Five Lessons from My Post on Gun Control

A few things I learned from Monday’s post on guns and the shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater:

1. You get WAY more blog hits when you get preachy and unequivocal than when you promote dialogue, generosity, nuance, and complexity. But I already knew that. And I will continue to write mostly from the nuanced complexity camp, despite the fact that doing so is unlikely to make me a blogging superstar any time soon.

2. A key factor affecting how Christians perceive gun control is how we perceive our government. Those who believe that our government is actually or potentially oppressive tend to hold up an armed citizenry as a vital preventive measure. I struggle with many of the assumptions in that world view (about the potentially oppressive nature of our government, as well as about whether an armed citizenry is an effective, justifiable, and/or Christian counterpoint to real, imagined, or anticipated oppression), but won’t get into that conversation here. This fundamental difference in perspective, though, makes it particularly difficult to find common ground.

3. Nonetheless, I think there IS some common ground, or at least some potential concessions that could allow those on either side of this debate to better understand and talk with those on the other side. As a friend said in response to the debate on my blog, “It would be a great start if those of us who favor gun control would assure others that we aren’t trying to prevent responsible people from having and using guns responsibly, just as it would be wonderful if those who do not favor gun control would assure us that they are fine with trying to cut back on assault weapons and ammo caches.” I was encouraged that, despite the fraught nature of some of the blog dialogue, there were glimmers of light when those on one side conceded these points about the other side. It’s a start.

4. The disconnect between how (for the most part) conservative Christians view guns vs. how (for the most part) conservative Christians view abortion is not just a figment of my imagination. Several commenters, here and on Facebook, said that gun violence is not an issue for legislation, but for soul-searching. It is about sin, they said. It is a “heart issue,” in the words of one commenter. On the national/political stage, Mike Huckabee said it this way: “We don’t have a crime problem, or a gun problem, or even a violence problem. What we have is a sin problem.” I have to ask: Why is it, when it comes to the most intimate reproductive decisions involving body, mind, and spirit, we demand legislation to govern what a woman can and can’t do? But when it comes to gun ownership, we need to keep government and legislation out of it, and instead encourage people to look inward to examine their own motives and flawed human nature? With both gun control and abortion, we can frame the issue as being about the protection of “innocents.” In both cases, we can discuss how the rights of the individual intersect with, support, or undermine the rights of others. Why such a different approach? Is it sexism? Is it that Christian leaders have done a great job of getting people to focus on particular political/social issues rather than a broad theology and ethic arising from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Is it that in some fundamental way, our culture sees sex and what comes of it as both more dangerous and more important than violence and what comes of it?

Just asking.

5. In response to commenter Dave’s continual trotting out of a single scripture verse in support of Christians favoring gun ownership , a friend with more theological education than I have wrote me with some insights on the passage. (The verse is from Luke 22: “[Jesus said] if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one! For the time has come for this prophecy about me to be fulfilled: ‘He was counted among the rebels.’”) My friend wrote:

Most commentators see Jesus’ words as metaphorical, meaning “Persecution is coming, and I won’t be here to protect you.” When the disciples take it literally, Jesus says, “Enough already.”

But let’s take the whole thing literally. Jesus says, “If you don’t have a sword, go buy one.” And then he immediately says that only two swords are enough for twelve men. Huh? And then, just a few verses later, when some dimwit uses one of those swords, Jesus says, “No more of this.” Sounds to me like Jesus is saying, Go ahead and arm yourselves–and see if it does any good!

That makes a lot of sense in the context of all we know about Jesus and how he approached the world. Might this verse also mean that Jesus doesn’t have a problem with people arming themselves for self-protection? Sure. Possibly. But our national conversation about guns and violence must go far beyond whether people have a right to own a weapon that can be appropriately and effectively used in defense of self or family, because the bloodshed that plays out on the receiving end of firearms goes far, far beyond reasonable defense of loved ones.

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About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at http://ellenpainterdollar.com for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.


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