Where I grew up two types of people had guns. Well, three actually: gang members, police officers, and old men. There was a fair amount of gun violence in my hometown. I first experienced it personally when I was in third grade. My elementary school was next to a park in a not so pleasant part of town. One afternoon there was an altercation between rival gang members and my neighboring elementary school quickly became a battleground for a few brief moments as stray bullets went flying. I was so upset by the incident that I wrote a letter to the current Commander-in-Chief, President George H. W. Bush. I was thrilled when I received a reply from his office a few months later informing me that the government took my concern seriously and was doing everything it could to decrease gang and gun violence. Yet the gang and gun violence continued.
Years later, not far from my elementary school, a seemingly mild-mannered older man in town ran after a group of teenagers who had stolen a plastic pumpkin from his porch. He was angry, grabbed his gun, and shot one of the teens point blank in the head while they sat in their getaway car. The older man didn’t have a history of violence nor had he previously been in trouble with the law. During his court trial he expressed that, although he was angry, he didn’t mean for the gun to go off. As I grew older, and as the incidents of gun violence increased, a belief was instilled in me. Guns were dangerous, but more importantly to me was that people with guns were not only dangerous and unpredictable but able to do great harm to one another.
I was fourteen when my mother married my stepfather. Going through boxes of his belongings in the garage one day, I found his gun. I was livid. In tears, I demanded that he get rid of it. I’m not sure if he actually did, but my emotional reaction revealed that guns induced great fear in me. Firearms had come to represent the enemy; gang members, unstable old men, and now my stepfather owned one! “Maybe he’s one of them,” I thought to myself. My view of firearms was obviously short-sighted. However, my view was based on fact and my actual experience of the power of guns in the hands of flawed and fallible human beings.
My stepfather has a very different view of guns. For him the personal possession of a firearm represents freedom and the ability to protect his home and family. Born in Cuba in the late 1940s, he lived through the revolution and the uprising of a communist government. He helplessly watched his parents lose their home and wealth. His father even disappeared for a time at the hands of the government. Early on, Castro had confiscated the firearms of private citizens. This left families like my stepfather’s vulnerable and unable to protect themselves. For my stepfather the possession of a gun is a form of security and seems like a necessity.
My stepfather’s view regarding guns comes directly from his personal history and experiences, as does mine. And because our memories and emotions play such a large role in our personal views on guns and gun control, I wonder if either of us is actually able to make strictly logical and analytical arguments.
White House Press Secretary James Brady was shot and permanently disabled in 1981 during the failed assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. According to the Brady Campaign, started by James and his wife, Sarah Brady, over 108,000 people are shot in murders, assaults, suicides, suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, or by police interventions each year. (On average, 89 people per day are killed due to gun violence.) According to the CDC the leading cause of death for young people is homicide. We can look at actual statistics on gun violence and can compare gun violence in the United States to other first world countries with stricter gun control laws, but does any of that actually matter? Are we too emotional, too fearful, and too caught up in our own histories to allow our views and opinions to be influenced by fact?
Without a doubt I’m sure I would feel differently about guns if I had grown up in a rural area where it was perfectly natural to own a gun. I believe I would feel differently if I had grown up in a family that hunted for their food. Certainly, I would feel differently about guns. However, I’m not sure I would feel differently about people. The combination of our flawed and fallible human nature and deadly weapons makes me believe that caution, education, and reasonable restrictions should be created and enforced, not to take our rights from us, but rather to protect us from ourselves.
As the gun control battle rages on, I have a sense that it’s not just about gun control laws or self-protection, but rather about our devotion to individual rights, power, and personal freedom. So what does this mean for believers? I think as Christians we must ask ourselves whether our love and devotion for our personal rights as United States citizens trump our devotion to Jesus and how He teaches us to live? In John 15:12 Jesus says, “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you”. Jesus loved us by giving up His own individual rights, power, and personal freedoms—so much so that He gave His life. He could have asserted His power but He chose not to. Jesus’ devotion wasn’t to Himself, but rather to God’s plan of salvation for us.
How does Jesus feel about guns? I honestly don’t know. I think it’s important to acknowledge that guns and weapons in general are a sign of a fallen world. Warfare, though at times necessary, is a reminder of the evil that exists on earth. While Jesus does not condemn the use of weapons for protection (Luke 22:36), in countless places in the Bible He strongly promoted peace in a rather un-peaceful generation.
Personally I cannot get past the belief that the danger of firearms is not just the weapon itself, but also the human behind the trigger. Guns give fallible mankind the ability to do unspeakable and irreversible harm. As Americans we can recognize and value our rights, but Christians are called to think beyond ourselves. As the apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 10:23, “All things are lawful to me . . . but all things do not edify”. This principle can help us take seriously not only our rights, but the rights and safety of those around us.