Guns

The NRA's Dangerous Theology

KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

A membership card for the National Rifle Association. KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

Tuesday was the 84th birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I don’t know about you, but I miss his words, so I offer a few. King said “people often hate each other because they fear each other, they fear each other because they don’t know each other, they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate, they cannot communicate because they are separated.” I would add to his words: ‘and in that separation they seek guns.’ As an evangelical Christian, I’m going to make this theological. 

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said this as his response to the massacre of children at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Conn.: “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” 

That statement is at the heart of the problem of gun violence in America today — not just because it is factually flawed, which of course it is, but also because it is morally mistaken, theologically dangerous, and religiously repugnant. 

What Would Jesus Say To the NRA?

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A demonstrator from CodePink holds up a banner as the NRA's Wayne LaPierre delivers remarks. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

What does the birth of the baby Jesus 2,000 years ago have to offer the violent, troubled world we live in? Or what would Jesus say to the NRA?

I want to suggest — a lot.  A whole lot.

Jesus entered the world from a posture of absolute vulnerability — as an unarmed, innocent child during a time of tremendous violence. The Bible speaks of a terrible massacre as Jesus was born, an unspeakable act of violence as King Herod slaughters children throughout the land hoping to kill Jesus (which the church remembers annually as the massacre of the Holy Innocents).  

Perhaps the original Christmas was marked more with agony and grief like that in Connecticut than with the glitz and glamour of the shopping malls and Christmas parades. For just as Mary and Joseph celebrated their newborn baby, there were plenty of other moms and dads in utter agony because their kids had just been killed.    

From his birth in the manger as a homeless refugee until his brutal execution on the Roman cross, Jesus was very familiar with violence.  Emmanuel means “God with us.” Jesus’s coming to earth is all about a God who leaves the comfort of heaven to join the suffering on earth. The fact that Christians throughout the world regularly identify with a victim of violence — and a nonviolent, grace-filled, forgiving victim — is perhaps one of the most fundamentally life-altering and world-changing assumptions of the Christian faith. Or it should be. 

So what does that have to do with the NRA? Underneath the rhetoric of the gun-control debate this Christmas is a nagging question: are more guns the solution to our gun problem?  

Afraid and Reaching for a Gun

gangis khan / Shutterstock

gangis khan / Shutterstock

AFTER MASS a few months ago, I asked a member of my parish how her search for a new apartment was going. She said, “I’m so scared where I’m living right now that I went out and bought a gun.”

I was shocked. “I hope you didn’t buy any bullets to go with it,” I quipped. She gave me an eye-roll; I gave her a hug.

Like many Americans (dare I say most)—from President Obama on over—I despair of our country ever regaining sensible gun-ownership standards.

If I had my way, society would have no guns. Period. My motto is: The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is ... the unarmed cross of Jesus Christ.

However, I recognize that in rural areas a gun can be a tool for wildlife maintenance.

I recognize that a well-ordered society relegates certain uses of force to the state—generally understood as police and military—for the protection of its members, especially the vulnerable.

I recognize that the U.S. Constitution has a Second Amendment—controversial as it may be—that allows for people to “keep and bear arms” (in the context of a “well-regulated militia” that was deemed “necessary to the security of a free state”). It’s a system of checks and balances built into our democracy’s operating manual.

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How Many Tears?

Gina Jacobs / Shutterstock

Gina Jacobs / Shutterstock

EARLY THIS YEAR, I was invited to the White House for an important meeting. A young couple entered at the same time I did, carrying their baby—which struck me as unusual for a meeting with leaders at the White House.

They introduced themselves and their 15-month-old daughter. Then the couple told me this: “Her 6-year-old sister was shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.”

Then I understood. They were there for the same meeting I was—President Obama’s announcement of new executive actions on background checks and other gun enforcement and safety issues.

The East Room of the White House was full of the victims and family members of victims of mass shootings, which occurred 372 times in 2015, killing 475 people and wounding 1,870. (As defined by the Mass Shooting Tracker, a mass shooting is any in which four or more people are shot.)

Many families that had lost children or parents were there. Former member of Congress Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, were there. Many remember the 2011 shooting in Tucson, Ariz., in which a man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia shot 19 people, including Rep. Giffords, six of whom were killed, including a 9-year-old girl.

IT WAS THE PEOPLE and the faces that most moved me—and moved the president. Much was made the next day of his emotional response. When he said, “Our unalienable right to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness—those rights were stripped from college kids in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, and from high-schoolers in Columbine, and from first-graders in Newtown,” he had to wipe tears away from his eyes.

“Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” Obama said. “And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day.”

I have seldom seen President Obama so emotional. I know the hardest day of his presidency was when he had to go to Newtown to meet and talk to the families of the 26 students and teachers who had lost their lives to another mass shooter. And it is clear to me that Obama was responding as a dad who has two girls of his own.

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Gun Deaths Are No Accident

No guns, no gun deaths. That was the mantra ingrained in me from a young age. It is the line that runs through my head when I read reports stating that around 3,000 of the more than 30,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. each year are of children. In 2015, 265 minors were responsible for accidental gun shootings and 83 of these children killed someone, often because they found a loaded gun in the house and were curious.

Weekly Wrap 1.8.16: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. WATCH: Gun Owner (and Vice President) Joe Biden Clears Up Apparent Confusion on Obama’s Executive Orders

No … Obama’s not taking your guns.

2. Sandra Bland’s Family: Trooper Perjury Charge a ‘Slap on the Wrist’

"Where is the indictment for the assault, the battery, the false arrest?"

3. Open Letter to the Leadership of #Urbana15 and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Add your voice to the growing list of people of faith saying “thank you!” to InterVarsity for supporting Black Lives Matter.

What You Need to Know About Obama's Gun Control Plan

Sojourners / JP Keenan

Image via Sojourners / JP Keenan

The White House released the details of President Obama's latest executive action on Jan. 4, and the eagerly expected announcement will be suffixed by a live town hall meeting on gun control at 8 p.m. Thursday at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. While some are lamenting that the actions don't go far enough, the measures will tighten up existing laws.

The plan is divded into four topics: background checks, community safety, mental health, and gun safety technology. Here's what you need to know about each.

What Will It Take to End the Ban on Gun Violence Research?

Image via Light Brigading/Flickr

Congress has repeatedly prevented government research of gun violence out of fear. Opponents of gun research fear what it will reveal — uncovering more information might convince more people that there are problems with American gun laws. By avoiding empirical study, it seems clear that we may already suspect the answers.

Australia’s Tipping Point: ‘No One Was Taking Our Guns, We Were Giving Them Up’

Port Arthur memorial garden

Port Arthur memorial garden, by Michael Rawle / Flickr.com

“Death has taken its toll. / Some pain knows no release / but the knowledge / of brave compassion / shines like a pool of peace.”

These words are engraved on the memorial pond at the Port Arthur mass shooting site in Australia. Nearby, a wooden cross is inscribed with the names of the 35 men, women, and children who died here. In contrast, a brochure at hand provides a simple explanation of what occurred in this place; it notably does not name the gunman. 1996: Australia’s last mass gun death.

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