Listen To Article
This is not the first time I have blogged about guns in America. A couple of years ago I suggested that people whose ultimate vision is the beating of swords into plowshares (or to invoke Neal Plantinga’s riff: turning Howitzer tanks into John Deere garden tractors) ought not spend the run-up to that day of shalom celebrating and promoting people’s owning as many weapons as they can. I also suggested that the pro-gun lobby in this country is so powerfully entrenched–and holds so many politicians in absolute thrall–as to make it quite possibly count as among the “powers and principalities” that the Apostle Paul suggested are our true enemy in this world for now. Needless to say, any number of readers took issue with me. The Second Amendment, after all, surely counts as something akin to the divine will of the God who ostensibly helped draft the Constitution of this shining city on a hill of a Christian nation. What are the words of Jesus compared to this inalienable right to bear arms?
Of course, I am writing this blog on Monday morning as we all reel from the news of a sniper-like mass shooting in Las Vegas that has injured 400 people, killed 50, and the death toll may yet rise by the time this blog goes live. And I write this a week after Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore expressed his support for the Second Amendment by pulling a pistol from his pocket at a political rally. The crowed cheered even as the voters subsequently voted for Moore over the candidate even President Trump favored and endorsed. We cheer for Moore’s brazen pistol waving, we lament a man with a huge cache of automatic and semi-automatic weapons who rained down terror on innocent people enjoying an outdoor concert. But what we will most assuredly NOT do as a result of all this is see any connection between the cheers for Moore’s pistol and the tears that resulted from Stephen Paddock’s machine guns. Our leaders will not go there.
We can be certain the President will not. He courted the NRA’s support throughout the campaign, saying at one rally that Hillary Clinton would take away everyone’s guns. And then he coyly suggested that maybe gun owners could do something about Hillary too but . . . well, it wasn’t a threat. Earlier this year on the eve of his 100th day in office, Trump went to an NRA convention and assured them they had a friend in him. “You came through for me and I will come through for you” he told the cheering masses, earning swift praise from NRA head Wayne LaPierre.
Of course, despite caricatures by the NRA and leaders like Trump, neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama ever actually threatened to go around and collect every deer hunting rifle in the country. But after the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary and a bevy of mass shootings that took place on his watch, Obama consistently asked for stricter control of weapons in this country, most especially controls on the very weapons Stephen Paddock used and that made downtown Las Vegas Sunday night sound like downtown Saigon right before the city fell. This is sensible legislation. But it won’t happen.
A single gunman inspired by ISIS is cause enough to ban travelers from whole nations. One man with explosives in his shoe on an airplane is enough to make millions of us remove our shoes at airport check points from then on out. A single child who gets sick from tainted hamburger is enough to recall tons of meat and strengthen food inspection laws. But let two dozen six and seven year olds get murdered in their classrooms, let a score or more die inside a movie theater, let hundreds get shot up and scores killed at a Las Vegas concert and our collective response as a nation will be . . . exactly zero.
Of course, even people like Obama who repeatedly pleaded for tougher gun laws always had to hedge his comments to say that hunters and law-abiding gun owners were excepted from all this. But what if it turns out that in order to safeguard more lives, even these groups might have to be affected at least a little? Would potentially saving the life of a First Grader or of an innocent young woman attending a country music concert really be of less value to anyone than a little more hassle where gun ownership is involved?
I am convinced nothing will happen on the legislative front even after Las Vegas. The people of Alabama are all but certain to send their gun-toting candidate to the Senate, where he will work with plenty of others, including the President, who will make it certain that nothing will change when it comes to our American mad love affair with guns.
But why do we so seldom hear Christians approaching all of this in vocabulary and moral/ethical language that differs in any way from the non-Christian gun advocates in this country? Does following the Prince of Peace make no difference at all in how Christians speak of these matters? Do Christian supporters of Trump and Moore never hesitate on such life and death questions? I am asking the question honestly. I am not posing this rhetorically.
Because I honestly don’t know the answer. I only know that I seldom if ever hear or read anything that gives me encouragement that there is a grassroots Christian voice in these conversations. And if so, Lord, have mercy.
