I recently read a well thought out and honest blog about guns, violence and the reality that we, as Christians, are not doing well in having any sort of conversation about it by and large. Some excellent points were made and some very good questions asked, so I wanted to take the time to try and give my answers to them. The blog, written by Chris Marchand can be found here.
Please take the time to read and consider it in it’s entirety and, if nothing else, understand what is being said. As for me, I have written about proposals that I found reasonable that might help with some of the violence stemming from firearms and that I think could be passed through a congress here.
I am not ignoring getting into the scriptures involving pacifism, self defense, etc. as I have nothing really to add to them. I am guessing that most of us are well acquainted with them and if not, a simple search will find them readily.So, some background. I have worked as both personal security (bodyguard) and private security so I have some training and experience. I was a licensed bounty hunter for a time as well. (Dog the bounty hunter is full of crap by the way, by I digress) I also have self defense training in an amount that is more than average, yet less than say a black belt. This matters because, like it or not, our personal experiences do play a role in how we see issues and matters. It also matters as I have had a degree of firearm training, so I am familiar with the care and use of guns in general. I am basically a pro second amendment guy, but not to the degree of some. Here we go with an attempt to answer some questions.
The first question asked was this. “1. Why are you always so quick to shoot somebody in the head?” It is a great question honestly. The answer given here is again from my perspective alone as I am the only person that I can speak for. The first part of the answer is practical training. Police forces, security guys, military types, and even hunters to some degree, are trained to fire for “center mass”, that is to say the area from the top of the shoulders to the waist line. This is done for a couple of reasons, the biggest of which is it is the largest target area and thus the easiest to hit. It will also result in the best chance to incapacitate what you are shooting at. It also is very practical as, for example, I am about 6’4″, Mary is about 5′. If I take a proper stance to shoot and aim straight forward, I would be lined up to hit center mass even at over 12″ of difference in height. Hitting a knee, a hand, or a similarly small target is difficult at best under ideal conditions, and I think it safe to say that should bullets be fired, the situation is less than ideal. The chances of missing the target and hitting an innocent are greatly reduced by aiming for center mass as well.
I would point out that the center mass area includes the stomach area as well. Another reason is muscle memory. Quarterbacks in football throw the same pass thousands of times, receivers catch balls thousands of times, etc. This is done so that when the time comes and it is a split second from start to finish, you know what to do and how to do it. Given the difference in relative sizes of people, it would be impossible to train to shoot someone in a smaller relative area than the center mass zone as it would require more precision than there is generally time for. I have been shot in the leg and able to return fire. I have been shot in the chest and, even wearing a bullet resistant vest, was unable to. I am certainly more than open to non lethal alternatives and even endorse them. For example, should someone attempt to break into my home and was not pointing a gun at me, I would respond in a much less than lethal defense. I think that, when push comes to shove, most people would. The list of less than lethal responses when facing those armed with firearms is very small and perhaps nonexistent. No, it is not at all my desire to harm anyone, much less take a life. Yes, the reality is that should a firearm be shot center mass, that is a risk. There is ammunition that can limit the risk, but it is a risk. The willingness to assume that risk in a situation where there is proportionate risk should not be confused with a desire to harm however.
The second question was “2. Who is your enemy?” I will defer to Ephesians as to who it is that I fight against (or should be fighting against). We are not really speaking of enemies and friends but of self defense however. Those who seek to rob or even harm you, are not always an enemy so to speak. There is a lot of senseless and random violence around us and I do not at all see someone engaging in it as my enemy. Even the terrorists who seek to bring about a world radically different than I find acceptable are not my enemy, but rather the ideas that push them to do so. I can not shoot an idea, but I can defend myself against one who has been corrupted and perverted by that idea. It probably does not seem as clear to most as it does to me, but there it is. I to believe in the theory of just war, and would say that the understanding of Aquinas is the way to go. Obviously in a self defense situation, the first principal can not apply as there often is not instituted authority involved, but I would submit that the other two principles do apply as to when it is acceptable. (That is not to say “good”). The cause need have some motive other than self gain or exercising power and the central motive must be peace. So a just use of self defense could rightly be understood as defending my family from a person intent on doing them harm for example. Defending my home against an intruder would be another. An enemy has little to do with it as ultimately we only have one enemy and that is of course the adversary of God.
