This is not the first time I have blogged about guns in America. A couple of years ago I suggested that people whose ultimate vision is the beating of swords into plowshares (or to invoke Neal Plantinga’s riff: turning Howitzer tanks into John Deere garden tractors) ought not spend the run-up to that day of shalom celebrating and promoting people’s owning as many weapons as they can. I also suggested that the pro-gun lobby in this country is so powerfully entrenched–and holds so many politicians in absolute thrall–as to make it quite possibly count as among the “powers and principalities” that the Apostle Paul suggested are our true enemy in this world for now. Needless to say, any number of readers took issue with me. The Second Amendment, after all, surely counts as something akin to the divine will of the God who ostensibly helped draft the Constitution of this shining city on a hill of a Christian nation. What are the words of Jesus compared to this inalienable right to bear arms?
Of course, I am writing this blog on Monday morning as we all reel from the news of a sniper-like mass shooting in Las Vegas that has injured 400 people, killed 50, and the death toll may yet rise by the time this blog goes live. And I write this a week after Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore expressed his support for the Second Amendment by pulling a pistol from his pocket at a political rally. The crowed cheered even as the voters subsequently voted for Moore over the candidate even President Trump favored and endorsed. We cheer for Moore’s brazen pistol waving, we lament a man with a huge cache of automatic and semi-automatic weapons who rained down terror on innocent people enjoying an outdoor concert. But what we will most assuredly NOT do as a result of all this is see any connection between the cheers for Moore’s pistol and the tears that resulted from Stephen Paddock’s machine guns. Our leaders will not go there.
We can be certain the President will not. He courted the NRA’s support throughout the campaign, saying at one rally that Hillary Clinton would take away everyone’s guns. And then he coyly suggested that maybe gun owners could do something about Hillary too but . . . well, it wasn’t a threat. Earlier this year on the eve of his 100th day in office, Trump went to an NRA convention and assured them they had a friend in him. “You came through for me and I will come through for you” he told the cheering masses, earning swift praise from NRA head Wayne LaPierre.
Of course, despite caricatures by the NRA and leaders like Trump, neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama ever actually threatened to go around and collect every deer hunting rifle in the country. But after the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary and a bevy of mass shootings that took place on his watch, Obama consistently asked for stricter control of weapons in this country, most especially controls on the very weapons Stephen Paddock used and that made downtown Las Vegas Sunday night sound like downtown Saigon right before the city fell. This is sensible legislation. But it won’t happen.
A single gunman inspired by ISIS is cause enough to ban travelers from whole nations. One man with explosives in his shoe on an airplane is enough to make millions of us remove our shoes at airport check points from then on out. A single child who gets sick from tainted hamburger is enough to recall tons of meat and strengthen food inspection laws. But let two dozen six and seven year olds get murdered in their classrooms, let a score or more die inside a movie theater, let hundreds get shot up and scores killed at a Las Vegas concert and our collective response as a nation will be . . . exactly zero.
Of course, even people like Obama who repeatedly pleaded for tougher gun laws always had to hedge his comments to say that hunters and law-abiding gun owners were excepted from all this. But what if it turns out that in order to safeguard more lives, even these groups might have to be affected at least a little? Would potentially saving the life of a First Grader or of an innocent young woman attending a country music concert really be of less value to anyone than a little more hassle where gun ownership is involved?
I am convinced nothing will happen on the legislative front even after Las Vegas. The people of Alabama are all but certain to send their gun-toting candidate to the Senate, where he will work with plenty of others, including the President, who will make it certain that nothing will change when it comes to our American mad love affair with guns.
But why do we so seldom hear Christians approaching all of this in vocabulary and moral/ethical language that differs in any way from the non-Christian gun advocates in this country? Does following the Prince of Peace make no difference at all in how Christians speak of these matters? Do Christian supporters of Trump and Moore never hesitate on such life and death questions? I am asking the question honestly. I am not posing this rhetorically.
Because I honestly don’t know the answer. I only know that I seldom if ever hear or read anything that gives me encouragement that there is a grassroots Christian voice in these conversations. And if so, Lord, have mercy.