Guns, Control, & a Christian Response

Right now in America a debate is going on about gun control, brought on not only by the most recent terrible tragedy in Newtown, but also by years of mass shootings that seem to be increasing in frequency. This is not only a very important issue, but often a very emotional issue for many people. I will admit, I have very strong feelings about this. While it's important not to let emotions cloud judgment, I do affirm that emotions have a very important place in correct judgment. They should be dismissed or just set aside.

Despite my strong emotions, I don't consider myself to be an expert on this subject. I write this post hopefully as a place people might interact with me, share their thoughts, and listen to one another. That might be asking a lot since I haven't written anything on this blog for several years--I would ask for comments or thought because I really want to know why people think the way they do on this. Specifically I'm interested in how Christians approach all of this and why they do it in certain ways.

And now for my perspective.

I have thoughts about specifics, and I'll get to those, but one of my overarching perceptions is in regard to the values behind this whole debate. What is it that we are really fighting for, valuing when we are talking about all of this? What is most important? Is it the value of human life? Or is it the rights of freedom (however you want to interpret that word)? You can talk about the second amendment all you want, but I think it important to acknowledge that the value of human life is more important than any individual right afforded by a political system. You might argue that guns, in and of themselves, are not really the problem and threat to human life, and therefore the issue of rights become important. Or that self-defense is an important protector of human life. And that's fine. I can understand that. Just so long as we all acknowledge that human life is the more important value.

The other main value that strikes me here is control. Not "gun control." Control. What is our response when the innocent are senselessly murdered, as in Newtown? Well, fear is certainly a strong one. Anger. Lament. Many different emotions. But how do we respond to these emotions? Which do we decide to act upon and how? We all have the instinct to protect the things we love, including ourselves. But we have to be willing to admit that we are not in control. That we cannot keep everyone safe, that we can't live our lives constantly in fear of what bad thing might happen. This is no way to live, and in itself degrades the value of human life. I'm not saying we shouldn't do anything. But we must acknowledge that there are limits to what we really can accomplish, especially in a political system as broken and convoluted as ours. Nor should we be inattentive personally with our own families. But there is only so much we can do.

If our response to something as horrible as Newtown is to deck out five year olds with armored backpacks, we miss the point. We cannot respond to the violation of innocence by trying to eliminate innocence in and of itself. This opens up a large topic of innocence itself--whether such a thing is still present or if it is rather just simply naivety. I think this conversation is just as important, if not more important than gun control itself. It is important to recognize the value of vulnerability, of innocence, of grace. These affect the value of human life to very large degree. If we respond in fear and have armed guards in schools, then why not movie theaters, or grocery stores, or intersections? marshal law? Well that's getting in to more specifics. Before we go there, can we agree that removing innocence itself will not protect the "innocent," it will just make us all guilty?

Those are just two of the value issues I see that really affect this whole conversation. When we begin to approach specifics, we all come with different values and upbringings. And of course, we are naturally inclined to think that the values we hold are the correct ones, whether they were informed by our family, our experiences, things we've read, etc. These things generally go very deep inside each of us, and so arguing about specifics rarely seems to reach these places--because we're all looking for whatever we want to affirm what we already think. I don't mean to pretend that I am immune from this myself. I know my views have changed over time, but the emotion within them does make it difficult to hear others well.

So I want to just touch on all of this from a somewhat objective perspective, with a somewhat limited focus. I want to ask how Christians should view and respond to all of this. This makes sense because my faith is very important to me and informs much of what I think about this. That doesn't mean that if you are not a Christian then you can't respond--I just want to begin from here because it is where I begin.

For me, I can't understand at all how anyone can read the Bible, especially the New Testament, and support guns. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Self-defense? Turn the other cheek. I know much more could be said here, and if someone has a biblically based defense of guns from a Christian perspective, please do share it with me. I would love to hear it, because it seems very inconceivable to me.

Many people try to separate the argument--that violence is a separate this from guns themselves. Guns don't kill people, people kill people. That kind of thing. There is some truth to this, of course. Guns don't automatically just shoot people. Of course statistics show that someone owning a gun is at least 4 times more likely to have an accidental shooting than one in self-defense. But what if? what if! the great selling point in America--what if. Millions are made because companies play the percentages and use fear to sell on the basis of what if. I have a 25% chance I'll use my gun for defense. I have a 75% chance I'll accidentally shoot a friend or family member. Guns in the house? really? I know it's not quite as clear cut as that, and everyone says they will be careful with their guns--but that's why they call them accidents.

It is also 7 times more likely that a gun will be used for criminal activity than self-defense. And 11 times more likely it will be used to commit suicide. (Source US National Library of Medicine)

Another argument is about guns for recreation. This is another thing I just can't seem to understand. I have gone out and shot guns for fun before. And it's true, there is something somewhat alluring about it. I'm not convinced this is a positive allure, that it's not tied up in power or some other unhealthy emotion--but that's just me. I'm not saying the government should be able to tell you how you can have fun. But is it really necessary to have that type of recreation when the dangers that come along as side effects are as they are? Are we ok with trading the right to have fun in this way with a few mass shootings every few years? In what possible way are semi-automatic weapons a necessary recreation given their terrible power and damage in their misuse? Can't we instead just go shoot hoops or something?

Self-defense is the argument I can understand the most. I don't agree with it, but I can see the point. The statistical evidence about accidental shootings point to misuse much more than actual defense. It's all about how you frame it. Numbers won't convince most people though. If you want to own a gun to protect yourself, I can understand. It's a violent world. And I'm sure most people would say that if there were no guns then they would be happy. But the reality is there are. I can understand defense.

I do fail to see how a semi-automatic weapon is necessary in that regard though. Unless you are being attacked by an army or somehow red dawn becomes a reality, they really aren't necessary. In the case of protection against an army, like say, the US gov't (speaking of original intent of the 2nd amendment), a semi-automatic rifle will be of no use to you against a military that is 50% of our national budget and 13x the rest of the world's military force combined. The misuse of semi-automatic weapons is far more damaging than these unlikely and completely ineffective responses to unlikely scenarios.

These are all theoretical arguments as well. We all know reality intrudes and enforcement of gun laws is completely inadequate (see these videos from yesterday). There is no perfect answer to the great problem that faces us. Nor would solving this problem really make the world safe again or anything like that. Ultimately, our faith for redemption and security will not be found in gun laws. But it will make a difference in people's lives. Would it have made a difference in Newtown? Who knows. But it might make a difference the next time this happens. Because it does keep happening. And something needs to change. Something is wrong. The experience and the evidence don't justify the status quo.

Well these are just a bunch of thoughts put out there. Again I encourage your comments and thoughts. Please be reasonable and no personal attacks. I want to have positive conversation about this, I really do. And I titled this specifically "a" Christian response, because I recognize that I do not have the final say on that by any means. Neither do you. So tell me something I don't know, I welcome that. But if you're just wanting to grind your ax, you can go over to facebook.