In the past two weeks two mass shootings have shaken America. One in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and the other at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Dozens of innocent lives were quickly snuffed out by well armed lone gunmen hell bent on killing as many people as quickly possible.
I think it’s left us all grief struck. Attempting to process this all is an impossible task. It’s a scene we’ve become all too sadly familiar with over the years. Another mass shooting. A collective gasp at the horror of it all. A public outcry and lament. Well repeated arguments that we hash out time and time again on social media, cable news, and the political arena.
Eventually the noise fades. Then life goes on as it did before. Nothing changes. And we simply wait on standby for the next cycle of violence to inevitably come.
We all know this is wrong, that this is evil, and we know we never want for this to happen again. Yet it will.
And nothing will probably happen to change this.
But, it won’t be because of some conspiracy regarding the gun lobby and NRA that prevents it from happening. The NRA, which has seen a steady decline in revenue in recent years, and most recently only had a revenue of less than $300 million isn’t this all powerful political machine that talking heads on TV make its out to be. By the time the NRA covers all their overhead and bills, they don’t actually have all that much money to buy too much political influence. $300 million isn’t going to get you very far in the halls of Congress these days.
The fact of the matter is this is America, people on the left and the right love their guns. It’s sewn into our national DNA. It’s our second amendment right that people on the left and right are capable of reciting like it’s one of the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not infringe on the right to own a gun, just like Moses said!
And while the interpretation of that right might differ depending on what side of the political aisle you find yourself on, the fact is Americans love guns. According to data there’s 120 guns in this country for every 100 people. Guns are literally everywhere.
And it makes sense. Our founding fathers were a little paranoid about powerful governments dominating their lives. They spoke against such things in no uncertain terms. And they felt if the freedom of speech wasn’t a powerful enough of a weapon to fight against tyranny and oppression, then something involving muskets loaded with black powder and steel balls would probably do the trick!
Fundamentally as a philosophical axiomatic principal, we as a people recognize that while men are born fundamentally free, that freedom can only be maintained by violence. Either the violence you commit to secure your own life and liberty as an individual, or the violence others are willing to commit on your behalf.
The freedom we enjoy as Americans is ultimately a freedom that is secured by violence. We literally sing about this every time our national anthem is played.
And we fundamentally understand this.
So we naturally recoil at the idea of our guns being taken away, or having much in the way of any restrictions being placed on them.
For we believe guns to be necessary for the enjoyment of life and liberty.
But this unfortunately puts us in a vicious cycle, from which there is no escape.
Jesus taught that “those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.” Pick up a sword or gun to secure your life and liberty, and you’ll eventually come full circle and find yourself looking down the wrong end of the very thing you cling to. What was to be for your life will ultimately result in your undoing.
Live by the sword, and you’ll die by the same.
And so every time we face one of these mass shootings, the words of Christ prove to be prophetic. The more we feel guns will save our lives, the more guns end up actually taking our lives.
As a result, gun violence in America is high. We have more guns than people, and we also have more gun violence than other nations as a direct result. Our guns aren’t reducing violence, they are only contributing to the multiplication of such violence.
In the United States we have 120 guns for every 100 people. And there are 12 gun related deaths per 100,000 people. In contrast, the next closest peer nation has only 40 guns per 100 people, but only had 3 gun related deaths per 100,000 people. We ultimately have 3 times as many guns, and 4 times as many gun related deaths compared to the next closest nation.
Yet we cling to our guns to save us, when in fact they are killing us. And the more guns we have, the more graves we ultimately have to fill.
Yet we try to tell lies in defense of guns. We say things like, “We don’t have a gun problem, we just have a heart problem!”
Such simply isn’t factual. The fact is the more guns we have the more people die from guns. That’s not just a heart problem, that’s a gun problem too. The data makes that clear.
The truth of the matter is we have both a heart and gun problem.
The heart problem is the fact the world is full of sinners who love to cause other people harm. And every person alive has one of these heart problems that affects them to their very core. As the prophet Jeremiah said, “there’s none good, no, not one!” Not one person alive is immune to this problem.
If you believe in the doctrine of original sin, total depravity, or something like it, you are aware that all people are fundamentally broken.
Therefore, it stands to reason that people with heart problems, like all the sons and daughters of Adam, probably shouldn’t be allowed to easily obtain and stockpile weapons capable of killing 20 kids within a matter of seconds.
And while people hell bent on destruction may find other ways to kill people, just like Cain killed Abel with a rock, it seems reasonable to conclude we probably shouldn’t allow Cain to stockpile a large collection of rocks somewhere. Especially rocks he’s saving for the explicit purpose of possibly killing somebody with one day, should it strike his fancy.
But at the end of the day, guns aren’t rocks. They are worse. And we know this to be true.
God made rocks.
Guns are tools we specifically fashioned to be weapons used to kill.
And while guns can certainly be used by good people to do good things with, a gun is not a neutral thing. Guns kill people because that’s what people designed guns to ultimately do. Guns are used as an extension of us, as a part of our human agency, and they are used to inflict harm on others.
We may have a heart problem yes, but we also have a gun problem. These aren’t mutually exclusive ideas. Guns and hearts are ultimately connected. And to pretend otherwise is nothing short of being willfully naive.
So we must do more than simply pray for hearts to be changed. We need to stop simply praying for gun violence to end. It’s clear, our gun violence situation is only getting worse, and our prayers in and of themselves aren’t working.
“Thoughts and prayers,” are needed, but something more than thoughts and prayers alone are needed. Practical application must also follow our prayers.
Martin Luther famously said, “Pray as if everything depends upon God, and work as if everything depends upon you.”
And in our nation, a nation which has more guns than people, there is work to be done!
We don’t need to get rid of all the guns or do away with the second amendment.
But we must take some practical steps, not only praying that people have a change of heart, but that they reduce the number of guns that exist, the types of firearms available to people, and the ease at which people easily obtain them.
Without taking such practical steps, we’ll continue to live in a society where mass shootings in schools and other public places are a normal reoccurring headline.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in such a world.
Yet unfortunately, many of my fellow Evangelical Christians, who numerically could tip the scale in this country politically when it comes to influencing reasonable gun restrictions, will do nothing of the sort.
Instead they will sing the loudest to defend not only the second amendment, but to actively take steps to fill the world with as many guns as possible. That’s not exactly a pro-life attitude to have, and is at odds with our Christian values.
As the late Art Katz used to say, “You are far too American.”
And I worry as card carrying Evangelical Christian we’ve taught that the right to bear arms is somehow a teaching of Jesus. Many in our churches pews certainly cite the second amendment better than they can a verse from the Sermon on the Mount.
The second amendment might be a brilliant idea fundamental to our society. But it’s not a Christian creed, nor the line of any hymn we as the church should sing.