When I opened the news on Monday morning October 2nd, 2017 I was faced with the horrific description of innocent music lovers gunned down from above in Las Vegas. Like many, I turned to prayer for the victims and their families. But every time a mass shooting happens I have less and less patience for “thoughts and prayers.” Action is needed. Because there is one key factor that is always present when these mass shootings happen – in Oak Creek, Virginia Tech, Las Vegas or any of the other 78 places where mass shootings have occurred in the past 30 years – they all involve guns.
Many have said that we shouldn’t use incidents like these recent shootings to raise controversial topics like gun control – that it is too manipulative or self-serving of a particular political agenda. That we should simply pray for and support the people who experienced the latest incident of gun violence and not politicize the issue. I am sorry, but that is total bullshit. After September 11th should we have just prayed for the victims and then done nothing about what happened? Should we have made no changes to our safety regulations on airline flights? Of course not! If we can’t learn from our tragedies and then change the conditions that led to them – then we are shirking our responsibility as people and as a nation. I can’t think of a better way to honor the dead than to try to stop it happening again.
So let’s not just pray and offer our condolences – let’s take some steps, real steps, to cut back on gun violence in this country. It has been done elsewhere in the world. Let’s do it here. I join with the anthropomorphized guns in a 2012 Onion article who held a press conference to plead with the American people, “If you have any sense of decency…make us illegal!”
Why should we make guns harder to own? Because very simply more guns lead to more gun violence. That is a verifiable fact. There are almost 90 guns for every 100 people in the United States which is 70% higher than the second-place country. We easily take home the gold medal of gun ownership. If guns did in fact protect us from violence, the U.S. would be the safest country on earth. Instead, we are the most at-risk for gun violence among all developed countries.
The reality is, despite constant repetition, the phrase “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” is simply not true. Guns do kill people. Guns are made for precisely that purpose. To kill people. They aren’t there to hold flowers or to brush your teeth with. Many guns aren’t even designed to kill animals or hunt with. They are made specifically with one purpose in mind – killing people. That is why they exist. Some argue that guns are like cars. Cars kill people every day when they get into car accidents. We wouldn’t dream of banning cars would we? Well, no, but cars are not made to kill people. They are made to move people from one place to another. I’ve never seen a gun that can transport me work. Guns are made to kill people. And in many states, it is significantly harder to get a license to drive a car to get from one place to another, than it is to carry a gun built to kill.
I was shocked to learn that the National Rifle Association proclaims, “self-defense, via arms, is a God-given right.” Self defense, via arms, is a God-given right? Really?! A God-given right?!? I cannot for the life of me figure out how they come to the conclusion that carrying arms is a God given right. Guns didn’t exist when any of the biblical books were written, so we have no specific instruction about guns in the Bible. But we do have a very comprehensive testimony about how we are to relate to other human beings and the role violence and weapons are to play in the Kingdom of God. Like when Jesus calls us to love our enemies. And when he tells us to forgive the person who has wronged us 70 times 7 times. The role of the Christian in the world is to be an agent for peace, reconciliation, and neighborly love. That is hard to do with a gun in our hand.
Gun safety – the word I prefer over gun control – is not just a political, social or practical issue. For all the overwhelming evidence suggesting that cutting back on gun ownership would save lives – gun safety is at the core – a theological issue.
On the night of Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane he issues a haunting warning about weapons. When the crowd grabs Jesus, one of his supporters pulls out a sword and cuts off the ear of the slave of the high priest. Jesus responds, “Put your sword back in its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Or in other translations, “all who live by the sword will die by the sword.” That is an ominous warning for us – a people who love our weapons – our missiles, our bombs, our fighter planes, and yes, our guns. “All who live by the sword, die by the sword.”
The journey that Jesus takes to the cross is a dramatic illustration of a life lived for the sake of the other and not for himself. Instead of defending himself against his enemies with a sword, or a stone, or a fire bolt from the sky – the son of God submits to his own death – in order to love and save the very people killing him. If there is any group out there that should be advocating hardest for tighter restrictions on guns it is Christians! We believe in a God who gave himself up so that we might have life. We follow a savior who met fear and attack with mercy rather than weapons.
As Americans we are very proud of our freedoms, and we have many wonderful freedoms. Freedom is a worthy and in many cases, holy, ideal to support and uphold. But there are ways in which individual freedom can be abused or even twisted into something evil. God doesn’t call us to absolute individual freedom as the pinnacle of what it means to be human. God calls us to service and love of neighbors. Sometimes that means setting aside our own personal freedom in order to submit ourselves to the health, safety, and well-being of others.
Freedom can be used in one of two ways – to prioritize our own gain and security. Or for us to seek the well-being of our neighbor. Even if we assume that the Constitution does in fact give every American the right to bear modern handguns and assault weapons (a questionable assumption in the first place) – do we want to exercise that freedom when it comes at such a high cost? Is it worth putting up with Las Vegas style massacres in order to ensure each person is free to carry the gun of their choice?
I love the United States, our freedoms and our constitution. But I love God and my neighbors more. And because of that – I want to live in a country and world where we freely say “enough is enough” and put down our guns.
Rev. Mark Elsdon, October 5, 2017