Gun violence is a horrific evil. Whether in the form of mass shootings, daily crime, or suicide, it rips bodies, lives, and families apart. All people of good faith – conservatives and liberals – want a more peaceful world and grieve whenever we hear yet another act of violence. News of violence should cause us to ask probing questions: Why is this happening? What can we do?
What can we do?
In polarized America, two overly simplistic narratives take center stage.
1) Gun violence is evil. We can solve gun violence with gun control. Therefore, anyone who opposes gun control must not really care whether or not people keep getting shot.
2) Gun violence is evil. Gun control won’t solve gun violence, or it will make it worse. Therefore, anyone who thinks we need gun control is stupid.
These are, of course, caricatures of the arguments, but in a Facebook and Twitter world, that’s about all we’re left with these days. The nuanced arguments are pushed to the side. The fringes get the press.
Most arguments hinge on the second part of the argument: Would gun control actually work to stem gun violence? (I’m setting aside the constitutional question for a moment). To answer that question we’ll need more than simplistic arguments, we’ll need data. I’m not an expert on this by any means, but I’d wager that some gun control ideas might work well, and others might be useless, unproductive, or even counter-productive.
Instead of asking the question: Will gun control work? Perhaps we should instead ask, Will this gun control measure work? To do this, we would need to set aside ideological bias and come to the specific policy proposal open to wherever the data and analysis leads. Approaching the question in this way values the Christian virtues of wisdom and truth.
Joe Carter’s recent FAQ on mass shootings provides an excellent example of this sort of moral reasoning. He concludes as follows: “[W]e must debate the issue in love by following the dictates of a biblically informed conscience that has been shaped by facts and evidence.”
What about the constitution?
I’m no constitutional expert. Ideally, we would find a way to address gun violence without infringing on citizens’ constitutional rights. I’ll leave interpretation to the courts. The answer is surely important and you probably have a strong opinion about this and want me to as well. Sorry to disappoint.
A weak “theological” argument
I want to address one overly simplistic argument I see on the religious right. It goes like this: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. The problem isn’t with the weapon. It’s with the human heart.”
I agree with one part of that argument: Evil finds its source in the human heart. No amount of external constraints is going to make people good. We will find a way to injure or harm one another. We’ll use our bare hands if we have to. That part is true.
But this argument dismisses two important truths: First, guns are not entirely neutral tools, but are designed for a purpose. Second, guns make it possible to kill a lot of people really quickly.
Guns didn’t make the Dayton or El Paso shooters evil, but they gave a lot of power to their evil. They made their evil far more destructive than if all they had had was a knife, a fist, or a rock. You’re not killing 9 people in 30 seconds with a rock. Could evil people still make bombs to kill a lot of people? Sure. Could they use airplanes as guided missiles? Sure. But it’s nevertheless true that in our country, guns are used to give lethal power to a lot of people who end up doing a lot of damage, to themselves or others.
If you want to argue against gun control because people are evil, then you need to also ask the question: If people’s hearts are evil, why are we so comfortable giving them the power to kill others so easily?
Finally, a note on Christians and guns
Whether Christians end up owning guns or not, Christians are called to be people of peace. We, of all people, should shun violence, return evil with good, and grieve over the victims of gun violence. We should love our neighbors and think deeply about how we can live in a more just and peaceful world. We should be a city on a hill and a lamp on the stand in the darkness and chaos of our world. Doing that might take a variety of forms – understanding and analyzing the data, proposing and supporting sensible legislation, providing emotional support for people with deep hurts, vigorously opposing ideologies that incite violence, or preaching the gospel of peace… until the Lord returns.