The Aurora Debacle

In the wake of the disaster at the Cineplex in Aurora Colorado it really is time for us to rethink entirely our gun (and ammo) control laws. Colorado has one of the most lax gun control laws in the country, in fact in the world. The arguments of the NRA and other gun totters no longer hold any merit in the wake of 71 people being injured or killed by a person who bought guns entirely legally and never had more than a speeding ticket before in terms of ‘criminal’ activity. The typical arguments for lax gun control laws no longer hold any water at all. But let’s listen to them one more time.

‘Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Frankly I’ve never seen a gun walk into a Cineplex and kill people. I’ve never seen a gun load itself. I’ve never seen a gun buy other guns.’

But none of that is the issue. The issue is the mayhem that guns can do in the hands of even those who may be perfectly normal and alright most of the time, but simply have a really bad day and get angry. You don’t have to be a psychopath to kill a person. You just have to have guns too readily available at the wrong time.

‘If guns cause crime then pencils cause misspelled words’

This illogic is dazzling. First of all, guns aren’t pencils. I’ve never heard of death by pencil. We don’t need pencil control laws because they are not that dangerous. Being shot by a gun is another matter. The more dangerous the object the more legal control of it is necessary. There is a reason you can’t by a heat seeking missile at Walmart. The point is that guns can even accidentally be the instruments of death…. like when a child picks up a loaded gun left around in a home and shoots his sister. They are enormously dangerous, even in the hands of responsible ordinary people. Especially in the hands of innocent children or teens.

‘Gun shows are for collectors and responsible enthusiasts. They are not primarily to make money.’

Yes, I’ve heard that argument. If that really were the case then stop selling guns altogether at such shows, or at least stop selling them until a complete background check has been done on any and all purchasers. And also make them wait a day or two or a week to get their weapons. Unfortunately even that is not enough to have stopped the Aurora killer. So something more than that needs to be in place.

‘I have a Constitutional right to bear arms’.

The Founding Fathers could not have imagined the sorts of weapons you can buy over the counter today—assault rifles, Glocks with multiple rounds possible, and I could go on. Besides, the Founding Fathers were mainly talking about militias in each of the colonies, not the right of a private citizen to build the sort of arsenal or buy the sort of explosives the Aurora killer had. If the real issue is to have the right to a hunting rifle or say a private firearm because of safety needs where you live, then fine. Ban all other kinds of weapons to public purchase– all weapons that act like machine guns firing multiple rounds.

‘If we have Stricter Gun Control Laws only the Criminals will have Guns’

This of course is patently false, unless we ban the sale of guns altogether. It also entirely ignores the fact that the police will always have guns. This is no argument against stricter gun control laws.

‘The Killing of those people in Aurora was Tragic, but it Suggests Ordinary Citizens should have even more rights to Bear Arms, even in a Crowded Theater’.

I do not think it is any accident that both the Columbine killings and the Aurora killings took place in Colorado, which, as I have said, has some of the most lax gun control laws anywhere. Whatever the merits of our rights to bear arms argument, the real basis of this argument is fear based thinking. You are afraid, and you think a gun will protect you. Most of the time that’s absolutely untrue. Scared people are as likely to harm themselves or a loved one in a crisis situation at home, or harm an innocent bystander in a public place as shoot or kill an assailant.

THE BIG ISSUE IS THAT THE GUN CONTROL LAW MATTER SHOULD NOT BE DECIDED ON THE BASIS OF FEAR BASED THINKING. Fear of what might happen if I don’t have a gun. Fear or anger are both very dangerous emotions when you have a loaded gun. They just are.

If the NRA and the gun totters want their rhetoric to be taken seriously any more then they will:

1) Come out in favor of an absolute ban on assault rifles and pistols.
2) Come out in favor of a waiting period for the purchase of any gun at all. No one needs a gun overnight or right now, or if they do, they should have already called the police. Let’s say a week, until a thorough background check can be done. A week is not a long time. But it is long enough for a person to get over a burst of anger, or the paralyzing feeling of fear that comes and goes.
3) The NRA will stop favoring the ability of ordinary persons to carry concealed weapons in public.
4) The NRA will advocate gun shows no longer being able to sell weapons on the spot. They will strongly advocate that even at gun shows, background checks are required.
5) The NRA will oppose certain kinds of ammunition that do not serve the purpose of hunting, say a clean kill of a deer, but have the purpose of ripping human parts into pieces. In other words they are instruments of extreme cruelty, the desire to maim but not necessarily kill, to torment and torture and not necessarily take a life.