I retire next year (2018) and of needs must return to the good ol’ land of the second amendment. Leaving Taiwan will be sad, and DANGEROUS!
Will you also call for more legislation of trucks, because if I remember right the tool,used in the 2016 Nice, France attack was a truck?
What about knives? A 2014 knife attack in China that killed 29.
Once again the tool gets blamed instead of focusing on the evil that used the tool.
When someone uses a vehicle to mow people down, serious consideration gets given to reducing the chance of this happening again. Concrete barriers go up, traffic gets restricted at times of large public events like holidays, certain vehicles get banned from certain areas. Is it foolproof? Will it prevent every vehicular attack in the future? No. But we’d take steps, sensible measures. My only point is that NOTHING similar happens where guns are concerned. Of course the sickness and the evil behind such things is the underlying problem. But such evil finds it harder to do its worst when access to automatic weapons with high-capacity magazines gets harder. So yes, I think we would work to regulate trucks in public areas after an attack. We just won’t do so with guns, and there is the point to wonder about.
Scott, thanks for your thoughtful and poignant article on this topic. The fact that many of the negative comments about the article have nothing to do with what you wrote, but about the timing of the article, about abortion, about trucks being used as weapons, and the distinction between certain types of weapons speaks volumes.
“But let two dozen six and seven year olds get murdered in their classrooms, let a score or more die inside a movie theater, let hundreds get shot up and scores killed at a Las Vegas concert and our collective response as a nation will be . . . exactly zero.”
… an accurate, biting, summary …
“This is the sad thing about all that happens under the sun: the same fate awaits everyone. Moreover, the human heart is full of evil; people’s minds are full of madness while they are alive, and afterward they die” (Ecclesiastes 9:3).
… giving thanks today for The Holy Spirit and His delivery of Christ’s freedom from the captivity of sin …
Hi Scott. Are you under the impression that automatic weapons are easy to get?
I am under the impression that the NRA–and their Republican and Democrat enablers in government–have never seen a gun, a magazine, a clip, or anything else they didn’t like. They block sensible safeguards, background checks favored by 80% of surveyed voters, and keep open wide loopholes at gun shows that circumvent what little gun legislation we do have as it applies to gun stores. 300 millions guns of very type are sloshing around in this country. Whether legally or illegally, yes, I’d say it’s pretty easy to get automatic weapons (and we refuse to pass one single law to at least try to head off however such things get obtained on a fairly routine basis). That’s all.
Scott. Please go educate yourself on the gun laws before you go saying automatic weapons have easily to obtain. They have been illegal to own for many years and we already have current laws on the books that make it illegal for us to own
Kevin, I just re-read my entire blog and cannot find one sentence where I claim it is easy to obtain automatic weapons. I merely said there are common sense steps we can take to regulate this deadly industry at least a little better. Yes, in one reply here I did say it was easy to get such guns but I indicated this might be through already illegal channels. But there are so many of them around, it apparently takes no one too long to get what they want gun-wise. (As another responder wrote here, there are also How-To YouTube videos for how to convert readily available semi-automatics into automatics so let’s not split too many hairs here). But my main question at the end is why so many Christians seems to be cheerleaders for people like Roy Moore and the NRA generally. That’s the part I don’t get most of all.
From the web:
While automatic weapons are heavily regulated and special permits and taxes are needed, until and unless firearms become illegal (aka the revocation or repeal of the Second Amendment) then automatic weapons will be legal. Extremely expensive and hard to obtain for most people…but legal.
There’re pretty easy to obtain in Nevada and legal to own there, as are “assault weapons, 50-caliber rifles or large-capacity ammunition magazines.”
Scott you are just incorrect. Either the weapons were illegal or illegally upgraded or the killer passed background checks on EACH weapon with the FBI (those laws fail all the time). It’s the person, gun or truck or explosive. I don’t mean to sound condescending or mean but I could listen to your argument a lot easier if just once I could read an article on the Twelve from you or another author condemning the thousands of lives killed each year by abortion. When you can even get a response from someone who either supports abortion or won’t speak our against it for fear of reprisal from all their progressive friends, all we hear is “it’s a woman’s right to decide”. Over 660,000 babies died in 2016 due to abortion and no one on the left cares! They defend it!! EVERYBODY agrees that what this man did is reprehensible, criminal, and WRONG but that doesn’t mean that your rights and mine should be sacrificed for his actions. To let this run away government further usurp our rights is the end of our country and the beginning of real fascism.
