After the shootings at the Aurora movie theater, the Milwaukee Sikh temple, and now Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., I’m hearing renewed talk about banning guns. It’s something of a ritual, and the well-known rubrics describe the basic order of events: man commits atrocity, nation stands aghast, nation looks for answers, nation comes up short, people advise the prohibition of firearms.
But Americans don’t have a corner on violence, and it’s instructive to see how such violence is handled elsewhere in the world. In Nigeria, for instance, after a string of attacks on churches, governments are moving to regulate not weapons, but words. Note this report from AllAfrica.com:
In its effort to ensure peace and mutual co-existence, the Bauchi State Government . . . said it had set in motion machineries which would help regulate preachings among Muslims and Christians clerics.
The state Commissioner for Religious Affairs and Community Relations, Hon. Salisu Ahmed Barau . . . said regulating preachings among clerics was necessary as it aimed at promoting peace and mutual co-existence among people of the state.
Likewise, at the national level talk has similarly turned to licensing not firearms, but preachers, according to the Nigerian newspaper Vanguard.
Breathe easy. For a country whose legal heritage includes the First Amendment, America is unlikely to take such a course of action. Amen, amen. But could the Nigerians have a slightly better grasp of the problem than we do?
In a roundabout way, Nigeria’s proposed policies at least address the idea of motivation. Murder does not come from something external to a person. Its composition is internal, the product of passion, hatred, contempt, envy, and/or other lesser impulses. While wrongheaded, the Nigerian policies are an attempt to curb those impulses. The desire is to prevent demagogues with a penchant for stoking animosity in the hearts of their hearers from doing so.
“[O]ut of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander,” says Jesus. The source of the problem is not the tool. It’s the heart of its user.
The only solution to man’s evil is interior transformation. In several passages in Ezekiel God talks about transforming hearts: “Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them.” He says, “I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” And: “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”
Policymakers are looking for something more concrete and measurable than a transformation of the heart by the Holy Spirit. And that’s fine. Nobody ever said policies had to be effective — just make us feel like were doing something. But those of us who know better should refrain from kidding ourselves.
The only solution to violence is the grace of God working to soften human hearts.