Let’s Change Our Gun Laws…and Preserve “Qualities of Heart and Spirit”

One month (actually, a month and a day) after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, issues around gun violence and gun control are still making headlines. Vice President Joe Biden’s policy recommendations will be shared today. As someone who has written and cared about gun control for many years, I can’t help but be a bit optimistic. Might this time be different? Might we actually make some common sense changes in how guns are regulated, bought, and sold in an effort to lessen the odds of another mass shooting, as well as the much more common types of gun violence, such as suicides, accidents, and domestic homicides?

I am working with fellow blogger Katherine Willis Pershey on gun violence issues. We will be recruiting other bloggers to post on the 14th of every month in honor of the Sandy Hook victims (this post is a day late….obviously) and to keep the terrible toll and potential lessening of gun violence on people’s minds and hearts. We may partner with an existing organization to ask how we can use our social media platforms to lessen gun violence in America. There is much work to be done, and lots of details to work out. There are also many, many people and organizations already doing great work, and we will be directing our readers’ attention to those people and organizations. (For example, one of the most thorough post-Sandy Hook posts that I’ve read is from the Patheos Faithful Democrats blog.)

I am hopeful that concerned citizens, including concerned Christians, might actually help prevent another mass shooting by continuing to raise our voices in favor of common sense gun regulations—banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, closing the gun show loophole, etc. I am also hopeful that the other major issues raised by the Sandy Hook shooting, such as the need for more accessible and affordable mental health services and increased school security, will continue to ignite our collective imaginations to come up with effective solutions to complex problems.

But hope for policy changes with practical results is just part of what motivates me to continue speaking up in favor of more effective gun control. The poet and essayist Wendell Berry has written:

Much protest is naive; it expects quick, visible improvement and despairs and gives up when such improvement does not come. Protesters who hold out for longer have perhaps understood that success is not the proper goal. If protest depended on success, there would be little protest of any durability or significance. History simply affords too little evidence that anyone’s individual protest is of any use. Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.

Along similar lines, there is an often-repeated story about a man who, during the Vietnam War, stood in front of the White House every day with a lit candle. A reporter finally asked him, “Do you really think you’ll change the world by holding a candle?” to which this man replied, “I’m not trying to change the world. I’m trying to keep it from changing me.”

I believe that one reason that gun control has largely failed up until now, and that we have allowed gun violence—not just mass shootings, but suicides, accidents, and homicides—to escalate without adequate effective responses to turn the tide is that the reasons given for an unregulated or barely regulated gun culture are reasons we can all identify with, if we are willing to look at ourselves honestly.

I want to protect myself and my family, and part of me believes that the only way to do that is with locks and barriers and weapons of some kind or another. I don’t really trust that I will be safe if I allow myself to be vulnerable, to be in relationship with people on the margins, to open my doors (the literal doors of my house or the symbolic doors of my heart) to those who might hurt or steal or con. I would like to believe that I am only responsible for myself and my little family, and that those who kill themselves out of despair or kill each other out of dysfunction are not really my problem.

In a heated Facebook exchange in the days after Newtown, someone on a friend’s conversation thread said something like, “I’d like to go back to the days when crazy people just shot themselves in their basements, instead of taking a bunch of kids with them.” The implication? Someone shooting himself in his basement isn’t a tragedy, isn’t worth trying to prevent.

I will continue to protest against gun violence and in favor of better gun control because I believe we can significantly lower the chances of another mass shooting, as Australia did in the aftermath of a mass shooting there in 1996. I will continue to protest against gun violence and in favor of better gun control because I believe that all suicides, accidents, and homicides involving guns are tragic, and statistics make clear that a gun in the home is far more likely to be used in a suicide, accident, or homicide than in self-defense. I will continue to protest against gun violence and in favor of better gun control because while it’s true that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” the presence of a gun increases the likelihood that an altercation will turn deadly, and also greatly increases the murderous potential of violent or unstable acts.

And I will continue to protest against gun violence and in favor of better gun control because, as a Christian, I want to preserve the “qualities of heart and spirit” that I believe Jesus had and wants us to have—recognition of all people as God’s beloved children (including mentally ill people who are tempted to shoot themselves in their basements), safety and security enabled by concern for the common good and care of the vulnerable rather than weaponry and violence, a willingness to consider our individual wants, needs, and freedoms in the context of what is best for our communities, not just for ourselves.

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.

  • DaveP

    > And I will continue to protest against gun violence and in favor of better gun control because, as a Christian …

    Everyone is against gun violence, especially the people who have concealed carry permits. Most incidents where an armed citizen defends themselves, and others, involve no shots being fired.

    As a Chrisitian, Christ allowed his disciples to carry swords for self-defense. Christ even specifically told Peter to only to use his sword for self-defense. When Peter was the first to draw his sword to attack a guard, Christ said “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Matt 26:52.

