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Thursday, June 9, 2022

Gun Idolatry in the United States

Last week, I was reclining on an exam table while a Nurse Practitioner and her assistant were sewing up an incision on my chest. "Have you heard anything about that school shooting in Texas?" she asked. I replied that I had, and she asked if I had heard what the news media was reporting about the latest body count (I assumed she hadn't had an opportunity to listen to any radio or television - the clinic had been very busy that day). "They are reporting that nineteen children and two adults are dead," I answered. "What do you think about that?" she asked. "I think it's awful," I replied. "Why is she soliciting my opinion about this sad event?" I wondered. "Yeah," she agreed, "I just don't understand why these things keep happening."

"Well, I think that some folks should never be allowed to hold a gun in their hands," I blurted out. "I don't think gun control is the answer!" she exclaimed. Now, I was getting nervous (she was after all currently sewing up my chest!) "I support Second Amendment rights - I served honorably in the U.S. Army, and I own a gun," I volunteered. "I cannot, however, understand why we don't have universal background checks, and why we haven't band assault weapons." "I love shooting my AR-15!" the assistant interjected. "Yeah, I don't believe guns are the problem," the NP declared. "I think it's violent video games, social media, the absence of fathers, and a decline in family values," she added. I thought about pointing out that other more secular Western democracies have access to the same social media and video games and don't seem to have these problems with gun violence; but she was still working with those stitches, and silence seemed like the better option.

As I left the office that day, I was struck by how much those two ladies loved their guns. In fact, their love for their guns and determination to not have ANY restrictions placed on their right to own them had somehow trumped their ability as mothers to sympathize with those mothers in Uvalde who had lost their children. They were clearly more concerned with the possibility that the government might "take away" their guns than they were with the possibility that a mass shooting might snuff out the lives of their loved ones! "What inspires such devotion to an inanimate object that has the potential to inflict so much harm in the wrong hands?" I wondered. We require training and a license to own and drive a car, but many of us appear to believe that such a requirement is unthinkable when it comes to a gun. Sure, most of us can understand the impulse to protect oneself and family or to hunt, but why does the average citizen need a weapon of war (designed to kill humans)? Sure, most of us understand that the Second Amendment guarantees a right to keep and bear arms to U.S. citizens (although the fact that the language links this to a well-regulated militia is often ignored), but what does God think about weapons? Moreover, what does God make of the argument that the right to bear arms is meant to keep our government from imposing a tyranny on its citizens?

First, we should note that firearms had not been invented yet when the Judeo-Christian Scriptures were written. In those days, spears and swords were the weapons of choice (they liked slingshots and bows and arrows too). In this connection, it is interesting to note that two of the Old Testament prophets predicted a time when people would "beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks." (Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3) It should also be noted that humans are prohibited from killing each other by one of the "Ten Commandments" (Exodus 20:13). We also know that Jesus Christ told his disciples: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-39) Likewise, when Peter drew his sword to prevent Jesus from being arrested, we read that Christ told him: "Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword." (Matthew 26:52 and John 18:11)

Conservative commentator David French recently posted an article "Against Gun Idolatry" (June 5, 2022. In the piece, he argues that the greatest threat to the gun culture in America is not from liberal Democrats, that it is from a discernible shift in the attitude of many gun owners toward their weapons. He wrote: "The threat is gun idolatry, a form of gun fetish that’s fundamentally aggressive, grotesquely irresponsible, and potentially destabilizing to American democracy...What is a gun fetish? It’s a concept that’s tough to define, but easy to observe. When a leading candidate for Senate runs on a platform that’s 'pro-God, pro-Gun, and pro-Trump,' then guns (and Trump) are elevated far above their proper place in American life. The same goes for popular t-shirts and signs that declare a person 'pro-life, pro-God, and pro-gun.'” Of Course, this brings to mind another one of the "Ten Commandments," you remember - the one that states: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me!" (Exodus 20:3)

Moreover, we have already mentioned the reasonableness of arguments by gun owners involving self-defense and hunting; but some of the other arguments advanced by them are frankly disturbing (especially when they are advanced by folks who claim to be Christians). In short, the notion that armed citizens would confront and resist government tyranny is NOT a very Christian notion! In this connection, it is interesting to note that both Paul and Peter enjoined Christians to "be subject unto the higher powers" (Romans 13:1), and that they must submit themselves "to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake." (I Peter 2:13) In the article already referenced, French characterized the shift in public opinion in these terms: "It’s now common to see men and women armed to the teeth, open-carrying during anti-lockdown protests and even outside public officials’ homes. This is when the gun is used to menace and intimidate. It’s displayed not as a matter of defense but rather as an open act of defiance. It’s meant to make people uncomfortable. It’s meant to make them feel unsafe. This transition from defense to defiance can destabilize our democracy." I would say that open defiance or actions of an offensive nature (as compared to those of a defensive nature) also clearly contradict the scriptures quoted above.

In terms of this world, the consequences of this obsession with guns is already clear in places like Sandy Hook and Uvalde. In terms of the Kingdom of God, I would personally be very uncomfortable with defending a morality of "pro-God, pro-Gun, and pro-Trump." Yeah, I'm thinking that that one is NOT going to be well-received at God's throne! What do you think?


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