Blessed are the peacemakers. If the OT could command that a fence be build around one’s roof to protect others from potential hazards (Dt 22:8) then I believe those of us who follow the God revealed in the OT & NT should be on the forefront of thinking about how to reduce gun violence and this is no small part of our Christian duty today.
Yes, powers and principalities are at work here. It seems that the NRA has convinced many to regard guns as in effect idols–things to trust for our safety without question, without qualifications. So it seems …
Thank you Scott, for a much needed and well written article. May I add, the Testimony Our World Belongs to God has some similar thoughts in article 54, I wonder how many people have been ordained into office in their churches, claiming to agree with the “teachings of this church” and then deny the testimony in the voting booth.
Dear Reverend Empathy,
I would suggest waiting for more information to come out regarding the Las Vegas shooting before writing something like this piece. I’m not sure you are expressing your thoughts rationally or simply emoting. It seems that prudence would dictate a little patience here, particularly for a Pastor.
That being said, and since you wrote this…
What State firearm regulation or law needs to be passed that would have prevented this shooter from obtaining what appears to be a fully automatic machine gun?
The argument that since one cannot prevent every would-be shooter from getting his hands on such guns, there is, therefore, no sense in doing anything is absurd. Have drunk driving laws prevented every intoxicated person from getting behind a steering wheel? No, but they doubtless prevent many (and if such laws save even 15 lives a year, it’s worth it. Probably more are saved thanks to those laws, though). Have TSA pat-downs, our all having to take our shoes off at airports, our enduring those scanners that essentially render us naked to the person looking at the screen: has this (or will this) prevent every future act of terror on an airplane? No, but it may prevent many and since it is our own lives at stake, we dutifully take off those shoes every time we want to fly somewhere. The fact that Congress won’t act on even legislation that has the backing of 80% of Americans tells you all you need to know and that was my primary point. As to your use of the term “empathy” to refer to me, I do not appreciate your sarcastic tone.
I’m sorry I offended you. Please forgive me.
Where do you get this 80% statistic? A survey? By who? Just wondering….
This is from last year but these numbers have been pretty stable across the last 5-7 years. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/01/05/5-facts-about-guns-in-the-united-states/
As to the question about obtaining automatic weapons, the ease of purchase depends on the state. It’s very easy to buy a semi-automatic weapon and then convert it….shoot, I can find videos on youtube explaining how to do it.
Over the years i have heard many arguments for conceal and carry laws. But not even if every one of those 22,000 people at that concert had had a concealed weapon would they have been able to take out this gunman.
Everyone screams, “Don’t let this massive tragedy become political.” Of course, it’s political. And NOW is the time to address it.
Why can’t Christians honestly answer Scott’s questions? The only reason I can think of (because I was there) is we have placed defending our political positions over and above the principles of the kingdom. God forgive me.
As to your given analogies, I don’t think they are valid. Allow me to first posit a statement I believe is true:
Private, individual ownership of firearms is beneficial to society. It prevents criminal activity, both passively and, if necessary, actively. It also is a protection from despotic government overreach.
Drunk driving has no beneficial aspects. It simply endangers lives and should be illegal. TSA measures likewise don’t take away any individual’s Constitutional rights.
The problem with many proposed gun regulations is that they would do very little or nothing to prevent criminal violence while often violating Constitutional protections.
The only intellectually honest proposal for those who favor a Statist remedy is to repeal the Second Amendment. Good luck with that.
In the Chicago area where I live, I have heard reports of the popularity of African-American women obtaining Concealed Carry permits for their protection. I think that is a good thing.