    Which is exactly what they teach in concealed-carry classes: if you draw your gun against a criminal shooter, you are the person most likely to be killed because you are now the shooter’s most important target. But even if you end up “perishing by the gun”, at least distracting the shooter (or knifer, or rapist (as in the India murders), or whatever) for as long as possible will almost certainly save the lives of others.

    Christ has high praise for those law-abiding citizens who end up “perishing by the gun” in order to protect others: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13.

    And Christ was obviously against “sword control” when he said “I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword” Matt 10:34, and “If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Luke 22:36.

    It’s too bad the voters of Connecticut didn’t follow Christ’s teachings and allow the teachers at Sandy Hook to carry arms for self-defense. Then they could have done what Christ would have done and layed down their lives “for the children”, instead of “with the children”.

    > and statistics make clear that a gun in the home is far more likely to be used in a suicide, accident, or homicide than in self-defense.

    That’s false. And your “statistics” are false. That’s because the website you linked is highly baised.

    For example, a direct quote from your “statistics” link is:

    “A gun in the home is more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense. Every time a gun injures or kills in self-defense, …”

    Notice how they lie and say “… more likely to be used in a homicide [etc] … than to be used in self defense” …

    … and then later try to justify that lie by saying “Every time a gun injures or kills in self-defense …”?

    They left out the fact that guns hardly ever cause injury or killings in self-defense, because most of the time that guns are used in self-defense they are never fired. Merely knowing that an armed citizen is present is usually enough to stop criminals. Ironically, only 3 days before Sandy Hook where unarmed teachers and children were slaughtered, at a mall in Oregon an armed citizen drew his gun on a shooter and prevented a similar massacre without firing a shot because the shooter committed suicide when faced with a single armed citizen.


    > … the presence of a gun increases the likelihood that an altercation will turn deadly …

    In Connecticut, they now know that’s false. For example, the most recent article I read on Sandy Hook said that the children who survived are now going to a school protected by armed guards — in other words, the children are finally being protected by the presence of guns. Too little, too late, and too bad for the victims and their families that Connecticut wasn’t more like Utah or the growing number of states that allow teachers to follow Christ’s teachings and protect the lives they’ve been entrusted with:

    “Utah has allowed teachers to carry concealed weapons on K-12 campuses for 12 years now and, said Aposhian, “We have never had any accidental or intentional shootings.”

    • Elaine B.

      Total Gun Homicides 2009

      UK: 18
      USA: 11,493

  • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

    I heard someone on NPR say that the prospect of significant changes in gun policy on the national level are almost nil. As the man with the candle said, though, we can’t let that change who we are and what we value.

    On a related note, you know how some people rely on the Second Amendment guarantee of the right to bear arms? What I want to know is – since that Amendment has to do with militias, and militias have to do with fighting wars – how come I can’t own a nuclear bomb. If I wanted to be ready for war, I’d like to have a weapon that can handle real battle. A handgun is not much good against a tank, and a grenade won’t do much against a fighter jet. In fact, what I really want to be able to won is a fully equipped air craft carrier, complete with jets and missiles and big big guns. I can have one of those under the Second Amendment, can’t I?


    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      I am more optimistic than the person you heard on NPR. I think there may be changes afoot.

      And the “well-regulated militia” part of the 2nd amendment does tend to get ignored, doesn’t it? I read something yesterday in which someone said, “If you support the second amendment, go join the National Guard.”

      • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

        Exactly. The amendment talks about a well-regulated militia. And when it comes to regulation, we all know what part of a civil society handles those responsibilities: the government, not a bunch of heavily armed rugged individualists.

        • james jordan

          Yea but weirdly enough, the supreme court ruled that this includes individuals, so according to the supremes, individuals have the same rights as a militia. Personally, id like an f-1 fighter. :)
          its just crazy, and with people talking of secession an civil war… it could get even crazier..

  • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

    Dave P – My blog filter held your comment back from publication. Clearly it knows me very well :) I am not going to publish it for several reasons. One is that I forewarned you that I will be posting frequently on the issue of gun control on this blog, that I have allowed you to present your arguments against gun control in previous posts, and that having someone who is constantly and repetitively arguing a particular point on a blog is alienating to other readers. I am willing to allow comments disagreeing with me if they are respectful, but I feel that on this topic, you have had enough opportunity in previous posts to make your position clear, and your tendency to dominate conversations on gun issues with numerous comments can be alienating to other readers, who may then hesitate to join the conversation. You have chosen to continue reading my blog despite our clear differences of opinion on this and other topics, and I have appreciated your comments on many other topics. But I’m not willing for every post I publish on gun control to be a new opportunity for you to dominate discussion and raise issues that I find offensive (e.g., how you portray Jesus Christ as encouraging his disciples to arm themselves) and inaccurate (e.g., Sandy Hook students are not being protected by armed guards; there are new security systems in place and there was a uniformed police presence outside the school on the first day).

