Gun Control . . . Again!

This comes from one, like so many, with a heart broken by the relentless string of mass shootings in our country; and, I reside within walking distance of Columbine High School. This comes from one who dislikes and tends to avoid controversy, especially on issues like gun control; it stresses me and seems to go nowhere. This comes from one intensely frustrated by perpetual stalemate in the discourse about gun control. It’s started again on Facebook and in other venues. Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, this comes from one deeply embarrassed by many other gun owners and their predictable reactions to suggestions of gun control after such tragedies as we have recently—once again—witnessed.

I used the word “surprisingly” because those who know me well know that I am a gun owner. I am an avid hunter, blessed every year with a freezer full of wild game for which I have the privilege of taking responsibility “from trigger to table”. I own numerous guns and enjoy them for multiple reasons other than hunting or self-defense.  Furthermore, I am a strong advocate for the RESPONSIBLE right (I should say “privilege”) to keep and bear arms and an equally strong advocate for EFFECTIVE gun control.

With that runway and set of caveats in place, I want to express the most intense disappointment at the responses of my fellow gun owners to those who cry out for some type of legislation that can somehow reduce the chances and the scale of shooting deaths. The various aphorisms thrown out are little more than reactionary, bumper sticker reductionisms and generalizations that reflect the most egregiously fallacious reasoning. “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” “The problem is not guns, it’s sin (or people or whatever; fill in the blank).” “We already have plenty of gun laws. They simply need to be enforced.” The list could go further. Please, fellow gun owners, stop that nonsense!

I find it equally egregious and embarrassing that when a tragic shooting and resultant deaths occur, those who cry out for more gun control do so in the interests of HUMAN LIVES that have been and will continue to be lost, while so many of my fellow gun owners default to defensive arguments that abstract the problem to the level of constitutional rights. And this from many who would be first in line to uphold pro-life values. A true pro-life commitment would seem to generate an entirely different type of discourse among gun owners; one that starts from a posture of grief and prioritizes collaboration with ALL other citizens to find positive new solutions that transcend the relentless conversational stalemate the surfaces with each shooting. A true pro-life commitment would prompt gun owners to start the conversation rather than respond in defensiveness.

Gun owner/advocates who persist in playing the “rights” card need to rethink the Enlightenment individualism that has so infected the “rights” conversation in this country. Individual rights must always be tempered by corporate responsibility for those individuals with greater power, resource, and maturity to sacrifice for the sake of the common good when many do not have, for example, the moral wherewithal to use those rights responsibly. Parents do that with children routinely. And is that not, after all, the way of Christ? Or do we conveniently check Jesus’ example at the door when it comes to this conversation?

What about the futility of trying to legislate maturity and morality? Can gun laws address the sin problem that causes people to harm other people? Of course not! Yet, that is in fact how Scripture portrays a key function of government—to restrain (not eliminate) the expressions of evil. We must have effective gun laws that can actually restrict access to the types of weapons that are most likely to be used and can be most easily used by the wrong people to do such great damage! Arguing that this will not eliminate gun-related deaths is beside the point and displays an example of the egregious reasoning I mentioned above. Simplistic, binary reasoning such as this impedes good legislation from making a substantial difference in many areas of civic life. How much reasonable and necessary legislation would ever see the light of day if only those measures were approved that would entirely solve a problem for good or that always got to the core of a problem?

As a grateful (not proud, but grateful) gun owner, I call on my fellow gun owners to take the initiative in charting a different and constructive conversation that will preserve the privilege of appropriate gun ownership while putting into place the type of restrictions that can actually make an impact (even if they don’t solve the entire problem) – as tough as they need to be! It may only save a few lives, but if one of those lives happen to be one of your or my loved ones, matters might look a bit different. For example, and disagree with this as you will, I cannot think of a single good reason why a general citizenry should have access to assault weapons used by the military and law enforcement agencies; particularly when those weapons have the capacity to hold substantial ammunition and be equipped with “bump stocks” that effectively make them fully automatic. Are these guns fun? Sure. Do many use them safely and responsibly? Of course. But that is not the point! In light of circumstances as they are NOW in our country – not as they were in colonial days or as we think they should be in an ideal world – should these be available AT ALL to the general public anywhere? Without appealing to slippery slope arguments, what is lost if nobody can get them except law enforcement or military personnel?