The idea that more guns = fewer crimes is, at best, specious (far more guns are stolen FROM homes and often used in subsequent violent crimes than when those guns head off a crime). The idea that more guns = more gun deaths (homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings) is well established. As to the need to avert a “despotic government overreach,” I have no comment. But once again the rhetoric of the NRA triumphs: even to suggest some modest gun control laws or universal background checks or closing gun show loopholes is immediately exaggerated to wholesale violation of Constitutional rights even as the ONLY thing we could do legislation-wise that might make a difference is repeal the whole Second Amendment. This is a lie spread by the NRA to the paranoid masses. No one in living memory with any governmental office or power has suggested any such thing even as a mountain of far smaller legal changes have been suggested, none of which are within a light year of repealing the Second Amendment.
It wasn’t in the original blog but in a response. Here’s the quote:
I’d say it’s pretty easy to get automatic weapons (and we refuse to pass one single law to at least try to head off however such things get obtained on a fairly routine basis). That’s all.
I suppose my comment is from an “outsider”, though I have many American friends and love my southern neighbour. Here is another connection I see, including the oft made connection between the 2nd amendment and gun violence that Scott raises. Is there not also a connection between the military budget of the USA and gun violence? The US spends more on its military each year than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France, and Japan combined (54% of the total federal budget…yes, 54%!). The Constitution (doctrine) and Budget (practice) of the US both prioritize weapons. Is there any wonder gun related violence is higher in the US than any other nation in the world. Hosea 8:7 says, those who “sow the wind, reap the whirlwind”….perhaps those who “sow weapons, reap the weapon-wielders”. As a Canuck who loves my American neighbors; can you not see this? The rest of the world does.
Specious to whom? You? Your subsequent factiod is a red herring. I happen to think John Lott’a research is well-supported and accurate.
Why no comment to “despotic government overreach”? Do you know history? The first ten Amendments were written to constrain government. It may offend modern sensibilities, but that’s reality.
I’m not a member of the NRA and don’t know a whole lot about the organization. Therefore, if you condescendingly are lumping me in with the “paranoid masses”, please know that I don’t appreciate it.
Yikes. I am sure the pro gun rhetoric here numbs the pain of those who lost loved ones. Oh, and let’s not talk about how those injured will recover (lost income, limbs, general well-being, medical bills). Good thing the same ‘right’ to medical care exits for all? Perhaps the Share Act will help silence the mourning and cries for rationality.
Apparently mass gun murders are simply the cost American society must endure for this absurd obsession —- over and over and over again.
What I find most interesting about this discussion is the absence of questioning why mass shootings appear to be a fairly recent phenomenon. A google search I conducted came up with the worst 33 in chronological order. The first six occurred in 1949, 1966, 1984, 1986, 1991, and 1999 (Columbine). The remaining 27 occurred since then. What changed in just a generation? The guns have always been there, so what else happened?
Having been in law enforcement in some capacity for the last forty years allowed me numerous training opportunities (active shooter situations in particular). More than a few of my presenters pointed directly to a striking shift in societal values as the major cause for mass shootings – more violent movies and video games that desensitize, and a proliferation of electronic media that lessens the need for face-to-face contact to name a few. I don’t recall any of them blaming the guns.
In 2015 my sister gave me a copy of her New Yorker magazine which contained an interesting article on a local man who’s made quite a name for himself in the world of professional boxing. However, of far more interest to me was the article written by Karl Knausgaard on the Norwegian man who in July of 2011 murdered seventy-seven of his fellow countrymen. Two snippets towards the end of the article will always stick with me. “Killing another person requires a tremendous amount of distance, and the space that makes such distance possible has appeared in the midst of our culture. It has appeared among us, and it exist here, now… The fact that he did what he did, and that other young men, misfits, have shot scores of people, implies that the necessary distance from the other is attainable in our culture, probably more so now than it was a couple of generations ago.”
Implementing certain additional gun control methods could be beneficial, but it is far more complicated than that.
Steve, you are wise and experienced. And you are right that as with everything, this is mulit-factorial. I have previously worried about other factors contributing to violence and callousness. https://blog.reformedjournal.com/2015/12/08/deadly-perspective/ But the weapons people can too easily get or convert make deadly scenarios more likely. In a way, the very factors you list make stronger laws more important. Perhaps.
Scott, thanks for pointing me to this earlier blog. I couldn’t agree more.
Forgive me for rambling and failing to cite scripture but I have four thoughts on which I would begin an answer to the question. The answer must be “Yes” though the observable evidence (including this comments section) screams “NO!”