    In short, if you’d like to expound on the topic of gun control, there are many places on the Internet where you can do that. This is not one of them. I will leave your previous comments on the topic available for anyone who is interested in reading our previous conversations.

    • DaveP

      Hey, I thought you said I could reply to your gun control posts as long as I limited myself to only 1 or 2 replies. :)

      But really, there is no problem about deleting it, and no need for you to explain why. I feel kind of bad about you taking time away from your kids/family/everything-else to respond to a post of mine that no one else can read. Feel free to delete my replies silently and efficiently in the future (even this one!), or ban me entirely if I become too much of a nuisance, and I’ll probably be able to figure out why on my own. :)

      > and inaccurate (e.g., Sandy Hook students are not being protected by armed guards; there are new security systems in place and there was a uniformed police presence outside the school on the first day).

      Are you sure it was only the first day? From what I’ve read, there are now two police officers per school every day. Here are two independent sources:

      “Newtown Parents Want Police to Stay at Schools”
      “Since the elementary school massacre in her hometown, Sarah Findley has found herself driving by her children’s schools in Newtown, checking to make sure police are still stationed outside.”

      “Newtown schools superintendent calls for indefinite police presence as she reveals fearful children don’t even go outside for recess”
      “Since the start of the school term, there have been two officers assigned to each of the district’s six schools, and Robinson told The News Times that this should continue to allay the concerns.”

      • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

        You’re right. I did say you could reply within limit. I will repost that one.

      • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

        Oh, and as for Sandy Hook: I was disturbed to find several right-wing organizations seriously misquoting and misusing information about procedures for Sandy Hook students in an attempt to imply that they are being escorted by armed guards even as the tragedy is being used to argue for greater gun control. Having uniformed police officers present at times at public schools is a different thing than having “armed guards.” My kids’ schools have always occasionally had town police officers monitoring arrival and dismissal. Now, one of our school’s teachers’ husbands, a police officer, voluntarily stops by the school when he can. Of course, these officers are armed because….well, because they are police officers. But a number of right-wing sites are painting a picture of students being closely escorted by “armed guards,” as if they are being followed around by a SWAT team with rifles in plain sight. This is a dishonest and manipulative portrayal of what is actually happening. And no one who is arguing in favor of tighter gun controls has a problem with police officers being armed to fulfill their duties to protect the public. (Well, I guess I shouldn’t say “no one,” but “most.”)

        • http://timfall.wordpress.com/ Tim

          Another problem in the aftermath is the conspiracy theories going around denying the Sandy Hook shooting even occurred. I have a short post about that going up on Monday, but you can find the news reports on these folks easily enough with a Google search.

          • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

            That breaks my heart, especially what is happening to George Rosen, who helped victims and is being called a liar by conspiracy nuts.

  • http://www.painandspirituality.blogspot.com Carol D. Marsh

    Hi, Ellen — David Wallis, in the current Sojourners Magazine, writes that he thinks change in gun laws, school safety, and other issues will not happen inside Washington. He also mentions that the Board of the NRA is heavy with gun manufacturers, something I had not realized before. You can find the article on their website if you don’t get the magazine.

    I like your post because it reminds me that assuming the government has full responsibility for these changes is passive and unrealistic. And thank you for noting that mental illness or despair leading to suicide is also a tragedy. And I agree with your refusing to allow the gun lobby to convince us that guns are not the problem, thereby stigmatizing the “mentally ill” who use them.

  • Elaine B.

    Hi Ellen,
    Thank you so much for this blog, and for providing a small ray of hope. Do you know if there is an organization such as Christians for Gun Control? It could be like Million Moms for Gun Control.

    I am astounded by the number of (normally Evangelical) Christians who claim to be pro-life and claim to be Christian, yet continue to push policies that lead to continual massacres in the US. Would you be willing to start such an organization?

    Our children deserve to grow up in a society as safe as the children in Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand have.

    • http://www.ellenpainterdollar.com Ellen Painter Dollar

      I’m not sure about any big organizations, but many (most?) Protestant denominations along with the National Council of Churches have spoken out in favor of stronger gun laws for a long time.

      A writing colleague and friend, Katherine Willis Pershey, and I have started an informal coalition called #ItIsEnough, which is a Christian social media campaign to keep the issues of gun violence and the need for better gun laws on the national agenda. I will be posting more info here on the blog later this week. We just launched our Facebook page today and I need to gather a bit more info before posting everything, but if you’re on Facebook, look up the group “It Is Enough.” Thanks!