Guns

The Time to Change Gun Laws is Now

The Time to Change Gun Laws is Now

Guest post by Phil Snider

Gun laws in the United States of America should be changed immediately:

Fact 1: Every year far more innocent people in the U.S. are unintentionally killed by an accident with a gun than are criminals killed by a “good guy with a gun.” [So the self-defense argument doesn’t work unless for some strange reason one wishes to also argue that more deaths by gun violence is preferable to fewer deaths by gun violence.]

Fact 2: Where there are higher rates of gun ownership in the U.S., there are higher rates of gun violence in the U.S. There is a direct and disproportionate correlation between gun ownership and gun fatalities.

Fact 3: Nations with tighter gun restrictions have drastically fewer gun fatalities in comparison to the U.S.

Fact 4: If you say that changing the law is unnecessary because criminals will always find ways to break the law, then you are de facto arguing against the purpose of having any laws.

Fact 5: A person hellbent on acting maliciously can murder far more people with certain types of guns than with, say, a knife. [This seems so obvious to point out, but, for example, there’s a reason it’s wrong to build bombs –> they are designed to kill large quantities of people at once. As are many types of guns.]

Two more facts, from a friend:

A history of violence against women is among the strongest predictors of future violence like murder and mass shootings.

People living with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violent acts than the perpetrators.

Truth: We may think (or feel) that having guns makes us more safe, but that is an illusion. Owning guns makes us far less safe. Nonetheless, our fears have led us to build a golden calf out of guns. But like all idols, they cannot save.

Truth: Our nation is enamored with the myth of redemptive violence, from which we need to be saved.

Truth: If one thinks the founding documents of our country are not subject to revision or contextual and constructive critique, then (1) one has to continue to support some pretty outlandish things, such as the 3/5ths compromise and (2) one doesn’t think it’s possible to progress further or to be open to new insights and perspectives, which is at once both tragic and myopic.

Truth: We have the responsibility to politicize tragedies so they don’t keep happening over and over and over again. Not to do so is to give them our tacit approval, which should be unconscionable.

What are we waiting for?


Phil Snider is an award-winning author, community organizer, pastor, and teacher. In addition to providing religious commentary in various local and national media outlets, including NPR affiliates and nationally-syndicated radio and television programming, his work has been featured in the Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches, Slate, Fox News and USA Today. Phil’s books include Justice Calls: Sermons of Welcome and AffirmationPreaching After GodThe Hyphenateds, and Toward a Hopeful Future (winner of the 2011 Mayflower Award for best book in church and society).

Image: REUTERS/SERGIO FLORES

Why I Am Unarmed

Why I Am Unarmed

This post originally appeared in The Banner, January 20, 2014

My neighbors were recently mugged at gunpoint not far from where I live in Washington, D.C. A nice evening out for dinner with another couple quickly went awry as two young men pulled a gun on them and demanded their wallets and phones. The four of them hit the ground and did as they were asked. After being accosted in this way, my friends felt rattled. Unsafe. Sad.

Some might say: “If only they’d been carrying a weapon of their own, they might have been able to turn the tables, or at least hold onto their wallets.” A good thought. After all, they say the best defense is a good offense, so why not be ready to take charge in such a situation? An argument could be made that a gun might have helped. The instigators could have been forced to flee out of fear. The potential firepower might have caused panic, and my friends might have been able to take control of the situation.

But it’s also true that bringing a second gun into the picture might have escalated the situation. It is likely that the perpetrators did not plan to use the gun. There’s a good chance that these two young men found themselves in a desperate situation requiring desperate action.

I’m pretty sure this situation would not have been improved by issuing a threat of violence in response to the initial threat of violence. A response in kind, even in self-defense, is exactly what it sounds like: a response in kind.

With these types of incidents happening close to where I live—in an urban setting—some might recommend that I own a weapon. That I protect my family. That I prepare for the worst.

Yet I remain unarmed.

For me, carrying a weapon is in direct conflict with my desire to be a faithful disciple of Jesus. How can I justify responding to violence with more violence when I follow the Prince of Peace? How can I think of carrying a weapon designed solely to kill efficiently if I’m seeking to follow a God who instructs us, “Do not kill”? How can I think of owning a gun when Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, and to pray for those who hurt us? How can I stock up on ammunition when Romans 12 clearly instructs us to “not repay evil for evil” and to “live at peace with everyone” (vv. 17-18)?

These days there is a lot of conversation about guns and gun rights, particularly in the wake of last year’s Newtown school shooting and the Trayvon Martin murder trial. Many note that it is their constitutional or even God-given right to carry a gun. Some are sure that the answer to the outbreak of violence in our schools, homes, and streets is not fewer guns, but more.

More guns in our schools. More guns in our homes. Moreguns in our neighborhoods.

The argument that we need more guns, and more people trained to use them, boils down to “we can kill before we get killed.” At some level, this argument may be right. This strategy may well be effective—even the most effective. But what kind of society do we want to have? What kind of people do we want to be?

