1.18.2013

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.

14 comments:

  1. I think you should have used bullets to emphasize some of your main points.

    Funny how when we want to bring something to someone's attention in writing the word we naturally come up with is bullets.

    I was going to write more, but that thought is depressing.

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    1. http://www.freethought.mbdojo.com/guns.html has a thoughtful discussion of the topic. Personally, I have difficulty imagining Jesus returning fire - no matter what the circumstances.

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  2. There is a character limit of 4,096 so I'm going to attempt to break this up into multiple parts. Let me start out with saying I currently have no guns in my house. I’ve had guns (shotguns & bolt action rifles) in my home for periods of times but none permanently in my home. At some point in the future, I expect to have a gun(s) permanently in my home with the main purpose of recreational purposes. Although I can’t say whether I’ll ever own a semi-automatic gun. Before I provide my thoughts on the subject please watch the following 20/20 news report.

    http://youtu.be/qyoLuTjguJA



    “but also by years of mass shootings that seem to be increasing in frequency.”

    Is it truly increasing in frequency? I have done very little research but I’m confident there is plenty evidence that contradicts this “feeling” of increased frequency. For example there is the article below. I can’t comment on the accuracy of the data but it would suggest otherwise. It even points out the highest number of mass shootings and the victims of those shootings in the US reached a 40 year high at the end of the decade long assault weapons ban and the height of the Clinton “Crime Bill”.

    http://generationamerica.org/articles/what-they-didnt-tell-you/what-they-didnt-tell-you-about-mass-shootings

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  3. “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.”

    I don’t necessarily disagree with this idea; although I disagree with the absolute (black/white) stance you’ve taken on the issue. How do you reconcile or explain the many Biblical passages and stories regarding battles, wars, etc. all in the name of God? David comes to mind; he was a war hero and a man “after God’s own heart.” David’s acts of war and violence weren’t only in self-defense; they were often by David. I realize the New Testament paints a different picture but you can’t simply pass over and ignore the Old Testament.


    “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.”

    This is ultimately a personal choice by everyone; and everyone should have the right/freedom to make this choice. Also I find the statistics and the use of them a bit irresponsible; it appears to be a statistic for when the weapon is actually discharged. From the source (Guns kept in homes are more likely to be involved in a fatal or nonfatal accidental shooting, criminal assault, or suicide attempt than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense.) Therefore skewing the statistics. A weapon doesn’t actually have to be discharged to provide a method of self-defense; but you never have those events forced fed to you by the media.

    http://beforeitsnews.com/alternative/2012/12/media-quiet-about-san-antonio-theater-shooting-2524596.html

    http://www.jrganymede.com/2012/12/20/real-mass-shooting-statistics/

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  4. “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?”

    Guns for recreation – hunting, competitive shooting, simply shooting just to shoot. All are examples of recreational fun, which bring no harm to human life (excluding accidents and accidents to happen). With your viewpoint, why allow any form of recreation that may bring harm to human life; directly or indirectly, purposefully or accidently? There are plenty of forms recreations that present risks to innocent human beings. In addition, are you telling me a select few wrong and evil individuals should ruin it for everyone? People abundantly drive drunk and plenty of people are injured and killed by drunk drivers. However, we don’t outlaw cars because of these individuals making poor and idiotic choices. To bring religion back into this; this earth is broken. Evil has won until the day Jesus comes back to this earth. Banning semi-automatic weapons won’t prevent or even reduce the loss of innocent human life; evil will find its way to prevail.


    “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.”

    The 2nd amendment isn’t in place because an individual will be successful at defending one self against a threat. It’s in place to provide an opportunity to defend one self. The United States was founded on this right; ordinary families with guns in their home helped win our independence. They formed militias and these militias made a number of important, even vital, contributions to winning independence. Did people die in an effort of self-defense during the Revolutionary war? Yes. Does that mean they were unsuccessful in defending themselves or their families? Absolutely not! Based on the Constitution, we all have the right to keep and bear arms without infringement. No one is forced to bear arms. It’s a personal choice to do so. However, if one chooses not to bear arms there is no reason to force that opinion on others.