A final note that is certain to lose me lots of gun owning friends. Let’s rethink the NRA. Several years ago I abandoned my membership in the NRA. After years of support and appreciation for how I thought they were protecting my rights from “all those liberals out there” who wanted my guns, I finally concluded that—to put it bluntly—the NRA has lost its mind. It has taken on iconic status and now seems to represent in toto the rationale for gun ownership. To oppose the NRA, its reasoning, and its strategies, is seen by most of the gun owners I know as constituting intolerable and prima facie evidence of a liberalism that wants to fast track our nation covertly toward communism (or at least some type of suffocating governmental control of our lives). I, for one, and there must be other gun owners out there who feel the same (please, identify yourselves!) want a very different type of support for gun ownership; one that is part of solutions, not part of the problem.

Perhaps it’s time for a sane and constructive alternative to the NRA. Having said that, I have little hope that it will actually occur. Yet, we desperately need something like Citizens for Responsible Gun Ownership and Control if as a nation we are ever to make progress on this issue. Each shooting tragedy should remind us that this is not just an “issue” but that human lives are at stake. I would readily relinquish every gun I own if I thought that would actually make a difference. Getting rid of all or even most guns is simply not going to happen here—whether or not anyone thinks it should. Nor do I want that to happen. But what CAN happen? What CAN we ALL do that will get past the retrenched positions and recycled arguments? Gun owners, join me in finding a new way forward that moves past the idolization of gun rights as they are currently defended and helps preserve not only healthy, responsible gun ownership but, of INFINITELY greater importance – lives made in God’s image.

16 thoughts on “Gun Control . . . Again!

  1. Well said, Don! ” thoughts and prayers” are not enough! We need thoughtful and effective legislation..it will not solve everything in our sin ridden world…but how can we stand by and do nothing?

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  2. With all due respect the weapons used in the Florida atrocity–really most recent mass killings–are not military or police grade. They are not fully automatic, the owners are not using low flash powder, and there are no grenade launchers. With the time the shooter had, he could have killed as many or more people with any semi-automatic rifle, pistol, or shotgun–you would be nearly as lethal with a bolt action deer rifle like the 30/40 Krag I’ve used for hunting–last made over a century ago. The only restriction that would have stopped this guy would be a return to black powder or bows.

    Instead of infringing on the rights of gun owners, let’s ask why his obvious mental health issues were not acted on. Let’s ask why the FBI never acted on the tips they received. Finally, let’s ask why teachers were not allowed to be armed. The ugly reality is that mass killers target soft targets, and our approach for the schools has been to keep them as soft targets. There are a lot of obvious things to act on here that wouldn’t infringe on the rights of law abiding citizens, and quite frankly the gun control lobby needs to answer some serious questions on why they won’t act on obvious solutions.

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  3. Dr. Payne, I love and respect you. Your thoughts are reasonable and good. I think you know I am a gun owner and user. I have several guns and I have taught my kids to use and respect them. There might be some additional gun control that could be beneficial, but it seems to me that the best way to stop these kinds of things is to stop creating barrels to put kids in. Our schools are soft targets let’s make them hard targets. Why this is so controversial I will never understand. Gun control is not the only option, but it seems to be the only option anyone wants to talk about.

    I am convinced that some on the liberal side simply want the issue and not real solutions. Some on the gun side aren’t willing to think that things like bump stocks (which I became familiar with several years ago) should be illegal or at least require some kind of special permit.

    Kids in government schools ought to be protected by the government and legislation is not the answer unless it is legislation that at least in part makes those schools a hard target.

