Thursday, October 16, 2014

Gun Toting Yahoos

This morning’s newscast included a deeply disturbing story. Sandwiched between breathless reports on two cases of ebola in Texas and a story about a “salmon cannon” being used to move fish in the drought-striken Northwest was a story about a cancelled lecture at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

Yeah, I know, doesn’t sound like that big a deal, does it? The lecture in question was by a woman who has been an outspoken advocate for tamping down the sexism in video games and increasing the diversity of female characters. This has been so inflammatory to a group of gamers that she is receiving death threats. That’s pretty disturbing: There are actually guys out there so wedded to the sex-goddess-damsel-in-distress female character that they would threaten to kill anyone who suggests portraying female characters exclusively that way is kinda sexist, and it might be a good idea for video games to have some strong, ass-kicking, fully-dressed women warriors as well.

But that wasn’t actually the most disturbing part of the story. (Which is terrifying in and of itself.) No, the most disturbing thing was an almost casual mention toward the end of the report that the talk was cancelled because gun laws in Utah mean that police can’t ban guns from the auditorium. Campus police will have to let a gun-toting would-be assassin sashay right past them, because hey, they might be a good guy with a gun. Can’t tell until they pull the trigger, after all, and state law says the guys with guns have a right to be in the auditorium. Anonymous death threats do not, apparently, constitute a reason to suggest people with guns shouldn’t be allowed to get within shooting distance of the person who is being threatened.

I’ve always been pretty moderate toward gun ownership. I don’t own a gun, and wouldn’t consider it, but I learned to shoot a rifle as a teenager and people in my family are responsible gun owners. I’ve argued that there are many situations where having a gun in the house might be prudent, especially in settings where the innocent are vulnerable and help is far away, and that one-size-fits-all gun laws are a bad idea. I’ve encouraged my children to learn about firearms from their grandfather, because I believe knowledge is the best way to keep them safe around guns.

I’ve always said I don’t want to take anyone’s guns away. But I’ve changed my mind. I want to take the guns away from the gun-toting yahoos.

Let’s be clear: You are not a good guy with a gun if you cannot put up with a little inconvenience in purchasing a gun so that we can take a stab at keeping guns out of the hands of people with a history of violence and mental illness. You are not a good guy with a gun if your right to carry your assault rifle trumps the right of someone who has received death threats to feel safe. You are not a good guy with a gun if it’s just too much trouble to get real training in how to handle yourself in an emergency, so you don’t accidentally shoot innocent bystanders.

Let’s clear something else up too: There is no “God-given right” to a gun. Whatever right you may or may not have to a gun is conferred by the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, not the Bible. In fact, Jesus has something very different to say about self-defense: “But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.” (Luke 6:27-29) Jesus lived that out, too. When the authorities came to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane, some of his followers wanted to fight. Jesus knew what he was going to if he surrendered -- but he did it anyway, chastising Peter when he tried to defend his lord with the warning that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”

And we are dying by the sword. (Or more precisely, our guns.) Some 32,000 people every year die of gun violence, and both the FBI and a new study from Harvard University show that mass shootings in public places where the victim and shooter don’t know each other are becoming more and more frequent. Our urgency to make it easier to arm ourselves out of fear that no one will come to our aid, that we and those we love could at any moment be a victim of violence, is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I get that most of the gun owners out there are law-abiding citizens. I get that a fair number of the ones that aren’t will probably be able to get a gun anyway. I agree that we need to do a much, much better job at caring for those with mental illnesses. But none of that trumps that fact that we have gone too far when a speaker feels they have to cancel because someone is threatening to shoot them, and we can’t even ask people not to bring their guns into the room.

Being afraid of bad guys is not sufficient reasons for Christians to carry guns everywhere they go. If we truly believe that our God is Lord of All, that God’s power is greater than death itself, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God, we should have enough faith to leave the guns at home when their presence might actually make it harder for us to be safe. We should trust enough to wait a few days for a background check and avoid looking like Rambo at the supermarket. Fear should not drive our decisions, because we are a Resurrection people, and we know that there is nothing to fear, not even death.

So let’s do something about the gun-toting yahoos. Let’s say, “Enough!” to those who sell us fear alongside of ammunition. Let’s work together to find a reasonable middle ground, that recognizes the rights of sportsmen and hunters and responsible gun owners who are willing to do what it takes to be a “good guy with a gun.” Because we have been afraid long enough.