    Lastly if this is truly about the protection of innocent life; lets first address another sensitive topic… abortion. 784,507 abortions were reported to CDC for 2009. http://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/data_stats/Abortion.htm These mass murders don’t even come close to the loss of innocent life through abortions. I’m using this in an attacking method but to hopefully provide some perspective on the topic at hand.

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    1. I’m NOT using this in an attacking method but to hopefully provide some perspective on the topic at hand.

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  5. thanks for your thoughts "anonymous." do i know you?

    I watched the 20/20 report from 5 years ago. a few individual stories and a few statistics with surely questionable correlations, and several perspectives. I would hardly consider that conclusive in any way about anything really. People carrying guns might provide a slight deterrent to home invasion for a period of time--but what are the longer effects? I agree that the study I mentioned didn't report on when a gun is not fired and used as a deterrent, so I'd be interested to know if there are any studies comparing that versus gun misuse and accidental firing.

    If crime goes up briefly right after a ban on guns, it is hardly an indication that one equals the other--or that wider, more comprehensive measures wouldn't be more effective in the short and long term.

    As for the increase in mass shootings--I'm not sure about the exact numbers. I did hear something about the number of them in the last 20 years being very high, but I don't have the source for that. Whatever the number, whether it's higher than the recent past, it's certainly much higher than other developed countries and I would guess is higher than any time in the past before assault weapons became available to the general public.

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  6. I agree there was war and violence in the old testament. I also believe that Jesus came to bring another way, to go beyond the old laws that said an eye for an eye--which leave the whole world blind. I don't see how anyone can read the bible with the new testament's and Jesus' words and support violence. If you want to talk about self-defense and just war like much of the church has supported in the past, I can understand. I don't agree, but I can understand that. Because David fought in wars doesn't mean that we need to all have guns in our home to fight off attackers.

    I'm interested in your comment that everyone should have the freedom to make the personal choice to own a weapon in their home. why? Because that was something in the constitution for the 1700s? Does this outweigh the value of human life? You didn't respond to my values behind these discussions--do you have any thoughts on those?

    I find your argument against recreation unconvincing. Yes people are hurt in other forms of recreation--and in those instances the government usually puts restrictions and rules along with them (life guards at swimming pools, speed limits, etc.). And the question here is whether the restrictions on guns are effective enough at limiting these accidents. I don't think they are. Beyond that, none of these are things are designed specifically for the purpose of taking human life. That is a huge difference. To say the world is evil so it doesn't matter is a cop out. People may find other ways to express their evil, that doesn't mean we shouldn't care about the presence of guns or what they do to people.

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  7. I can understand your interpretation of the 2nd amendment. And I can respect that. It did make a difference in the revolutionary war. My argument was that times are very different now and that people having a few guns in their home won't stand up to military force now. Times are different and I think it's silly to hold onto an amendment written for a vastly different time period and social setting. That may make me a bad american or unpatriotic, but I think there is a reason the founders set up the governmental structure to be able to change and be amended in the first place. That's why they are called amendments--not immutable laws.

    Also you brought up abortion. I do not support abortion. It isn't really relavent to this present conversation except that if you value human life you will be as against violent killing of people as you are against violent killing of unborn babies. Just because one is bad doesn't mean the other isn't, or isn't important also. Both need to be addressed in my opinion. But to use one against the other has no bearing.

    I appreciate you sharing your thoughts, and I did not read them as attacking. Thanks for your perspective, and I hope my perspective is positive for you as well.

