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.