One response to violence is to admit that we live in a sick society and increase weapon proliferation to deal with the issue. “It’s effective.” “I’ll feel safer.” But do we really want a society in which there are more weapons that can be unleashed on a schoolroom full of unsuspecting children? A society where our children are afraid to walk the streets because there may be a neighborhood watch person following them with a gun?

The more poignant question is this: Do I really want to become someone who has to be trained to kill someone else as the answer to reducing violence? To me, this stems from a lack of imagination and a lack of hope.

I’d rather we work on connecting better with our neighbors, getting involved in our neighborhood schools, and learning the opportunities and challenges we face together.

I’d rather we dealt with mental health issues and make counseling accessible to those who need it.

I’d rather be a person who is trained to love than one who is trained to kill—even in self-defense.

That’s why I am simply not interested in carrying a firearm. In the U.S., the Constitution may grant me such a right. But I follow someone who eschewed his rights to self-defense (and many other things).

Some will point to Jesus endorsing the carrying of swords in Luke 22 and note that even he knew when it was time to arm oneself. Yet when the disciples say, “See, Lord, here are two swords,” Jesus replies, “That’s enough.” Or as another translation puts it: “Enough of that!” The point is notthat he endorses the private right to carry weapons. Rather, the display of two weapons in the face of a contingent of armed Roman soldiers from Pilate makes the point that Jesus and his disciples are not there to act in violence. Jesus notes that he has the power to call down legions of angels to his defense. But he refuses to resort to such violence, even when self-defense might call for it. He says, “My kingdom is not of this world, otherwise my servants would fight.”

When the kingdom of heaven breaks in, there is a refusal to respond to violence with more violence. There is a love that is greater than calling upon our “rights.” There is a forgiveness that can be extended even to those who would put us to death, as Jesus and many of his earliest followers exemplified.

In our society, people have the right to carry or own a gun. But I’m not going to be one of them because my hope for peace outweighs my desire for personal safety. Because my desire to follow Jesus exceeds my desire to defend myself. And because responding to a threat upon my life with an act of love, even if it costs me my life, might be one small piece of God’s kingdom being realized here and now.

There are no easy answers or solutions to the reality of gun violence in our nation and our world.

But should that stop us from dreaming? What if we tried to enact the prophetic dream now, and gave up our obsession with violence? What if we didn’t wait for someone else to beat the pistols into plowshares but set the example ourselves? What’s the worst that could happen?

Ask Jesus.

The Parable of the Ten Servants

The Parable of the Ten Servants

A new take on the Parable of the Ten Virgins, by Bryan Berghoef

And he told them this parable:

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten servants who went out to meet their master. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took no weapons nor did they take any means of defense with them. The wise ones, however, took care to bring swords along with their concealed knives. The master was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

At midnight the cry rang out: “An intruder! Defend yourselves!” Continue Reading..

Why I Am Unarmed

gun

An excerpt from my article on guns in the February edition of The Banner:

Why I Am Unarmed

by Bryan Berghoef

My neighbors were recently mugged at gunpoint not far from where I live in Washington, D.C. A nice evening out for dinner with another couple quickly went awry as two young men pulled a gun on them and demanded their wallets and phones. The four of them hit the ground and did as they were asked. After being accosted in this way, my friends felt rattled. Unsafe. Sad.

Some might say: “If only they’d been carrying a weapon of their own, they might have been able to turn the tables, or at least hold onto their wallets.” A good thought. After all, they say the best defense is a good offense, so why not be ready to take charge in such a situation? An argument could be made that a gun might have helped. The instigators could have been forced to flee out of fear. The potential firepower might have caused panic, and my friends might have been able to take control of the situation.

But it’s also true that bringing a second gun into the picture might have escalated the situation. It is likely that the perpetrators did not plan to use the gun. There’s a good chance that these two young men found themselves in a desperate situation requiring desperate action.

I’m pretty sure this situation would not have been improved by issuing a threat of violence in response to the initial threat of violence. A response in kind, even in self-defense, is exactly what it sounds like: a response in kind.

With these types of incidents happening close to where I live—in an urban setting—some might recommend that I own a weapon. That I protect my family. That I prepare for the worst.

Yet I remain unarmed.

Read the rest of this article—and a counterpoint—at The Banner. Would love to get your thoughts there or here.

The Pistol-Packing Pastor

pistol-packing-pastor2

The LA Times had a story recently about a pastor who carries heat: “He shows others how to put their trust in God and take their security into their own hands.”

From the story:

BEAUMONT, Texas — Two years ago on Super Bowl Sunday, Pentecostal preacher James McAbee was getting into his car after services when he heard a commotion. He saw two men break a window and enter a church hall that was being renovated.

McAbee called 911. The dispatcher said it would take officers at least 11 minutes to respond.

