Gun Control and the Church

2019 – I was looking back over this piece this morning and decided to repost it.  It’s from 2014 but the statistics and data are still really compelling and we can just substitute Dayton and El Paso for SPU.

It also made me think… if white evangelicals were a huge factor in getting Trump elected president, imagine the good we could do if we turned our energies to preserving and upholding the sanctity of human life instead of self-preservation.  Just a thought.

When I was in college I remember an assignment from my Persuasion & Propaganda class.  We had to research gun control laws and statistics, examine both sides of the issue, and then create a short film designed to convince the class of our viewpoint.  From the get go, I knew which side I would espouse.  I kinda sorta looked at the opposing arguments but it was already a done deal. My video would be anti-gun control.  Because duh.  That’s what conservative Christians do, right?   Hail to the NRA, the second amendment, patriotism and all that.

I heard about the shooting last week at SPU about as soon as it was possible for a person to find out, thanks to social media.   The details were really sketchy.  It was unclear if the shooter had been apprehended and I was transfixed on Twitter, searching the SPU hashtags and trying to figure out what was going on.

I refreshed Facebook repeatedly, doggedly searching for friends and acquaintances who work or attend classes on campus.  Caenisha, Bo, Brian, Eric, Nate, Emily, Tricia, Tony, Brenda, David… and so many more.  So many folks from our family at church are connected with Seattle Pacific. Instead of the usual Sunday services yesterday, in the aftermath of the shooting, our community opted instead for a time of collective lamentation and grief.

In the intervening years since college, I’ve re-examined or, rather, examined for the first time, my views on guns and gun control and I’m more than a little embarrassed by my video assignment all those years ago.  This past weekend I found myself pondering the topic once more.  Once the initial surprise of the shooting and the horrible news of the death of Paul Lee passed over me, I felt sort of…flat.  Dull.  Hopeless.  Did this really happen again?  What’s going on?   I feel afraid.   It’s too much.  I can’t process this much pain.

Of the 12 deadliest shootings in US history, 6 have taken place since 2007.   I’m not generally a doomsayer but surely, surely we need to do something.   And I’m genuinely baffled as to why the default Christian stance, as mine once was, is overwhelmingly in favor of lax gun laws and the protection of the 2nd amendment at all costs.

People Kill People?

The argument I hear most often from Christians is that guns don’t kill people.  People kill people.   While there is truth in this sentiment, let’s look a little closer and see how it plays out in the US and around the world.

In 1996 a gunman killed 35 people in a mass shooting in Australia.  The government immediately set to work on gun reform laws.  They tightened licensing, banned assault weapons and shotguns, and financed both gun amnesty and buyback programs.  The result?  According to the American Law & Economics Review in 2010, firearm homicides dropped 59% in Australia from 1995-2006.  In the 18 years prior to the reform, there were 13 massacres resulting in 102 deaths.  Since 1996?   NONE.

Japan, likewise, has very strict gun control laws.  Only 11 people were killed with guns in 2008, compared to 12,000+ in the U.S.   Even when you take into account the difference in population, that’s a HUGE disparity.    And the trend is similar in other countries with strict gun control laws.  Per 100,000 people in 2010,  the United Kingdom reported 0.25 deaths by firearm.  Germany reported 1.24 and Australia 1.06.  But the US?  The US reported 10.3 per 100,000.

In a New York Times editorial in 2012, it was reported that “experts from the Harvard School of Public Health, using data from 26 developed countries, have shown that wherever there are more firearms, there are more homicides… the American murder rate is roughly 15 times that of other wealthy countries, which have much tougher laws controlling private ownership of guns.”

While people DO kill people, a firearm exponentially expands the breadth and depth of a person’s ability to take life.  Other things to take into consideration are the socioeconomic, cultural and psychological factors that drive up crime and homicide but first things first.

Right to Bear Arms?

The other argument I often hear is that the American people have the right to defend themselves. Won’t armed citizens be more likely to be able to protect themselves from these crazed gunmen?

According to Heather Rogers at the Independent Voter Network, 88 out of every 100 American citizens owns a gun.  That’s nearly a gun per person.  Yet the mass shootings continue at an alarming rate. So having more armed citizens doesn’t seem to be helping us.  Not to mention that an article by Nicholas Gerber on gun laws reports that defensive gun use succeeds only rarely and gun owners are 4.5x more likely to be shot during an assault.

The Church Leaning Together

Jesus is famous for his mandate to “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemy” in his sermon on the mount, as told in the book of Matthew.  It was revolutionary then and remains revolutionary today.   We have also been given other visions of shalom, of the world as God intended it to be (Isaiah 2 and 32, Revelation 7 and 21, Leviticus 26 to name a few) and they are all visions of unparalleled peace and non-violence.  It’s those places and those visions that the church is supposed to be pressing into and pushing toward.

In other words, the church should be leaning in the direction of life.  And while policies and laws are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, shouldn’t the church err on the side of laws and policies that seek to protect life?

Stricter gun control laws, as evidenced in countries like Australia and Japan, appear to do just that; to err on the side of protecting life.  Imagine the impact the church could have in this conversation if we were leaning together in the direction of life, instead of scrambling around trying so hard to protect ourselves and our so-called “rights.”

Want to dig in to this?

  • For a timeline of Gun Control Laws in the U.S., see here.
  • For an interesting infographic regarding women and gun violence, see here.
  • To read an editorial by John Howard, prime minister of Australia from 1996-2007, click here.