What should we do about guns?

I have steered clear from the debate on gun control for most of my ministry career.  My reason for doing so lies with the ambivalent stance that the Scriptures have on the use of violence.  The Old Testament is filled with stories of Israel waging war against its enemies.  In many cases, God grants His people permission to engage in battle, if not to give them a direct command to take such action.

On the other hand, the New Testament strongly leans toward non-violence.  The biblical scholar, Richard B. Hays writes:

From Matthew to Revelation we find a consistent witness against violence and a calling to the community to follow the example of Jesus in accepting suffering rather than inflicting it.  Given all of this, it is hard to imagine Jesus using a gun, if one were available to Him.

Of course, guns did not exist in the first century, therefore our generation does not have a concrete directive as to if or to what extent guns should be used by Christians.  Given that Jesus is the author and example of our faith, it seems straightforward that Christ’s followers would abstain from the use of weaponry.

However, Dietrich Bonhoeffer volunteered to be part of a conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler.  Bonhoeffer rationalized his actions with these words:

If I see a madman driving a car into a group of innocent bystanders, then I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe and then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.

Bonhoeffer’s ethical counsel is clear.  A greater act of evil is committed when one intentionally does not stop another foreknown act of evil from occurring.  Protecting the innocent is as much a Christian’s duty as is the promotion of peace.

So, where does the conflicting counsel above leave us with respect to gun control?  Before I address this question, please know that I am part of a family that carries handguns.  As a father, I feel more at ease knowing that my children have the capacity to protect themselves were the need to arise.

On the other hand, I am deeply grieved by the recent gun violence in Westerville and Parkland, Florida.  Something about these events has touched in me a nerve that cries out, “Please, stop this senseless killing!”  The video footage of teenagers screaming as the killer bangs on their classroom door is beyond chilling.

As a nation, something needs to change.  Perhaps the first thing needing change is our recent trend toward binary options.  America has limited itself to answers of yes or no, Democrat or Republican, and Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter.  Yet, I have discovered that life seldom offers only two choices.  In fact, our world is much more complex than our current political climate has made it out to be.

Many pro and anti-gun advocates promote an either/or choice with respect to laws governing the purchase and use of firearms.  I find such an approach unhelpful, if not downright obstructive toward finding a sensible solution.  From my perspective as a pastor and a former military service member, I look at our nation’s problem with gun violence as an issue of lethality.  Weapons can be assessed by their capacity to inflict harm.  A person armed with a knife likely will inflict less damage than one armed with a AR-15.  The 5.56-44mm round of an AR-15 is similar to the projectile size of the former M-16 that I carried during my time in service.  What makes these weapons so lethal is their capacity to fire up to thirty rounds semi-automatically without having to reload.  Their maximum effective range can reach distances in excess of 400 meters.  The size of the round is designed to inflict maximum damage upon one’s chosen target.  The AR-15 is an effectively lethal weapon.

For me, the question is how much is too much?  How much fire capacity is too much for the average gun owner in the United States?  Our government certainly wouldn’t allow the purchase of rocket launchers or low-grade nuclear weapons.  So, what level of lethality should we as citizens be permitted to carry?

I’ve often found that whenever the debate over a sticky question comes to a standstill, the best thing to do is reframe the question.  What if we could dispel with the debate that leads us to binary choices?  I recognize that the approach for which I am advocating doesn’t go far enough for some and may go too far for others.  I also realize that limiting the lethality of available weapons doesn’t address all the problems we have with respect to gun violence.  But, friends, it’s time to get off dead center.  To do nothing is only yet another means of perpetuating evil.

The issues related to gun violence are many and complex.  More data is needed to understand the problem.  The current restriction on the study of gun-related violence by the U.S. Congress must end if we are to truly deal with the root causes of the problems we face as a country.  More funding for mental health treatment needs to be provided by our nation’s leaders to help those persons that are subject toward bringing harm to others or themselves.  Increasing the waiting period for the purchase of high-capacity weapons seems to be a prudent step.

Of course, no singular approach will resolve all our problems when it comes to the death spiral in which we find ourselves.  Yet, I believe that America can make a turn-a-bout and go in a different direction‒one that leads toward saving more lives.  Years ago, a campaign was launched with the acronym, “WWJD?”  I think this is an important question to ask ourselves today.  What would Jesus do?
-Pastor David