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  4. Dr. Payne, very well said. I agree with everything you have here, and want to pose a question for consideration when we discuss why the second amendment exists and if that contributes to the types of weapons that are (or should) be available to the public:

    To the best of my knowledge, the right to bear arms was not meant to just give people a fun hobby or even an easier way to hunt, but was primarily to keep the public equipped to combat a tyrannical government or foreign invader should one ever come to be. Furthermore, the argument stands that if we are called to either of these needs, we should have weapons capable of doing so. Therefore, semi-automatic weapon platforms with higher magazine capacities start to make more sense, even though, if we are honest, they don’t come close to standing toe to toe with what our military (or many others) could bring forth if they chose to. (I have arrived at where this line of reasoning can spiral out of control, and I recognize the weakness of drawing an arbitrary line in the sand where current laws do.)

    So I wonder, should we seek to keep in line with the original intent of the second amendment, or is it time to rethink this purpose of the second amendment altogether? Do we need to/should we be equipped to resist the militaries of the world with these military-esque weapons any longer, or is that an outmoded way of thinking?

    I would love to dialogue about this as I think there are some rabbit holes here that could prove fruitful. As a practical gun owner myself, it would be painful to give up a hobby I love; but in agreement with you, if it could actually stop gun violence, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But I am not nearly that ignorant.

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    1. Good to hear from you, Dan. I appreciate your thoughtful questions. You make a salient point about the citizenry’s inability to stand against the military, should it come to that. Placing uncompromising emphasis on the first amendment’s original intent of preserving our ability to resist and potentially overthrow a tyrannical government would seem necessarily then to argue for public access to bazookas, mortars, and all the other weaponry possessed by the military. That probably sounds ridiculous but that would seem to be the logical conclusion. Thus, while I want to preserve what the first amendment provides, I simply cannot get on board with popular (e.g. NRA) rhetoric that seems intent on interpreting it in a timelessly frozen form. I realize that creates all kinds of risks and heartburn for gun owners. Those who would like to do away with gun ownership altogether could easily capitalize on that type of constitutional reinterpretation, which is what gun owners (myself included) and the NRA understandably fear. Yet, the answer to such risks, as in many other arenas of life and politics, is not to hunker down and give no ground. That only deepens and intensifies the polarization and mistrust within our country, continuing to cripple our ability to enact any meaningful and helpful legislation. We have to live with political risk and find creative ways to manage and mitigate it. That is why in my blog post I call for a reframing of the discourse. We have to find fresh and more constructive ways of talking about and actually doing something about this issue or we will perpetuate the political standoff that currently makes us not only so frustrated but so vulnerable to future incidents of gun violence that might have been avoided. Binary, all-or-nothing thinking gets us nowhere, which is what I see when some insist “It’s not about guns, it’s about mental health or about enforcing the laws we already have about or _____ or _____ or ______ ad infinitum.” It’s about all those things. We cannot isolate or divert the problem in such a way as not to have to give any ground on what we hold most dear or not to have to address those aspects on which we politically or strategically disagree with others. We have to be willing to make some compromises and take some risks for the sake of the greater good, in hopes of getting somewhere rather than nowhere.
      On a personal note, I hope you and Kelly are doing well and experiencing healing grace (not “getting over it” but God’s presence that absorbs and defines loss). Please give her my greetings.

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      1. Thank you for your reply, and I get your point here loud and clear. I feel as though my entire adult political life has resembled more the trenches of WWI than any kind of diplomatic or even logical conversation on any topic. All of us are guilty at some point of losing sight of objectivity due to fear, beliefs or personal desires. Here’s hoping that at least in the church we can fight to get past that (although in many arenas, we seem to be following suit).
        Thank you for your words. Been a tough year, and nothing makes it easier, but we are both fighting to stay close to Christ in the midst of it all. Hope all is well in sunny CO.