To armed rebellion against government, it is a tricky bit. For me, it has to do with the instructions that we are to be respectful toward the established government that is above us. In the US that means both those elected, but also the principals that the government is founded on as those documents were not meant to be suggestions but rather a guide for what is to happen. Part of that is the second amendment and part of the reason for that amendment was to ensure that the representative republic that was formed would not drift into tyranny. As a Christian, I can see how one can be both loyal, even in opposition to, the elected officials while simultaneously being able to have preparation to defend the principles that the government is founded upon. Now as for collecting large quantities of guns for that purpose, that is beyond me.
The question you posed about MLK is a good one. The same question could be asked of those who praised the Black Panthers and their less than friendly methods, or perhaps Weather Underground or even the recent violent riots in Baltimore and Ferguson. In all those cases, the case has been made, most often by those against firearms, that the violence is somehow justified. Said violence was justified by abuses of the government toward the people in question, or to use a different word, tyranny. While not open and armed revolt, it was not at all peaceful. The difference between throwing rocks as a weapon and using a gun is only a matter of effectiveness as the intent is the same, namely to cause harm. In the specific case of MLK, I think that the nonviolence was warranted as there was a large, and increasing number, of those in positions of authority that agreed with him and were working toward changes. MLK did not seek the overthrow of a tyrannical government, but rather sought the protections of a just government. I think that is maybe the difference between when nonviolence is a warranted and effective method and when rebellion is a warranted and effective method. Our representative republic is not a system based in tyranny such as say a communist dictatorship under Pol Pot might be, and one of the ideas behind protecting that is the right of private citizens to be armed. I would never go so far as to say that every citizen should be, just that most can be if they choose. I would say the same of Christians. Remember that Jesus did not scold Peter for being armed, He scolded him for using said arm improperly. Wesley’s take was that the problem was that the sword was not used with proper authority, not that Peter had the sword on him. If we are to respect government as an authority as scripture commands, then the issue is not with bearing arms, but using said arms improperly.
The third question “ Do you think guns are “good”?” It is a fair question as is the question do you think that guns are bad? Yes, there are those who post things like were mentioned after. I happen to think that many of those posts are born out of frustration over a multitude of things having little to do with guns. The idea of many big guns capable of doing lots of damage is an idea that I do not understand. Even the lowest caliber of weapon can do great damage in the proper hands. So can a hammer for that matter, although a gun is certainly more effective to be sure. There are many valid reasons for owning several firearms. Some people simply like them and enjoy shooting. I used to enjoy shooting a great deal myself. Some people collect them. I admit that I find this weird, but I also find collecting beanie babies weird. I have trouble understanding why it is that a person wants numerous firearms as well, (my personal number would be maybe 5 that seems reasonable?) but I also find most collecting of anything odd. Is a Christian collecting swords odd? Perhaps a martial artist who happens to be Christian collecting the various weapons they are trained with?
How many is enough is one of the struggles with western Christianity in general. We are people of excess. I wish it were not so, but we are to varying degrees. How many cars is enough? How many homes? How many rooms in the house? Those are all valid questions that need addressed. I don’t find the particular question about guns any more or less valid or even a problem in and of itself. The issue I see is excess and firearm ownership of more weapons than can be reasonably used is just a symptom of that problem. What guns should be owned? Well, legal ones obviously. Beyond that is there much of a difference really? I suppose we could talk about clip capacity and calibers, but I don’t think a 9mm round is any more or less Christian than a .45 to be honest. I would love to be able to answer those questions, but a gun is a gun so far as those weapons legal. Now should we be running around with fully automatic weapons? Of course not, at least I do not think so. There are limits. I don’t recall anything in the scriptures that would indicate that we could safely own a sword of 12″ but not over as that would not be Christian. It is sort of an either or thing I think. We can believe that a Christian can reasonably own firearms or not, but when we start trying to put crazy rules on it,say you can have an 8 shot 9mm but the 10 shot .45 is not Christian, it seems we are approaching talk about how many steps we can take on the Sabbath.
