We've grown bone-tired of the cycle. Tragedy strikes; dozens are injured; souls are lost; we point fingers at one another; we do nothing. Rinse the blood off of our hands. Repeat the cycle of death. Each time we perform this dance, we find ourselves a little bit more divided from one another. American Christians are as sharply divided on the issue of gun violence as they are about race, immigration, or any of the other issues rending our nation asunder. But what if we have more in common than we think? What if all of the arguments we exchange over social media, those ideas and talking points that cause us to unfriend each other online during the week and avoid each other in the pews, are just a distraction from the real issue — one on which we all agree?
We must be wise as serpents and innocent as doves when engaging this wicked problem. It's time we all sharpen our wisdom and recognize the true nature of mass shootings. Mass shootings are not a gun problem, a "heart" problem, a mental health problem, a public safety problem, or a problem of faith — though all of these play into the current brokenness of our country when it comes to violence. All of these issues are ways in which we as a nation have allowed those motivated by profit to re-frame their attempts to make money on the fears, prejudices, and lives of everyday people. Any way we cut it, mass shootings are a Mammon problem.
The National Rifle Association, the conversation leader in our country's debate on gun violence, is an organization founded and operated as a trade association for the firearms industry. In short? Their chief reason for existence is to sell more guns and gun accessories. And the money reflects this reality. At the same time as the NRA presents itself as a grassroots watch group protecting gun owners’ civil liberties through the Second Amendment, it solicits millions through its “Corporate Partners Program.” The Violence Policy Center, a nonpartisan think tank “work[ing] to stop gun death and injury through research, education, advocacy, and collaboration,” estimated in 2011 that corporate contributions to the NRA’s bottom line were between $19 million and $60 million and climbing as the NRA became less transparent about its wealthiest corporate benefactors.
Today, the NRA’s tradition of industry leader giving is alive and growing through its “Ring of Freedom.” The NRA styles the Ring of Freedom as its “premier donor recognition program,” offering perks and gifts of appreciation to “freedom-loving individuals, families, or companies who make gifts totaling $1,000 or more per year.” Twenty-five thousand dollars earns you a lifetime place in the Ring of Freedom, but falls short of the most exalted members of this elite club.
For a million-dollar donation, a company or individual can become part of the “Golden Ring of Freedom,” a flashy club of custom-gold-jacket sporting donors who enjoy special recognition and invitations to exclusive industry events. “Imagine if the NRA’s activities were like the Nobel Prizes,” former NRA president Ron Schmeits muses, “[as activities] funded in perpetuity by the interest alone on endowment.” And with benefactors including MidwayUSA founders Larry and Brenda Potterfield, Smith & Wesson CEO James Debney, and Monique Beretta, “The First Lady of Firearms,” such a permanent endowment is within reach, if not already established.
This money talks — particularly to our elected representatives. The NRA has poured millions into congressional campaigns, particularly the campaigns of Republicans in battleground states and districts such as North Carolina, Florida, and Colorado. Tellingly, these representatives are the same representatives who offer “thoughts and prayers” in the wake of any mass shooting without a call for solutions in sight.
Though the money our Congress members take from those with a financial interest in selling firearms is certainly a concern, it is only a fraction of the real problem. Gun advocates’ true wickedness is in how they use lofty goals of freedom and justice to mask their profit-making motives. The NRA provides a plethora of valuable firearms training, education, and safety programming throughout the country, but it identifies itself foremost as a grassroots civil rights organization with more than five million members. In doing so, the organization engages in a fearmongering strategy to mislead responsible gun owners into believing their rights are threatened whenever the public calls for commonsense regulations on firearms.
The result? Responsible, everyday people who use firearms to harvest game for their families or to shoot at inanimate targets for recreation are drawn into a cycle where each new mass shooting allows people with an interest in selling more firearms to shout afresh the threat that these tools of livelihood will be taken away, with the goal of selling more guns and ammunition so responsible gun users can hedge against these resources no longer being available under extremist gun regulations.
And for those responsible gun owners who sense that something needs to change, the firearms industry is awash with related symptoms of brokenness masquerading as the cause of the problem — from the faux-absence of God from civic life to mental illness and violent people. And it is no coincidence that some of these solutions require the purchase of more firearms, such as the oft-repeated suggestion that we arm teachers to prevent school shootings.
John Wesley, a cornerstone figure in America’s collective Christian theology, encouraged Christians to view money as a good thing to have for its potential to be “food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, and raiment for the naked.” However, Wesley also admonished Christians to take care in how they acquired and spent money, so as not to damage the souls, minds, or bodies of themselves or others. To Wesley, though money was something to pursue, more money meant a more careful requirement of stewardship so that the money did not harm others, intentionally or unintentionally.
With so much death caused by intentionally placed holes in our national gun stewardship policy, it is time for us to recognize the sin in allowing ourselves to not view money and its role in our political system as a tool of sinful division in our communities and our churches. When will those of us with a healthy relationship toward guns realize that our fears of losing firearms are not only unfounded, but are predicated upon placing ourselves at the center of the debate, instead of leading with our collective need for common sense and healing from these heart-divisions? Kyrie Eleison.