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  8. I know the Bible doesn’t discourage the ownership of weapons (in this case guns) and it definitely doesn’t condemn it. What I take issue with is your words, “For me, I can't understand at all how anyone can read the Bible, especially the New Testament, and support guns.” Those are strong words and to me they posses a derogatory tone. I found a few people that have taken the time to research it and write out their opinion more eloquently than I have the capability at this time. I’ve read them over and say they fall closely in line with my values, opinions, and beliefs. They don’t align 100% but in an effort to effectively and efficiently communicate my beliefs, this will work.

    http://www.biblicalselfdefense.com/
    http://www.lawandliberty.org/defense.htm

    Recreation is defined as the refreshment of one's mind or body after work through activity that amuses or stimulates; play. I hope we can all agree this is absolutely different for everyone. There are some similarities and overlap between individuals but ultimately how it refreshes one’s mind or body will be different. When one chooses a form of recreation and it brings no harm to others; then no one should have to justify or explain their choice of recreation. It’s a personal refreshment of one’s mind or body and will look differently for every individual.

    Abortion is relevant in the sense there are “bigger fish to fry” when it comes to the loss of life; which I believe the value of life is your biggest claim with this topic. I completely agree we all need to value life and place an emphasis on it. However, mass murders are a very small sliver of the pie when it comes to the loss of life; especially in comparison to the loss of life caused by abortions, drunk drivers, etc. Should we strive to eliminate all unnecessary loss of life? Absolutely. However, that will never happen and most people operate by the idea it’s more effective and efficient to “fry the bigger fish” first. Again, I’m just trying to bring some perspective that the loss of life caused by mass murders is very small in comparison to other forms of loss of life. If you and others agree with this perspective, where is the distain and culture movement to change them?

    Again let me make it clear guns are not the issue of these mass murders. Guns are objects. Objects do absolutely nothing, they’re inanimate, and they don’t make choices. Let me reiterate we don’t blame cars and ban the use of cars (or use of fast cars) because individuals make poor decision when driving drunk. Everyday our culture moves away from self-control; moves away from accepting responsibility and consequences for our actions. Instead our culture attempts to place blame everywhere except the one place it should be, on the individuals who make the poor or evil decision. When I gain weight, it isn’t the fault of some fast food restaurant. I gain weight because I made poor decisions. If I bought a bigger house than I could afford, it isn’t the lenders fault. Again it’s my fault for making a poor decision. Lets make people except the consequences of their actions. If the consequences don’t discourage people from making poor choices or actions, then lets evaluate the consequences instead of placing blame somewhere it doesn’t belong.

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  10. While the second amendment could be interpreted as allowing individuals the right to own guns, it certainly does not protect any and all forms of weapons. For example (I know this is not likely), what if someone were to try to defend their right to build and maintain a nuclear weapon under the second amendment. Perhaps this is recreational--the nerd-ness in them likes to successfully construct such things. Perhaps it is for protection--a much better defense against the U.S. military than a puny assault rifle. Nevertheless, it is not hard for us generate agreement that it is a bad idea to protect people's rights to own nuclear arms because of the negative potential for the larger society. Further, we might consider a less extreme case, something like anti-tank guided missiles or grenade launchers or land mines--in the end, these are (for most) intuitively a bad idea because of the danger they pose to society at large. From what I can tell, most people agree that these things should not be protected under the second amendment. My point is this: what we (the nation) are debating is the degree to which arms should be regulated, not that they should or should not be regulated. Hunting and self-protection seem to me to be reasonable arguments for allowing individuals to safely maintain guns appropriate to those purposes (here I think I disagree with Luke, but like Luke, I have no interest in using or maintaining a weapon due to religious convictions). But these reasonable arguments cease to be reasonable when they try include things like armor-piercing bullets, high capacity magazine clips, and other military-style weaponry that is specifically designed for mass killing. It is here that I think we cross a line. Of course, where we draw that line is the essence of the debate. But when we pretend like the argument is about whether we should have guns or not have guns, we are not having a meaningful political conversation.

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  11. http://video.foxnews.com/v/2124999428001/

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  12. http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2013/01/christianism-and-violence.html

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