He lingered outside for a moment, frustrated.

“I could hear them snapping the lumber and carrying the sheet rock,” McAbee said.

The pastor drew a .380 pistol he wore in an ankle holster and burst into the hall — only to find two adolescents.

McAbee, who’d had a troubled youth, saw himself in the pair. He lowered his gun to offer some fatherly advice, but the older one, a 17-year-old with two outstanding drug warrants, rushed the pastor with the pointy end of a broken 2-by-4.

“I got my gun back out in time,” McAbee said. “He froze in his tracks. I said, ‘Son, you better not move or I’ll put one right in your watermelon!'”

The pastor held them until police arrived.

Some laud this pastor as exemplary, and he’s become known as Triple-P: “Pistol-Packing Pastor.” He began teaching gun classes shortly after he earned his nickname, and cites Scripture that he says justifies the classes: Psalm 144:1, “The Lord has trained me for battle”; and Luke 22:36, in which Jesus instructs the disciples to arm themselves.

I actually posted Luke 22:38 earlier today on Facebook:

So they said, “Lord, look! Here are two swords.”
He answered them, “Enough of that!”

Typical translations will have Jesus reply: “That is enough,” but I like this version. It’s as if Jesus is dismissing such talk. Yet in either case, Jesus is noting that his disciples are not to be about aggression and violence. Two swords would be laughed at in the face of even the smallest contingent of Roman or Herodian soldiers. He would face their worst, and was not about to respond in kind.

RELATED: Christianity, Gun Violence, and the Nihilism of Mike Huckabee

But back to our pistol-packing pastor:
He was expecting more than 100 people to attend his latest class, mandated by the state for concealed handgun licenses. The class costs $50, and in recent months, McAbee’s business has tripled and he’s trained more than 1,000 people.

What do you think? Is he doing a good thing? Is it possible to teach someone to trust in God and take security matters into their own hands? My own sense is that the need to carry the gun points to the opposite of trust in God. “Sure, I’ll trust you, God, up until the point I actually need to trust you. At that point, I’ll take care of things myself, thank you.”

There’s more to the story:

Guns were a normal part of McAbee’s life. He was raised in the small town of Clover, S.C., where his grandfather took him hunting. His mother worked in law enforcement and carried a gun.

One day at the range, his mother accidentally shot and partially paralyzed herself. McAbee was 9.

He grew up caring for his mother, and the stress took a toll. As a teenager he started using drugs and stealing to feed his habit.

When he was 18, McAbee was caught breaking into an elderly neighbor’s house. He was convicted of burglary, aggravated assault and battery, and served 2 1/2 years in a maximum-security prison.

There, McAbee felt called to preach.

This is a fascinating story. This guy spends time in prison because his mother shot herself with her own gun, yet he’s still enamored with them. Amazing. In prison he finds God. You’d think perhaps he would turn over a new leaf in regard to guns. The story continues (you’re not even going to believe this part):

In 2008, his mother again wounded herself with her own gun. Weakened by the shooting, she died later that year.

Seriously? She does this twice?! And she worked in law enforcement. You’d think this would be it for McAbee and guns. There’s no way he can look at one and say, “Hey, this is a good thing, more people ought to have these…” Except he does.

McAbee’s attitude about guns was unchanged: “Don’t blame the tool.”

Don’t blame the tool. Indeed.

MacAbee was hired three years ago at his present church, which is in a low-income neighborhood where gun crimes and celebratory gunfire is not uncommon. The day after Obama was re-elected, he bought an AR-15 assault rifle for nearly $1,000. He noted: “If the thugs are going to have one, I’m going to have one too.” If he insists on referring to people in his neighborhood as thugs, people who need the kind of help and life his church can offer, he might as well be armed. And apparently he is.

On occasion, the article notes, McAbee wears two guns to church — the .40 on his hip and the .380 in the ankle holster. His wife also carries a concealed gun. Neither has a safety on the guns they carry, and they like to keep a bullet chambered.

People think I’m a gun nut and gun crazy, but I’m not. I don’t want to hurt anybody. I believe the Bible teaches peace. But that doesn’t mean I should let them hurt me.

That’s like saying: “I believe the Bible teaches peace. But I don’t actually believe in trying it for myself.”

Imagine if Jesus had said, “My way is peace, and how dare you lay a finger on me, Pilate! I’m locked and loaded, baby!”

I invite you to read the rest of the story and draw your own conclusions.There’s been obviously tons of talk about guns of late, beginning with the Newtown tragedy and recent attempts at gun legislation. There are differing perspectives as to what the second amendment should mean today (or even meant originally).

Personally, I am amazed that someone who spent part of his adult life in prison and lost his own mother due to guns would have such a perspective. My own sense is that a ‘pistol-packing pastor’ is an oxymoron, and such an example doesn’t teach people anything about trusting in God, or about the way of Christ.

But I could be wrong about that.

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