Guns, God, and Advent

Guns, God, and Advent December 21, 2015

My son had two days off from work, so we headed to the Texas Hill Country. En route, we stopped at a shooting range. Yes, you heard me right.

We’d only visited a shooting range once—in Seattle, with our friend from church. Bob brought his own pistols and rifles, and we spent some time learning to shoot.

On Friday, we entered a different culture altogether: a shooting range in Texas. Yes, you heard me right again. We visited a shooting range in Texas.

We walked in, waited a bit in line, looking at this strange species of human: the gun-toting Texan. The tall man at the desk, which had about thirty pistols in a glass case, was both affable and dead serious, all at once. We told him we’d just moved to Dallas from Seattle in August. So he said, “Well, the first thing you need to do is find a church.”

The gun-toting, church-attending Texan.

After a serious, short lesson in handling guns, we put on our safety goggles, ear gear, and went to the indoor range. The safety officer was an equally affable retiree, who lives in Sun City with his wife; both carry pistols with them wherever they go. He told me that he’s not allowed to drink a single beer while carrying.

The gun-toting, law-abiding Texan retiree.

We were in lane three. In lane two stood, hunched, a short, young woman who shot all sorts of targets. They told us she will shoot 1,000 rounds at a pop. She barely lifted her head. In lane four stood a young man with a Confederate flag belt buckle and a knife; he discharged a shotgun.

Two very different gun-toting Texans.

The whole time I was there, I thought about an advent statement on gun violence and non-violence a dear friend sent to me last week. (I didn’t do much shooting; I left that to my nineteen-year-old son.) I thought that I could not post this statement without heading, full on, into America’s gun culture culture. Where better than Texas?

Now on to the document that lies at the heart of this post–a straightforward condemnation of gun violence, particularly in self-defense.

Despite the forcefulness of this statement, I have a few misgivings (though not enough to keep me from posting it).

  • First, I have a hard time telling others who live in much more violent environments than mine what they should and shouldn’t do in self-defense. How would I know? I was once mugged at the Museum of Natural History in New York City. I was eight—on a field trip. A kid came up and demanded my money. I gave him a quarter. That was that. Given my limited experience of being the target of violence, I’m just not sure I know what’s best for everyone in all places at all times.
  • Second, this document makes no clear effort to understand gun culture. I’m not a part of that culture, and I will never be; I don’t even hunt. Yet many people have grown up with rifles and pistols and crossbows. Before urging them to give up their guns, I think it would be good to demonstrate a measure of empathy borne of conversation and concourse.
  • Third, I really can’t tell who the target audience is for this document. If it is the law-abiding, gun-toting Texan, it will miss the target. If it is lawmakers, then where are the addressees? If it is the NRA, then why isn’t the NRA mentioned? If it’s the violent man or woman who heads into an office or a school—would they ever read or listen to this document? See my point? For whom is this document written? To whom is it addressed? How will it be effective—for those who don’t already agree with it?
  • Fourth, I struggle with the sources of violence that prompt a man like that retiree safety-office to carry a weapon, just in case. I wouldn’t carry a concealed weapon. I’m even on record in The Huffington Post against the Texas bill that would allow students to carry concealed weapons on campus. Yet I wonder if this document should spend more energy on the sources of violence rather than lethal resistance to violence. Isn’t gun violence as much about the perpetrator as the one who attempts to stop violence with a firearm?

So why post this statement? Because it’s a good document. It is honest. It takes Jesus seriously. It is a steady voice in a shrill debate amidst fearmongering leadership, like the president of Liberty University. In light of that sort of stupidity, this document is worth reading, if not signing. So I am posting it with the hope that you will read it, post it yourself, tweet it, put it on Facebook—and, if you feel inclined, sign it. The point is not that you have to agree with this document. Yet we owe it to church and society to enter a statement such as this into the debate. That is all I am asking of you.


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