That would be a good start. The NRA should take the lead in this matter if they want anyone to take seriously their argument that they are for responsible gun use. We now live in a country full of dysfunctional, diseased, and just plain mentally ill persons. And all of those sorts of persons if they have no criminal records can still buy guns. This is a good reason to strengthen gun control laws now.

  • James Petticrew

    @ Ben … I think I was personally questioning as to whether Christians should have firearms to defend themselves not implying you believe that

    @ Ray …. I don’t think I was suggesting enshrining anything in law. As a Scot I really don’t have a right to say anything about America’s gun law. I think what I was asking was that as Christ followers, who live an alternative way of life in the Kingdom of God, does Jesus call for us to “turn the other cheek and not resist evil people” preclude us from defending ourselves? …

    This is something I grapple with, If it doesn’t mean that, what exactly does Jesus mean?

    Secondly you talk about how I would feel about the courts enforcing Jesus ethic on forgiveness. I think there is a distinction in the NT between what God calls on us as His people to do and his calling on “secular” authorities. Paul does seem to suggest in Romans 13 that the state can use some form of “violence” to enforce the rule of law. When I served as a police officer I took Paul’s statement about bearing the sword (although I only carried a small wooden baton) as my theological rationale for using limited violence to protect the public. However when I took off my uniform as a private citizen I would not use violence to defend myself. Maybe I was wrong but that is how I lived with the tension of being a Christ follower and being called “not to resist evil” but also being “servant of God as an official of the state who is called to bear the sword” Maybe the Amish and Quakers are more consistent to their ethic of “not resisting evil” in not serving the state in those ways.

    What I am saying is disappointing in this debate is that I see a lot about people’s rights, right to carry guns, right to defend themselves, rights enshrined in a constitutions but I have overheard very little grappling with the tensions surrounding how we respond to evil that I think the NT raises for those who claim to follow Christ.

    I wish I could hear Martin Luther King’s viewpoint on guns and their use in the States, does anyone know if he ever spoke on the issue?

  • Karl Udy

    This is not empirical data. This is two different stories. In the church situation you have clear visibility, a an armed off-duty police officer (ie someone who is trained to deal with such situations), no body armour and presumably no automatic weapons.

    To suggest that the cinema situation is analogous to that is drawing a very long bow.

    What is more, the more common it becomes for civilians to carry concealed weapons, the more likely it will be that criminals will begin to use firearms not simply to intimidate others into complying with their requests, but to actually kill those they suspect may fire on them.

    The concept that gun-free = free crime implies some things that must concern anyone about the American psyche. Firstly, it implies a clear disillusionment with government forces of law and order to deal with such situations. Secondly, it implies a clear buying into the vigilante mindset, for which I believe Hollywood does have to bear some responsibility and of which Batman is probably the iconic representative of such dispensation of justice.

    Has your country really not moved past the Wild West? Are you really a place beset with criminals and an ineffective sheriff? Does your hope really lie in vigilante justice and hired guns? If so, why has nothing changed in the last 150 years?

  • John

    Dr. W3,
    I think people would take you more seriously if you stuck to topics you were informed about.

  • Paul

    Karl, in fact, what I linked is indeed empirical data. There are some empirical facts, viz., an empirical shooter, an empirical church, and empirical shot fired, an empirical victim, an empirical armed congregant, and empirical return fire, and empirical dead gunman, etc. That they are “different stories” does not mean the church story doesn’t give us empirical data. Really, this is all very basic. Indeed, you yourself cited “empirical data!” But then you say, “This is not empirical data.” Now, perhaps you confuse the *interpretation* of empirical data with empirical data qua data. That’s ignorant, but at least makes sense. Moreover, did I say the situations were “analogous?” No. I said “Here’s some empirical data to *consider*.” We can discuss the *interpretation* later. Of course, there are some analogous points of comparison as well, such as a gunman bent on mass murder. But, one would think that a smart chap like you from across the pond, who prides himself on living in a place that never had a “wild west”, but rather has queens, tea and crumpets, would have understood that, if anything, I was *not* appealing to an “analogy,” but, rather, to what seems to be a crucial *disanalogy*, viz., the presence of an armed citizen! C’mon, Carl, you’re giving that free education a bad name, and putting the lie to the belief that an English accent correlates to a high IQ.

    Other than that, you make some throw away comments about what is “likely” without supplying the relevant empirical data backed by probabilistic math—or were you just referring to subjective probability, that is, *you* think it is more likely based on, well, I dunno, what you’ve been told by those fine educators Theodore Dalrymple has so nicely and graciously exposed for us cowboys over here as charlatans.

