upper room daily devotions

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Gun Control, Rallies, and Me

Today in Seattle a rally/march was held in support of new gun laws, i.e. changing restrictions on magazine capacity, closing gun show loop holes, stopping the sale of certain kinds of guns, and buying back guns already in the public. Civic and religious leaders joined with Washington Ceasefire and a concerned public to decry violence in our schools, our public spaces, and in our homes.

I am well aware that this platform will not stop violence in its entirety. Our faith story and our lived experience remind us that human beings sadly have creative and inexhaustible ways to hurt and kill one another. However, our faith and our hope compel us to strive for a better society that protects the vulnerable. The question is whether the proposed changes will or could make an appreciable difference in violence and its effects in our communities. Advocates of the platform say "yes" while gun advocates say "no." Several weeks ago, I signed in support of the platform, and I did so as a religious leader. Let me tell you why.

Today was Baptism of The Lord Sunday. In my tradition, Holy Baptism is one of two sacraments. Along with Holy Communion, Holy Baptism draws the individual disciple into the larger community and ties us one to the other, and all of us to our Creator. This is our binding covenant.

As followers of Jesus, one who lived and shared his life in community, Christians, through Holy Baptism, are called to be covenantal people, seeking a general welfare for us all. We are, like our Christ, supposed to be communal people, healing the sick, loving the outcast, welcoming the stranger, helping the poor, and embodying a just compassion in all that we do.

"Shalom," or "peace" is how we refer to this hope, this general welfare, this society. And, God's peace is not a strained abstention from violence. Rather, God's peace refers to a state of well being, wholeness, and interconnectedness. Yet, our current use of the word "peace" robs it of its robust and full biblical meaning. We have watered it down, made it weak, and stripped it of its import. We have begun to live and act as though community is not important, to act as though our communities and towns are just collections of individuals all competing in a zero sum society. God's shalom challenges this assumption. God's shalom is prefaced on an assumption that in covenant we can find enough for all and that all can flourish.

In covenantal life, like marriage, we give up some independence for the health of the relationship. We freely offer ourselves in love to another. We bind ourselves one to the other and pledge our fidelity. I am not so naive as to believe that our greater communities can be considered purely covenantal. After all, we live in cities, states, and country with one another much by circumstance, not because we have freely entered into a promissory relationship with each other. We are not all of the same faith (or any faith at all). That is why we have laws to govern us. But, a society that strives for a better future, hopes the best for one another, doesn't pit one group against another, and fundamentally believes that a common future can be had. Sadly, too often in our public discourse, this hope is lacking. I hear a different message, a different gospel, which says, "I got mine, Jack. You get yours." This is neither the Gospel of Jesus Christ nor a sound foundation for a strong secular society. A commitment to a shared future is what gave rise things like public education, a police force, a publicly funded fire brigade, shared infrastructure, and shared utilities. We do not all build our own roads, dig our own wells, and so forth. Not most of us, anyway.

What has this to do with gun control? For me, what I hear in my family and among my friends, is a debate about "my" "rights." "I have a right to a gun." Well, there is some truth in this statement. However, it is not completely true. We already have placed restrictions on the kinds of weapons a person can own. For example, one cannot own a live grenade or a rocket launcher or a tank. One is not allowed to make a bomb in one's garage. We have, as a society, decided to curb our rights for the safety of us all. "I have a right to own guns" is true, but only in part. Out of a hope for a stronger and safer communal/covenantal existence, we have limited that "right." In our focus on communal health, we step away from certain personal liberties.

I am a huge supporter of individual rights. Anyone who has read this blog will know that I have spent much energy campaigning for LGBTQI rights, for animal rights, for the rights of the poor, right of children, and rights of the dispossessed. Unlike some, I have no desire to repeal the Second Amendment. I do not want to "take your guns away." Rather, I want to restrict the ability to get just a few things that might result in slowing down the evil doer, impede his or her progress, and, hopefully, decrease the effect of his or her violent act.

This is why I signed on to the gun control platform. Now, here is where I may part ways with many gun control advocates. I need more evidence of the effects of certain policies. "It's common sense," say gun control advocates. "Fewer guns, smaller magazines, and limits on who and where guns are bought will, of course, result in less violence." That sure sounds right, but gun sales have been on the decline for years.* Gun related deaths have also been on the decline, and, yet, mass killings "seem" to be more prevalent than ever (and, in fact, do occur more often). Why? It is about access? Is it that we have better and more pervasive media and we just learn about it more easily? Is it that we are more isolated in our communities and act more violent more easily? I do not know. I want to know more.

For those who call for arming teachers, I just cannot find a response that does not sound insulting. My father was an educator as were his father and mother. My sister, who is a gun owner, is a teacher. None of these people find or would have found this argument in the least reasonable. My father was as conservative of a person as I can imagine and this suggestion would have sent him around the bend...for a whole host of reasons. The legal responsibility of a school system for all of those guns would make insurance impossible. The one irresponsible teacher whose actions left a child wounded or dead would shut down a school system. We cannot force teachers to carry weapons. In the same way that I cannot take all of your guns, we also cannot force anyone to carry a gun. The list of objections to this suggestion is inexhaustible...and these are just practical objections. Moral and theological objections open a different conversation altogether.

For those who suggest police in schools: Unlike many of my liberal counterparts, I have no problem with this. None at all. I have one question. Who is going to pay for it? Already across this nation, cities are cutting police officers, fighting police unions, and shrinking city budgets. Placing a police officer in every school would be extremely expensive. Interestingly, this suggestion seems to come from the very quarters that want to reduce taxes or eliminate them altogether. Where, I reiterate, does the money come from? If you have a consistent, ongoing funding stream, I am open for dialogue.

I support gun control because I do not think that reducing the number of bullets allowed in a gun harms gun ownership in an appreciable way. I do not think that slowing down a killer is a bad thing. And, I believe in communal (to be religious, covenantal) life that strives for shalom.

None of us wants more violence, of that I feel confident. Let's start with that and try to find some common ground. If there is no common ground to be had, and, sadly, this may be so, I hope we can at least move forward aware that our goal is the same, i.e. less death and brokenness, rather than castigate one another as "commies wanting to take our guns" or "heartless child killers." I know that most gun owners are responsible, good, wonderful people who believe in sport or self protection or some combination of both. I grew up where every truck had a gun in a rack and most homes had one in a lock box...or, simply, a drawer. Let us stop looking for the worst among us and seek a better future born out of trust and good will. I hope we can do this. I really hope we can.

*Of course, the decline in gun sales has largely taken place among Democrats illustrating that the decline is not fairly spread throughout all segments of the country. This is according to the GSS.

For more information, I refer you to:
Second Amendment Foundation (clearly, anti-gun control, pro-gun ownership).
Washington Post on mass shootings.
Nate Silver on gun ownership.
The General Social Survey includes data regarding ownership and attitudes toward guns.

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