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  5. So, exactly what are you advocating for? You write well but where’s the substance? You have put the emotional twist to this issue like so many do yet, there is nothing of substance to actually nail down and say, here’s what can be done. Your gun ownership is not a privilege, it is a right. And as such, this right was not to given to us by our government but given by God. God gave you the right to protect yourself, your loved ones, your property. Our founding fathers understood that, some today don’t.
    You get after the NRA (which is your prerogative) but after the Newtown shooting they were advocating for sensible things which would have deterred such tragedies, get rid of gun free zones, allow responsible citizens who work in our schools to carry (yes, with proper training, not just allowing any and everyone to carry, but put a training regimen in place). Why is it that we protect our elected officials with armed men, our sporting venues with armed men, and the list could go on and on, but when it comes to our children, our most vulnerable amongst us, we ban anyone, any sane, sensible, responsible individual from carrying a firearm? Why? I do my best to stay away from “gun free zones” because I know that they are a desirable target for these criminal minds.
    You have, like so many others, tried to make the argument that we don’t “need” in civilian hands what our military possess. Are you so clueless? The vast majority of American citizens who own firearms don’t possess military weaponry. The arduous and costly process to procure such firearms makes their possession pretty much impossible. My AR-15 that I built is nothing like what my Marine nephews use. As to magazine capacity, and how exactly is possibly limiting their capacity going to stop or lessen the tragedies? California has some of the most ornerous gun control measures limiting magazine capacity yet San Bernardino took place. Chicago has onerous gun control measures yet it is ground zero for murders in our country. The laws on our books are not the problem and adding yet more laws, infringing upon the rights of law abiding citizens, will not fix the problem.
    Now we hear that law enforcement had been given information about this shooter and did nothing, nothing! That is astounding, even reprehensible. I am tired of people jumping all over the item used as if it is somehow the problem. It’s not. While this kid used an AR-15 type rifle to do his deed, there were millions more sitting perfectly fine in homes all across our country. The man who stopped the shooter in TX, as I recall, used an AR-15 to end that tragedy, but I hear no one singing the praise for the AR-15 for coming to the aid of those churchgoers.
    My point being, stop blaming the firearm, even you are trying to obtusely. We have the means already in place here in our country to curtail such tragedies; enforce our current gun laws, ensure that mental health records are able to be included when conducting background checks (I know that this is tricky subject considering patient privacy issues, but surely there is a way to conduct a check and maintain patient privacy issues), ensure that our responsible citizens can protect themselves and not be sitting ducks unable to do anything but run or hide (i.e. get rid of many gun free zones). Why is it that we don’t hear about mass shootings at a police headquarters or sheriff’s office? Number one reason, the occupants of those buildings have firearms. They can protect themselves.
    I hate that we have once again witnessed such a tragedy in our country. My heart goes out to the families who have lost loved ones and yes, I do desire to hear an actual conversation that will address the real problem.

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  6. Regarding the notion of “give a little”, that really ignores the long, well documented history of gun control advocates. The end game is not reasonable restrictions, but rather outright bans of the kind that prevailed in New York City, Chicago, and Washington DC until the Heller and MacDonald decisions. The Brady Campaign’s old name is Handgun Control, and yes, they did want all handguns banned. Prominent gun controllers still voice support for exactly that when they know they won’t face consequences for saying it, and suffice it to say that Brady was on the losing side in Heller and MacDonald. Gun rights advocates aren’t budging because they know from long experience what gun control advocates are aiming for.

    They’re also not budging because they know the proposals won’t work. Mass killings are done with all kinds of guns, not just “scary black guns”. Ban one, and even if you’re effective confiscating them, and the end result is just that another tool is used. Until you ban everything that uses smokeless powder, it’s a game of whack-a-mole, and if you ban everything using smokeless powder….well, that gets back to the reality that an awful lot of gun control advocates are really about banning guns, doesn’t it?

    Total registration? Just ask the French (Bataclan) and Norwegians (Breivik) about it, no? Or about truck attacks, bombs, acid attacks….there are simply a lot of ways to hurt people if you really want to do it. That’s why self-defense is important.

    And yes, insurgents with light arms are capable of fighting governments, including superpowers. Ever heard of the VIet Cong or the Taliban? Ever heard of the Finns giving the Soviets “a drink to go with the food” Molotov had provided?

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