1. Guns are inanimate objects like knives, swords and spears of Biblical times, requiring an actor, human, to effect the action. Unlike animals which also kill and maim image-bearers of their own volition and were destroyed, a penalty was also is effected upon the owner, human, without the human’s action for their responsibility as owner. There is no like requirement for inanimate objects to be destroyed because the responsible party is the one with the conscience and the motivated action.
2. Our Christian liberty allows us much latitude in what we may own and possess, what we may consume and what we may wear. But we are all constrained by God’s law in that we responsible for the effect those items have upon our hearts, upon our neighbors and upon fellow believer and their hearts. We are to refrain from that which causes them to stumble or present obstacles separating them from God. Likewise we are to handle that which God lends us, in a manner which glorifies him and preserves, not destroys the life he gives.
3. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love others as we love ourselves. This should prevent us from either possessing or denying possession of anything such that it would separate us from fellowship and love of our heavenly Father or of those who bear his image.
4. God’s sovereignty establishes the governments of this earth. God calls us to be obedient and upright citizens of our nations. Governments are established, by God, for our good and to restrain evil – and though not perfect, they are God’s tool. Our governments, as agents of God, provide or deny us the right to possess firearms. As Americans, we have a unique and profound ability to impact that ability, but why, when and how we make that impact will speak not only of us as Americans, but as Christians. We dare not act as Americans so as to besmirch the Name above all names.
The more I think upon this issue, the more I think that the question is not whether we limit gun ownership and to what extent – the question is, “What does God require of you, O man?”
Scott……..thank you so much for this piece! Your thinking and assessment is “right on”, sound and solid. Some of the “static” you’re getting is predictable, of course, making your fundamental question even more powerful and relevant. Hang on to Jesus, “hang in there”, and keep talking……….we all need it, desperately.
There has been 1 gun death here in Japan so far this year. This in a country of 127 million people. Guns are very very heavily regulated and even the yakuza avoid them.
So if you say that nothing can be done in the US, then the example of Japan proves you wrong. If you agree that something can be done, but decide that nothing should be done, then your position is that the lives of these victims are worth less than your “right” to grip your death-dealing instrument of metal and wood.
I’ve never cared for “if…then” ultimatums when participating in responsible debate. Nor have I ever cared for overly simplistic accusations that a position I may take is the primary cause for the death of innocents. The trouble with such “logic” is that practically every death has causative factors that could’ve been prevented. That being said, something can be done in the US, but I would never want to go to the extremes taken by the Japanese.
Scott, thanks for sticking your neck out and posting this.
You asked an honest question, here is an honest answer from a Christian living outside of the USA, in a country where mass shootings are incredibly rare.
In my eyes, this is the natural conclusion of the modern American pro-life movement. Yes, 58 image-bearers laying dead in a sea of blood is the expected result of pro-life politics gone mad. Christians outside of America looking in see such a massive disconnect between American faith and American politics, and it has rendered American-style Christianity completely irrelevant to much of the world. While we used to revere pro-life bastions of the faith, like Focus on the Family, we now want nothing to do with them anymore.
When Christians decided that the Republican Party was THE party to advance a pro-life agenda, the Republican Party policies slowly became a part of the American Christian narrative. I find it astonishing how Christians have been so easily swayed to abandon the fruits of the spirit in favour of the hyper-partisan rhetoric of the Republicans. When abortion became, for many Christians, the ONLY issue worth voting on, Christians became an easy target for the power-hungry within the party. So many Christians refuse to challenge the party on anything, because they feel that challenging the Republicans would be tantamount to challenging pro-life. As long as Republican leaders and politicians keep using Christian-sounding words (“our prayers go out to the victims”), Christians will support any other bullshit they come up with. (I know there are MANY individual American Christians that don’t feel this way, so please don’t get your dander up if I’m not describing you personally; I’m talking about the overall impression non-Americans get about Christian Republicans. Nor am I arguing that Democrats are all that better, but the ties between the gun lobby, the pro-life movement, and the Republican Party are irrefutable.)