    You also start pontificating about some apparent “concept” that I hold, though you don’t cite me as holding that concept. I’m not sure why you’d introduce this red herring into the dialectic with *me*, and I’ll do my best to refrain from following you on your tangent about the value and trust in Gov’t—though considering the sorry shambles your country is in, both economically and socially, one would expect more discernment and disillusionment, but perhaps the brainwashing runs deep (again, as Dalrymple has shown us quite vividly). So I’ll not follow you down this trail and argue more thoroughly for my above accusations but will, like you did, leave it at the level of mere assertion. If you complain about that, look in the mirror, for you gave me the free pass.

    So, next time think twice about popping off with all that British bravado. For whether America has moved past the days of the wild west (and I leave aside your Hollywood understanding) or not, one thing is sure: the Blogosphere is the new wild west, and I’ll shoot back.

  • Prince Asbel

    Sorry if this is a repost. I wasn’t sure if my initial comment went through.

    Secondly, I don’t believe in public deception, which is what this amounts to, and is not a Christian position.

    How would you explain Judges 3 where Ehud, God’s selected deliverer of Israel, utilized public deception in his mission to kill King Eglon?

  • Ben Witherington

    I would call it a perfect example of a bad practice used for an apparently good end, but the ends do not justify the means. BW3

  • Ben Witherington

    I must say, as we draw this interesting discussion to a close, that it would be well if the more ardent American gun advocates who commented on this post would actually listen to what some of the international bloggers said on this post. America, when it comes to gun control, is an aberration compared to most civilized or highly developed nations. And yet with the plethora of weapons we have in the U.S. it has not made us any safer at all than other nations. Rather, it appears to have just poured gasoline on the fire of our being one of the most violent cultures in all of human history, both at home and abroad, both in war, and in peace. We need to do more serious thinking about why this is, as of course it is not just caused by the state of our gun laws. What is clear to me though is that even if all American citizens were armed to the teeth, we would not be any safer from harm in the long run. Indeed, we might even be more tempted to use violence not as a last resort but as a first resort (shot first, ask questions later) to solving our problems. But killing fellow human beings seldom solves the root problems of a fallen sin-laden culture at all. Think on these things. BW3

  • Patrick

    Chicago is more dangerous than Baghdad in 2005 right now and they do have stringent gun laws.

    Mexico has a total ban on all firearms for citizens, go visit Acapulco right now if you think that slows down violence and evil men.

  • Luken

    “Thanks Luken. I used to shoot skeet when I was in Scouts. I have no problems with that. I do have a problem with private citizens owning assault rifles, and so should you. The law against this expired in 2004 thanks to Mr. Bush and we need a new one…. badly. BW3″

    @BW3 The only thing that will happen with an “assault” (what is that?) weapons ban is make it so that people like myself that use them as a last resort defensive tool will find it harder to get parts and magazines for currently owned weapons. Further more those that want to use them for nefarious purposes will try and steal them from people like myself. The cat is out of the bag Mr. Witherington, semi-automatic rifles exist and are owned by a greater number of individuals every year in this country. Short of confiscation no amount of bans will work. If you are speaking of confiscation then we have a whole other conversation. In such an event I and many many gun owners across this country will rightfully resist such an illegal attempt at theft. I believe that we have a fundamentally different understanding of what is a “right”/”gift” and perhaps no amount of discussion/arguing could change that. It is sad but there you have it. I believe whole heartily that an unarmed man is a slave to those that have enough power, money and influence to bring about their desires and goals. Further more, Police/military are not always the virtuous gun wielder that you seem to imagine, nor are they ABLE nor willing to defend an armed populous much less a defenseless populous. If I remember correctly you are opposed to some of our overseas conflicts, as am I (all of them actually) yet you defend the military use of Assault weapons but not civilian use of same… Why is that? Are their no atrocities committed by military personnel in your estimation? Over 100,000 civilian deaths. Let me repeat that: Over 100,000 CIVILIAN deaths. Some sources say that coalition forces are responsible for around 12% of those deaths. That equals 12,000 unique individuals that met their death because of your mythical virtuous firearms operators. 12,000… and you want to give them EXCLUSIVE control of such weapons that you hate when in the hands of civilians. I’m sorry but I can not come around to that same conclusion. I don’t group people into different categories in the same way you so easily can. To me people are people whether they happen to get a paycheck from the government or not. The problem arises when we grant a certain arbitrary segment of the population exclusive “rights” to use force and then naively assume that they will behave.

    I’m glad that you have “no problem” with skeet shooting but firearms ownership is not about sport. Firearms are a last line of defense against a rogue government and only secondary to personal protection (no less important per say but were I to rank them…) Your pacifism is your business and I applaud you for your firm stand. However, do not try to force me to hold those same beliefs. I am opposed to aggression (defined by me as: the initiation or threatening of violence against a person or legitimately owned property of another) in all forms. That includes your aggression towards my ownership of those pieces of metal, wood, and plastic that we call firearms. I want to be left alone to live my life and help those I see fit to help, defend that which I choose to defend, and own that which I choose to own. I don’t demand anything from you other than that. Why can’t you do the same?

