Here we go again. Another shooting and the very low expectation that we will have serious conversations about the role which guns have in our culture. The “talking heads” on the various news programs acknowledge that this recent event of the shootings at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, will unlikely produce any substantive conversation about gun control, especially military assault rifles, like just one of the guns used by the shooter in Aurora. The political will is just not there, given the inordinate influence the National Rifle Association has in our political system, and our unbridled acceptance of individual rights in all things that trump everything else.
How should a Christian respond when the language of freedom and individual rights is used to squelch debate and to keep us from examining deeper issues? Certainly this works both ways: I am free to not own a gun and am protected from being required to purchase one. But why own one anyway is the question I continue to puzzle over. I realize there are various reasons for gun ownership. But would Jesus own a gun?
Our Christian discourse on social ethical issues sadly tends to get co-opted by the language of individual rights and freedom. I’m not one to “pooh pooh” this language as if individual rights and freedom are bad things. I simply think they are limited and somewhat misguided in what they can offer us when thinking about issues from a Christian perspective. I am drawn to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians here, where freedom and rights are shifted and relocated in a narrative context in light of the gospel of Christ (and not the gospel of the United States). In chapters 8 through 10, Paul weaves through an argument about a believer’s freedom and right on a variety of issues such as eating food sacrificed to idols and compensation for work done. He ends up in a place that should give us pause: “‘Everything is permissible’ – but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’ – but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others” (1 Cor 10:22).
Just because we can do something does not mean that we should do something. Just because I can own a gun does not mean that I should own a gun. Just because gun ownership is permissible does not mean it is beneficial and constructive. Just because I have a right to own a gun as an American citizen, does not mean, that as a Christian, I should own a gun.