I’ve been off the J-Blog for a little while, but if you’ve been following me on Twitter you know that I’ve been venting a little bit of late about guns. And so while our usual posts happen Tuesday-Thursday, I wanted to pop in here on Monday and get a few things off my chest.
In a span of 24 hours, two mass shootings took place in our great nation. The first happened in El Paso Texas, where 20 people were killed and countless others were wounded. (There is some dispute about how many were actually wounded, because it is widely believed that many stayed home with their wounds for fear of being deported. More on this subject on Thursday) Then while we were still trying to make sense of that event, another shooting took place in Dayton Ohio. 9 more killed. More wounded.
Let’s just say it plain from the outset: We have a very serious gun problem in America.
Some statistics to back this up:
In the aftermath of a shooting such as the pair that we witnessed in Dayton and El Paso there is a rush to talk about everything but the problem. There are some who suggest that the problem is a fraying moral fabric in this country, that we are playing too many violent video games and breaking up families. There are some who suggest that this is a mental health issue, which I find ironic because those same folks are often reluctant to put money and research in to treatment and care for those struggling with mental health issues, but that is another post in and of itself. For now it is worth mentioning that I have more than a few friends who struggle with mental health issues, and none of them have shot anybody, so perhaps we ought to quit scapegoating that segment of the population. There are some who will suggest that the rhetoric of our recent political climate is to blame, and while I certainly think it’s not helping, I don’t know that we can lay all the blame for this at the feet of a nasty twitter debate or a President who incites violence.
The problem with those excuses is that they exist in every country in the world, and we are far out pacing every other country when it comes to gun violence here in the United States. In fact while the United States has seen 251 mass shootings (defined as a shooting in which 4 or more individuals were shot and killed), the next closest so far in 2019 is Mexico. They had 3. I’ve never been to Mexico, but I’m betting that they have access to the same video games, they have access to the same family dynamics, they have a relatively similar rate of mental illness, and Lord knows that the political rhetoric of late has reached their doorstep. Perhaps, just perhaps, the difference is that they have tighter gun laws than the United States.
Now, if you feel your blood pressure rising at this point because you support gun rights and the second amendment, I invite you to take a deep breath. So do I. I hunt regularly (or at least I did before I had kids and free time became a distant memory). I support an individuals right to own a gun. I really do. But I can’t imagine how anyone in their right mind can look at the facts as laid out above and think that we can carry on with life exactly as it is. We can’t. Something needs to change.
As a youth pastor, I am required by the state of Pennsylvania to have a criminal background check, a sexual abuse check, and an FBI fingerprint check. We as a state have come together and (wisely) decided that if I am going to be trusted to watch over the students in my youth group, I need to be checked. And I welcome it. I have never once felt like my right to work as a youth pastor has been infringed upon. I have never once felt like the background checks were a bad idea. It is mildly inconvenient once every three years or so to have to get all of those renewed, but when I say mildly I mean it’s about as frustrating as going to the DMV to get a driver’s license renewed.
Speaking of which, I just did that last week. In my state, we have (again, wisely) decided that in order to operate a motor vehicle large enough to take a life (I’m a cyclist, I know this) that I ought to have taken an exam and qualified for a license. I have to get that license renewed every three years. Also every year I have to submit my vehicle for an inspection, to make sure that everything is working properly on it. Are these inconvenient? Sure! No one wants to sit in a DMV waiting room for an hour to get your picture taken. Did my heart rate increase a little bit as I typed that paragraph and remembered that my inspection is up on my car at the end of the month? Again, surely! Do any of these regulations impede my rights as a car owner and driver? Absolutely not. They are the cost of being a responsible driver.
So my argument here is this: We need to increase the cost of being a responsible gun owner in our nation. If you are a responsible gun owner and feel like this will be a burden, I ask you if the burden is worth saving a few lives? I believe it would. If you want to make the argument that no one would follow this law, so why bother, I would remind you that this is not how laws work. Laws are passed and then law enforcement…enforces them. I think every gun owner should be required to have a background check and a regular operating license, along with an annual inspection of their firearms for safety. I really think that these little tweaks to the system would save lives. And I also think that these live squarely within the bounds of the second amendment, which begins with the words “well regulated.”
These of course are my political opinions, and well meaning people can disagree on both sides of them I’m sure. Some will say I go too far, and some will say I don’t go far enough. Fair, and we can have that debate. But as much as I dabble in politics, I am a theologian by trade. Jesus told us that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” Look again at those gun stats above. America, for all our best intentions, lives by the sword. We are, all too sadly, seeing that we are dying by the sword. Jesus told us how this was going to go. So for as much as this is a political issue, I believe it is a spiritual one. I believe we need to lament the dead, a practice long forgotten in many Christian traditions. I believe we need to repent, to turn from the direction our country is headed, and find a better way forward. I believe we need to offer our thoughts and prayers, sure, but we also need to follow those prayers with action.
Of course, I opened up a big huge topic here, so I would request the following two favors: 1) If you would like to join this conversation, please comment below. I can’t keep up with Facebook and Twitter and all those places, and so will be unlikely to respond to comments on those platforms. But I promise to keep up with the comments here on the site. But that leads to 2), if you would like to join this conversation, I implore you to do so in a civil and respectful manner. Please do not comment if you do not hope to learn, grow, and evolve in your position and views. If you are simply interested in repeating talking points, I recommend Facebook and Twitter and other social media outlets. If however you would like to have an open, honest, and vulnerable conversation, I welcome you here.
Grace and peace my friends,