    Romans 12:18
    If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

    That’s what I try to do. Why don’t you? Your aggression towards me and my property and my rights/gifts is highly misplaced and dare I say immoral. I have not nor (Lord willing) will I ever aggress against another with my firearms.

    I will amend my previous invitation and instead say: Come on over and we will shoot my semi-automatic rifle. Maybe giving you some trigger time will help bring you to a more reasoned stance on the topic… again, you have my email

  • Ben Witherington

    Luken if you’ve been reading my blog as long as I think you have, you will know I am a pacifist, and would be happy if armies as well would not use weapons of mast destruction including assault rifles. As for our government being a rogue government, I would just say—- come on man!! We do not live in the Congo or Cuba or anything close to that. That’s just fear mongering. BW3

  • Paul

    Ben, why delete my post? The argument was strong, even if snark was present. Why do you let others use snark against conservatives or Americans but not the other way around? Is that an example of the universal love Arminians preach, or is it more like the selective love of the Calvinist God you claim to loathe—one who only loves his own and shows preference and bias towards those in the “in” group.

  • Ben Witherington

    Paul Patheos expects me to uphold a standard of civil discourse, even when it is vigorous. I accept that expectation, and it was my judgment that you went a bit beyond the pale on that last post. Let me be clear that I am not objecting to various of the points you were trying to make, you have every right to do so. It was the issue of tone and sarcasm, though, true enough tone is hard to judge in an email.



  • Karl Udy

    @Paul, I’m not British.

    So just like most would-be vigilantes, your potshots at me have mostly missed.

    I’ll take a hit on the empirical, if you’ll allow me to repeat that you are indeed drawing a long bow by comparing the two cases, especially as a case for civilians carrying weapons.

    And I think that the idea that civilians need to carry weapons because they can’t trust government law and order to deal with situations is both 1) representative of your argument, and 2) vigilanteism.

    One does not need to watch too many movies to see that vigilanteism is a popular theme in movies. Just about all super-heros are vigilantes (Spiderman, Iron-Man, and especially Batman – Captain America is a notable exception – he works for the US Army), not to mention numerous other movies such as the Die Hard movies. It is impossible to avoid that the idea of a vigilante hero providing justice that the legal authorities are unable to is a popular trope in Hollywood movies. And I would point out it is an extremely dangerous one if most Americans are unaware either that they are receiving this message, or the dangers inherent in such a message.

    By the way, I actually enjoy most of those movies I mentioned. I plan to go and see the Batman movie and hope to enjoy it. I just believe in being aware of and able to process and discern the messages I receive in art.

  • James Petticrew

    Karl I think you make a very good point and i think it stretches back even to the Old Westerns and John Wayne and the men in the white hats who brought justice not through the courts but the barrel of a revolver.

    I am interested in three things which seem to come out to me when I hear Americans talk about guns such as in the discussion in this thread

    1. Why are so many Americans distrustful of their own government that they think they will need armed protection from it? I note someone drawing a parallel between what happened to ordinary citizens under some Latin American dictator and what could happen in the States? Is there something I have missed in American history that has made so many of its citizens believe its democracy is so fragile and its government potentially so oppressive? Does Christian premillenialism have something to do with this, the Anti Christ is coming etc?

    2. Leaving aside the issue of gun ownership etc. Why is American culture so violent? Why when Canada has roughly the same level of gun ownership is the rate of violent gun crime so much lower there? What is that makes so many Americans reach for firearm and use it?

    3. I am forever hearing from my American friends how serious the decline of the church is in Europe and how relatively healthy the American church, especially of the evangelical kind, is. There is no doubt that the church in the US is numerically stronger in percentage terms than in my own nation and continent. HOWEVER that raises the question for me, if as God’s people we are to exert a “salt and light” influence in our culture, why is American culture with a numerically stronger church so much more violent than increasingly atheistic and agnostic Europe? In fact I note that violent gun crime is actually higher in the “South” where evangelical churches are also stronger. What does that say about the Bible Belt?

    Genuinely interested to hear what American Christians have to say on these issues

  • Karl Udy

    @Paul, looking back I may have conflated your views with that of the article you posted. If the article was genuinely not representative of your views, then I apologise for doing so. My reactions were more in response to the article than to what in actuality was a very short post by you. I do stand by what I said in relation to the article though. I find the views in it most troubling.