Open Letter to Sarah Palin: We Need to Change Our Tone on Guns

Open Letter to Sarah Palin: We Need to Change Our Tone on Guns October 30, 2015

Sarah Palin NRA

This post is part of a larger conversation on the subject of Christians and guns at Patheos around the new documentary, The Armor of Light.  For more responses to the film, click here.

Is there any contradiction between a culture that celebrates the sanctity of human life and a culture that celebrates the instruments of death?

Such is the question posed by The Armor of Light, a new documentary by Abigail Disney (from that Disney family). The film traces the steps of Reverend Rob Schenck, a zealous conservative pro-life activist who decides that he is conscience-bound to oppose the alignment between conservative evangelicals and the pro-gun lobby.

The documentary is not disinterested—but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Evangelicals need to talk about guns. We need to talk about the plague of gun violence in our inner cities. We need to talk about reasonable measures that keep guns available to those who need them for self-defense but drain the flood of small arms that has devastated urban communities and contributed to heinous losses of life. Evangelicals have promoted policies that have made guns more freely available to Joe Hunter or Joe Home-Defense, but some of those policies also make guns easier to acquire for Joe Gang-Member and Joe School-Shooter. Can anyone dispute that?

And we need to talk about our tone.

I’ll write more about this tomorrow, but for now I want to rest on the point of tone. Tone matters. When people brand all policemen as murderers, tone matters. When people speak flippantly about abortion and the “tissue” it removes, tone matters. And when we speak glibly about taking human life, tone matters.

So I want to ask Sarah Palin something. The Armor of Light shows a clip from a speech she gave to the NRA. I tend to agree with Ms Palin on many things, and the segment of the speech starts out reasonably enough. Ms Palin mocks Joe Biden’s recommendation that women fire a warning shot if they are confronted by an assailant. While it’s true that women in self-defense classes are taught, reasonably, to “shoot to kill,” it’s what Palin says next that really rankles. She says: “Gals, you know that nowadays, ammo is expensive. Don’t waste a bullet on a warning shot.”

Ms Palin says this with her characteristic sparkle, and the crowd roars its approval.

Now, there’s a thoughtful defense of gun rights, but this is not it. I can bend over backwards to be charitable to the statement in its context, but it’s beside the point. I want evangelicals to be aware of how our words are heard. So I asked Lucia McBath how that line made her feel. McBath is the mother of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old who was shot and killed at a gas station in Florida. Michael David Dunn objected to the loud music emanating from Jordan’s car, an argument ensued, and Dunn fetched a gun from his car and fired ten shots into the teenagers’ car, killing Jordan.

When asked how those comments from Palin made her feel, Lucia responded tearfully:

I am just thoroughly, completely disgusted by that train of thought. What she’s advocating is that you shoot to kill—no matter what, under any circumstances. Don’t waste your time trying to preserve a life, but shoot to kill, even if there’s no valid reason to shoot to kill. That’s your automatic right. For you, there should be no reason why you even hesitate. Just do it.

That galls me. How can this be Christian? How can you consider what you say ethical morally? It’s so disheartening to me and millions of people like me who have lost their loved ones. But it’s that extremist agenda that continues to be brought into this country by people like her that has more people dying on the streets every single day. The rhetoric, the train of thought, is extremely dangerous.

And I want to say to her, are you going to change your mind if, God forbid, it happens to you? I want to say to her, walk a day in my shoes. I want to say to her, if you had to look at your dead child in his coffin, would you still have the same train of thought then that you do now? Would you still feel like the life of your child wasn’t worth the cost of a bullet? And until you walk in my shoes, in the millions of mothers in this country that have gone through what I’ve gone through, how dare you?

Check back Monday for more on this topic. Bristol Palin responded to the film here. David French responded here. I believe people should be able to defend their families and their homes. But I also believe the wholehearted affirmation of gun culture amongst evangelicals is deeply problematic. And I certainly believe that certain public spokespeople need to understand how their rhetoric sounds to the people — including fellow believers — who are victims of the pervasive gun violence in too many American cities.

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