The final question was this “Why no budge?” Again, the same question can be safely asked of anti-gun Christians. I have met many who believe that all firearms should be eliminated from private citizens and will not budge. I am not trying to point more fingers at those who think differently, but I am pointing out that this is not a problem spcific to those who are in favor of guns. We need to be able to speak about things honestly to be sure, so in that spirit, I want to point out some facts. Violent crime in general, and gun crime specifically, are actually down and continuing downward. That is not to say that we can not, nor even should not, do more, but we need to be able to speak honestly. Gun violence is down, despite the media coverage to the contrary. At the same time we also need to recognize that there have been more large scale shootings than before. I hesitate to use “mass shooting” as what actually constitutes that is not consistent from source to source, so it’s use as a term is limited. Events like the Colorado theater shooting and the like are more common is the point. Those events, while tragic, make up a very small statistical number of the deaths due to gun violence, so when looking at proposed solutions, we need to keep that in mind. To make the blanket statement that gun laws are not working seems odd considering that gun crime is down. If the gun laws are not working, and gun violence is down, let’s identify what is working and encourage it! It is certainly getting results. There are many people who are concerned over the so called ‘straw purchases’ that often allow guns across state lines. I understand and appreciate that concern. I even share it to some degree. There is already a federal straw purchase law in effect. Many do not know that. The SCOTUS has ruled it constitutional.It is not often enforced however. The issue may not be that the current laws are not handling things, but that so many of the current laws are not enforced or are functionally unenforceable. It is not an unwillingness to budge so much as an unwillingness to endorse laws that duplicate what is already present. I did link above to proposals that I think could actually pass in congress if they were to come up and be discussed reasonably.
To be fair, most of the proposals that have come before congress and illicit such ire from gun rights folks have not asked for reasonable compromise, but rather capitulation. Even when the assault weapon ban was brought back up, it was not to reinstate it, but to make it even more strict. Said laws have also been in response to mass shootings, but would have failed to actually address the conditions that led to the mass shootings themselves. Forget the NRA for a second, I think that you would find support for a variety of provisions among gun owners if they were reasonable and not an over reaction and actually dealt with the conditions that were allowing the violence. Most gun violence takes place in urban areas and are a result of gang activity currently. Gun laws will not stop that, at least those laws as they are currently. Using the most recent shooting in California, the weapons used were legally purchased in California. That is not exactly a gun friendly state. The gun violence resulting from straw purchases is largely caused by firearms requiring a federal background check already, and therefore subject to the straw purchase laws that already exist. That has not worked. It is not that there is no budge, it is that the same ideas that largely have not worked keep getting brought up.
At the end of all of this there is the reality that just as a pacifist would not understand me, I will not understand them. Just as a person opposed to firearms will not understand why I am not opposed, I can not understand why they are. I can listen and respond and maybe foster some small level of understanding, but that is the best that we can hope for. What we can do is leave the hyperbole and extremest positions behind us and legitimately work toward realistic solutions. While I am well aware that there are many gun guys that are against any and all sort of laws, there are just as many anti gun guys who want them all taken away. It is a what really came first, the chicken or the egg type of question as one rose in response to the other and in truth it doesn’t matter which came first, they are both here. Just as the right needs to quit screaming that someone is coming for their guns, the left needs to quit saying that people should come for their guns. We can all point to extreme examples if we wish, but we should realize that the vast majority of people exist in between those extremes. Those are the people that we can effectively deal with looking for solutions. Those are the people to focus on and talk with.This is my answer to the gun control issues we face. Talk to and work with those who actual exist in the world of compromise and ignore the far edges that make a small minority. Let those on the far edges rattle their sabers, while those of us that live in between them make the world a better place for everyone.