls with deeper spiritual teaching, and to raise public trust outside the sanctuary walls with reasonable regulations through legislation.
Guns have become an idol for many gun owners in our affluent North American society. Guns can become idols of power, steel craftsmanship, and independence. Guns are false idols, guns cannot reason, forgive or save. Guns deceive by promising power, but real power does not come in the form of a weapon.
I know many God loving people who take humble pride in their gun collection. As for me, in all my 87 years I have never even held a gun, except a BB gun when I was a little boy. Personally, I see no reason to own guns other than for hunting and, of course, for law enforcement and for the military. In fact, allow me to go further than that. In my humble opinion I consider the Second Amendment obsolete, for when it was written it pertained to muskets and nothing more. Nowadays, if you want to “defend” yourself against a so called despotic government one must have to have all sorts of sophisticated weapons. The cosmos would be a much more peaceful and better place to live in without guns. Let us allow the verses of Sacred Scripture to be the “bullets” that penetrate the hearts of men toward a more better world.
The one who is in the most danger for destroying one’s life because of gun possession (through injury, death, or jail) is the gun owner. Why keep a weapon that lends itself to expressing power by violence, especially when we’re angry? Most of the anger we feel in our lives is at those we love the most. A gun provides much more of a threat to the owner and the owner’s family than protection. Love and courage are the sources of true security.
We have succumbed to a culture of violence, manifested in so many other ways, such as: 10 years of continuous war for our nation; 40 years of legalized abortion which ends the life of the unborn; the scandal of child sexual abuse, even within our churches; many video games which mesmerize our youth with violence. Instead, Jesus shows us a radically different witness, and we tend to gloss over those Gospel passages. Even to the cross, Jesus shows us to love even the enemy without violence and killing. The first 300 years of Christians faithfully lived that witness. We need to aim at a Christian culture as Jesus taught and lived in the face of violence and evil.
Let’s invent a place. Call it Flowertopia, a free society. Most of the citizens there keep bees. In fact, beekeeping is enshrined as a sacred right of Flowertopia, important to its sense of itself. But over time many of Flowertopia’s citizens develop severe allergies to bee stings, some fatal. And yet everyone knows no one can fully prevent the bees from stinging citizens. Flowertopia has tried everything—bee free zones, special suits and repellents and licenses and hives, shamans who claim to hypnotically control bees and cure allergies, even genetic engineering—everything but mandating Flowertopia’s citizens rid themselves of beekeeping completely. Most Flowertopians simply cannot conceive of a Flowertopia with no bees.
But then, more citizens are evidencing allergic reactions to stings and more are dying. There’ve been reports of swarming due to irresponsible beekeeping, which also seems on the rise. Talk of bee bans in the interests of saving lives gathers momentum in some echelons of Flowertopia, while hive purchases skyrocket and beekeeping class enrollments triple.
What is wrong with Flowertopians? They cherish a freedom that comes with definite risks. But is this really something “wrong” with them? Plato said what is honored in a culture is cultivated there. American culture has honored gun ownership since our beginning and thus inculcated over two centuries a deeply ingrained sense that our freedom includes the right to bear arms even though—the risk—so many firearms are lethal. At the same time, we honor personal security as inherent to freedom enjoyed and have simultaneously cultivated respect for law in the interests of that security, including gun laws.
Various thinkers have mused on whether people want freedom or security more, or at what points people are willing to forego their freedoms for a greater sense of security. I wrote before in a previous post that there is an infinite regress to determined violent actors. Take his guns, knives, or arrows and he’ll find a way to poison Q-Tips if he must vent his spleen on society. It’s like trying to predict the bottoming-out point for an addict. How many more floors does he have to crash through before he hits bottom? As soon as you say if this happens to him, he’ll change—“this” does happen to him but he doesn’t change. As soon as we say another Newtown and gun owners will finally want to turn in their Bushmasters, they go buy more.
What is wrong with Americans? We cherish a freedom that comes with definite risks, both for people of faith and everyone else. But is this itself what’s really wrong with us? From my faith perspective, what is actually wrong with us no law has been or will be able to solve. Only the grace of God through Jesus, changing us from the inside out, can and will.
Much as I love living in the freest nation in the world, the downside is the inevitable abuse of our great freedoms due to sinful human nature. A comparatively high crime rate comes with being so free. And the widespread fear of being a victim of violent crime contributes to the highest gun ownership per capita rate in the world.