The last few elections have been so close, and there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Republican Party is buoyed by the pro-life movement, they would most certainly fail without them. So what are these Christians doing about the decidedly non-pro-life agenda items of the Republican Party? They wield a lot of power, but are failing to use it. Because they have things backwards. They are letting the Republican Party dictate their faith, rather than letting their faith dictate their politics. God and Guns and Country.
Republicans want to make it easier for the mentally ill to obtain guns? That’s o.k. They’re pro-life.
Republicans want to strip healthcare from the poor, so that giving birth could bankrupt and destroy a family? That’s o.k. They’re pro-life.
Republicans want to restrict families fleeing from certain death in Muslim countries? That’s o.k. They-re pro-life.
Republicans want to support a president that publicly calls white supremacists and neo-Nazis “very fine people”? That’s o.k. They’re pro-life.
Republicans want to support the persecution of LGBTQ image-bearers in an age where suicide rates among this group are out of control? That’s o.k. They’re pro-life.
Republicans want to threaten a small country with nuclear obliteration? That’s o.k. They’re pro-life.
Republicans want to keep amassing a multi-trillion dollar war machine while their own supporters struggle to make ends meet on Walmart wages? That’s o.k. They’re pro-life.
Republicans want to keep allowing the sale of semi-automatic weapons and accessories that make it possible to mow down 600 people in 9 minutes? That’s o.k. They’re pro-life.
Why don’t Christian Republicans challenge their party on these life-and-death issues? They have the power, they could change the world. But every time I hear an American Christian try to speak into these things, it seems like there’s some pastor or evangelist or someone screaming at them about the betrayal of the pro-life movement. It always seems to come down to that.
Does this sound harsh? I hate to say it, but it is what those of us on the outside see when we look in through your windows. One of the other comments on this thread mentioned the distance between us, and I think he is absolutely right. The attempt to use politics as a bludgeon to advance the pro-life agenda has created a distance gap between Christians and the hurting that has become so wide, I don’t even know if Christians can ever speak into the morality of any of these other issues in a way that anybody would listen. All the blah blah blah about which guns are o.k., and how many, and how easy it is to get them, and whether silencers are good, and video games…it’s all meaningless noise. Resounding gongs.
I fully expect to get screamed at by a pro-life advocate who fails to see the connection in …three…two…one…
I remember learning about the “weapons effect” in my social psychology class at Calvin and I think of it every time I hear the argument “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”.
Hard to believe we’ve known about this since 1967!
It boils down to this… “Guns not only permit violence, they can stimulate it as well. The finger pulls the trigger, but the trigger may also be pulling the finger.”
Leonard Berkowitz, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, University of Wisconsin
If you want all the details you can find them here:
Your essay troubles me in another regard not related to the pros and cons of gun rights, particularly since it echoes so many things that I have heard and read from the Christian community – particularly from my particular faith community – since last November.
You infer that the NRA is one of the “principalities and powers” that Paul warns us of. Now, I am not a theologian, but in my understanding that term has always referred to Satan and his demons, to the great spiritual war that is being waged on a dimension of which we are unaware. So, the logical extension of that statement is this: if I, or anyone, is a member of the NRA or a backer of gun rights, then we are in league with Satan himself! I know that is not true of the folks I know that are in that camp!
I hear the same on the president. A good friend of mine blogged after the election that he “could not conceive of a Christian world view that would allow one to vote for Trump”, When I challenged that statement after church the next Sunday, he would not retract, instead saying that in his view any Christian who voted for Trump needs to get on thier knees to ask forgiveness.
I am not a Trump supporter and did not vote for him – I sat this one out because I found both candidates to be reprehensible. But I DO believe there are many reasons for a Christian to vote for him even if they did not think highly of him personally. That is the nature of politics. There is much talk of the nation being divided today, and that’s true. The blame is typically placed on Trump and his most devoted followers for being “divisive”, but in my mind, ‘thougthful’ statements like yours are equally divisive. To call someone’s faith commitment (or spiritual allegiance) into question based on thier postition on what is really a political viewpoint, is a pretty inflammatory thing to do.
And what troubles me most is not that people throw those sorts of statements out, it’s that they really mean them. That is not a good sign for the state of our church.