Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Guns & Christians

I learned to shoot a .22 at church camp, and I am really good at it. My dad went hunting with parishioners. He held the gun while my brother shot at ground squirrels. But I hate guns.

I went out to the movies with some friends a few nights ago, and thought to myself, “I shouldn’t text during the previews. An old white man might shoot me.” (A man in Florida was shot after an altercation over texting during the previews in a movie theater. More here.) 

(You might think this actually gives me a great reason to avoid old white men and the state of Florida, but that seems unrealistic.)

I know I’m supposed to be all measured and moderate, and say that I hate it when people get ahold of guns illegally, or I hate it when people who own guns are irresponsible, and I support the right to bear arms responsibly, but that’s not it. I actually just don’t like guns.

Yes, I know I live in the U.S. I am resigned to the fact that there are guns everywhere, and I have to deal with it. I also know that I can afford to live in an area where guns are not a necessity. I don’t need a gun for everyday self-protection. I don’t need a gun for food.

I know responsible gun owners. They keep their guns and their ammunition locked up. They don’t brandish them when there are guests or children around.

They don’t shoot black children.

I am horrified at the state of Florida, in part because there is definitely something wrong with the criminal justice system there. But this isn’t about Florida. This is about us.

What always strikes me when I drive down into Florida is the presence of anti-abortion billboards. They are graphic and offensive. I know that is the intent. But for a state with so many pro-life Christians, it has really gotten a lot of attention for multiple high-profile gun violence episodes.

The problem with Florida is that this is a national problem. It is a problem of our culture. It is a problem of those of us who are Christian. Our elected officials live in fear of the gun lobby. We live captive to racism that both tells us and institutionalizes the ideology that black men and boys are a threat, even when they aren’t doing anything. We believe in a national ideology that privileges the right to bear arms over the right to walk safely or go to school in safety.

Who have we become?

Michael Dunn was convicted of attempted second-degree murder for shooting at three teenagers who didn’t die. The jury couldn’t agree on the first-degree murder charge for the teenager who did die. (More here.)

George Zimmerman was not convicted of second-degree murder after shooting and killing a teenager. In the back.

The Georgia State Legislature is voting today on whether to allow people with concealed-carry permits to bring their weapons into churches, bars, unsecured parts of the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and government buildings that do not require security screenings for entry. Imagine how pleased churches are with that possibility. (More here.) As of 1:15pm, the legislature voted to allow guns on college campuses, despite the vocal opposition of all Georgia colleges.

Last year, Vice President Biden released a series of guidelines on emergency preparedness, including the emergency involving a person with a gun who is intent on using it on others in the immediate vicinity. One of these guidelines is for houses of worship. You can read the story here.

What kind of country needs these guidelines? Seriously.

This makes my head explode (metaphorically). Or is it my heart doing the metaphorical exploding? As a Christian, I know my primary loyalty is to life in Christ. My faith calls me to work for a world in which all creation has life abundant. We are to live toward peace, hope, and love. Is not our most faithful response to God’s saving love to engage in sharing that love with the world?

I know this is not how every Christian responds to the reality of God’s love in her or his life, but this is my response. My faith brings me into direct conflict with the reality of mass shootings and the lower-profile gun violence that happen with uncomfortable frequency. Something is not right here. I believe citizens should all be free, in our society, to walk around without worrying we could be shot at any moment. I believe this freedom is for everyone.

I am not comfortable with the risk and reality of frequent shootings, mass or otherwise. I believe Christians have a powerful witness to life over death, to care for the vulnerable over the economic gain of the powerful.

Maybe one day children of all races and economic classes can walk to school or go outside to play without being afraid of being shot. Maybe one day government personnel can go to work without being afraid of being shot. Maybe one day black unarmed teenagers can go about their day without being afraid of being shot.

We have work to do, people. Our faith is calling us.

If you need a start, here are some resources.


Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has a fantastic documentary out about the impact of gun violence on communities. (Yes, you heard me: a church agency has funded a good documentary. It’s possible.) My seminary classmate David Barnhart made the documentary, which is named “Trigger: The Ripple Effect,” and it does a great job of presenting the effects of gun violence, along with concrete ways to make a difference on the issue that isn’t politically dogmatic.

You can find Trigger on Facebook here: triggerdoc.com  

Downloadable Studies (for adults):

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