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.

Finding Common Ground on Abortion: An Interview with Charles Camosy
Natural Family Planning Isn’t the Only Ethical Option for Christians: Why I Chose an IUD
Believing with Our Bodies
Remembering One of My “Cloud of Witnesses”
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 for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.

  • Tim

    “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?” That’s one of the best questions I’ve read in a long time, Ellen. I think it may be a matter of viewing it as more dangerous, or perhaps “scarier” is what I really mean in the sense that sex seems even harder to control than violence.

    In addition to the anomalies you point out, one that I keep glimpsing is that some people who argue a biblical basis for gun ownership seem to conflate the Second Amendment with Scripture. The U.S. Constitution is a fine document, but it’s not the word of God.


    • Ellen Painter Dollar

      Scarier = harder to control. Yes. That’s a big part of it I think. Also, that our culture is obsessed with sex (while being afraid of it also) so any issue that’s about sex automatically becomes a bigger deal than other issues. And I might point out that Jesus was NOT obsessed with sex. Didn’t really talk about it at all. He was obsessed with violence and poverty and justice. Yet Christians are not known here in the U.S. for being particularly vocal on issues of violence and poverty and justice, where they/we are extremely vocal when it comes to sexual issues.

  • Gina

    An interesting post! Let me take a whack at number four. Guns can be used for evil — a la James Holmes — or for good, such as when a person uses one in self-defense or to save innocents from getting killed. Abortion . . . well, I have an exceedingly hard time thinking of it ever being used for good, given that the almost invariable result (except in the rare cases where the infant survives) is the corpse of an innocent child. Even if it seems to the mother that the destruction of the child will make her circumstances easier, in moral and ethical terms, the tremendous harm outweighs any good that can come from it.

    • Gina

      One point I forgot to add: There is no such thing as a “fair fight” when it comes to abortion. The infant in the womb is utterly defenseless. Whereas in a crime situation, if you allow the potential victim a gun, he or she has a chance to save his or her own life.

      • Ellen Painter Dollar

        OK. So this logic makes sense to me, and I thank you for tackling my question.

        However, I’ve noticed the same disconnect when it comes to homosexuality. Conservative Christian folk don’t hesitate to want to legislate gay marriage while arguing that gun ownership is not an issue for the government but rather a “heart issue.” Isn’t who we choose to marry an ultimate “heart issue”? And even if you believe homosexuality to be a sin (which I don’t, but many Christians do), couldn’t you apply the same “it’s not about laws it’s about sin” argument as people apply to the gun thing? I still suspect that much of the Christian insistence on legislating abortion and homosexuality but not guns is not entirely logical and stems partly from the fact that these are sexual issues, and our culture as a whole, along with the Christian culture as a subset, is simultaneously obsessed with and afraid of sex.

  • Miriam

    “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?”

    YES, it is. women’s bodies don’t belong to them, period. that is the viewpoint. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, even if for one second I believed that an embryo/fetus was a “person” I still would 100% support legal and safe abortion. why? because a woman still owns her own body and should not be forced by anyone to “give life” or “support life” of another “person” no matter how innocent. all the people who die every year because no one donated organs, aren’t they innocent as well? we don’t force people to be organ donors, and we shouldn’t force women to be “uterus space donors” BUT because the whole issue boils down to the great evil that is sex, women must be punished for their actions + their bodies are not their own= no legal abortion?

    and in fact, even if abortion was made illegal in all 50 states tomorrow, it wouldn’t end abortion. there was as many illegal abortions every year before Roe as legal ones after. in my opinion, “Pr0-life” people are really just pro-illegal abortion. so all you pro-illegal abortion folks? step the F up and support comprehensive sex education and free birth control for everyone along with social changes that would make it easier for women to balance work with motherhood and decrease the sad need for abortion and then I’ll take you seriously.

    oh yeah, guns…I like guns, they are cool. I am a reasonable liberal gun owner who supports bans on stupid “spray everyone with bullets” guns, background checks and waiting periods. and once upon a time, the NRA supported these things as well.

    • Ellen Painter Dollar

      Thank you oh pro-choice troll Miriam! I don’t agree with everything you’ve said but I like that you bring your liberal trollish self here and tell it the way you see it. As you know, I tend to be a bit more nuanced about these things! But as I said to someone who responded to my original post yesterday, part of why the abortion issue is murky to me is that it always involves at least two human lives, not just one.

      • Ellen Painter Dollar

        Oh. And thanks for pointing out that the NRA once supported sane gun policies as well. Important to remember.

    • Tim

      Miriam, I know people* who are working against abortion who also work very hard on “social changes that would make it easier for women to balance work with motherhood and decrease the sad need for abortion.” There are others who don’t, but there is no need to create a straw-man or -woman in order to make a point. Not every one who is against abortion (legal and illegal) is an ogre. Not every person who supports abortion rights is an ogre either. There’s a lot to discuss and learn from each other; let’s not push each other away with gross over-generalizations.


      *If you want to see how some of us are working in support of women on issues regarding sex and exploitation, click on the article linked through my name above as one example (albeit a minor one, perhaps).