On the Nature of Humans and Their Guns

I am no great authority, and claim no superior wisdom. I just have thoughts.

“When did our country get like this?”

I have read a couple social media posts like this today, and I can only answer: When human beings began living in it. As long as humans occupy a space, awful acts will happen in that space. This is a perpetual truth, with a veracity that is interdependent of your distaste for it. In other words: It is absolutely true, even if you do not like my saying so.

Whether it is violence against indigenous, blacks, gays, etc. — brains too small to comprehend individuality will overemphasize differences in groups and labels to a potentially dangerous extent. You can certainly see a history of this violence in America, along with acts more random in their targeting as well. I see no reason why it would cease any time soon.

Intellectual honesty

For Americans to claim there is no solution to mass shootings is to ignore the existence of entire countries where they occur at a statistically significantly lower rate. For example, Canada and Australia, combined, had 5 mass shootings in the years 2000 through 2014. If there were less guns, there would be less shootings. That is math, not ideology. Let me address any counterpoints with a single, simple question: In a world with 0 guns, how many shootings would there be?

Of course, in America, yanking guns away from its citizenry is no longer a realistic measure nor a politically attractive message. I just wish those who were so passionate about guns would be honest enough to admit that mass shootings occur because of them. There is plenty of room for great conversation around opinions such as “I believe Americans should have the right to own firearms, but mass shootings are terrible.” I can respect such a view (and basically hold it myself). However, I would remind people that the ideas of gun rights and gun consequences are inseparable: As long as people own guns, some of those people will use them to murder other people. If you believe those people should have the right to own the guns they are using to murder others, at some point you have had to either reconcile this inseparability with yourself or you have ignored it altogether.

I suspect that many “gun nuts” have a fondness for weapons that outweighs their compassion. I wonder if one could be honest, then, and say, “Hey, I do not mind if there are mass shootings. I understand this is an inevitable consequence of humans having guns. I just believe that the benefit I gain from having one myself is greater than such costs incurred elsewhere.” Some probably have, to some extent or another, I guess.

Phrases such as “guns don’t kill people” are meant to instill a sense that guns have no inherent moral standing, that they are merely a tool like a hammer or a screwdriver that is potentially misused for violence by a wielder of ill intent. Consider, though, that the intended function of a gun is to harm. Again, I am not entirely anti-gun; after all, if you need to bring deadly force on a target, a gun can be a very effective option. I suspect that the most staunchly pro-gun advocate would still at least agree with the idea that guns are to be taken seriously, not lightly.

The nature of guns is perfectly suited to the nature of humanity: Both are inevitably destructive.

Anything can be an idol. I do not believe it would be a stretch to say that many Americans worship guns, and/or the country itself. The bizarre juxtaposition that America often has between its militant patriotism and its God-Bless-America Christianity is an odd brew, for sure. I often get the feeling that many Americans would be surprised to learn that the Bible has very little to say about this country, specifically. The sentiment that God should bless America in some special sense is a strange one.

Again: I am not saying America is not a great country full of fantastic things. I am grateful to live here. I have no intentions to move out, no matter who wins the big election. I think it is okay to have a nuanced, admit-its-faults opinion of this country, or often other subjects, rather than immediately kneejerk to one side of a very black-and-white spectrum.

Neither ‘side’ of these debates are ever innocent, after all, as much as they like to act like they are. Seeing people call for Muslims not to be judged as a whole due to the actions of one seem to conveniently forget this sentiment when railing against Christianity, but any Christian who believes a difference in faith makes all of that faith’s members perfect are profoundly unaware of the message of the Word they purport to follow. Lord knows Christians spew plenty of venom following violent events.

Looking ahead

As I have tried to make clear: I can respect responsible gun ownership, I can be fond of America, I just feel a little saddened by some of the thoughts I see expressed out there, too. A world without guns would have a lot less shootings — but I can acknowledge the reality of the complex world we do live in, the one with guns, one that has many different issues intersecting with any particular person or time. Lots of people who are passionate about lots of things may be served well to take a breath and consider their words before lashing out in response to the latest news cycle.

Perhaps I am possibly only adding fuel to the fire by blogging about such issues. I am a cynic, but I also believe people are capable of greatness, I promise. I am imperfect. I do not have supreme answers. But many seem to think that they do, and that is disheartening. I would love to see more people admit that stuff is complicated and they do not know everything. Saddest to me, though, might be my fellow believers who are quicker to jump to the defense of guns than they are to the cause of Christ.

So I have to wonder: As a Christian, what is my proper response to tragedy? There is room for thought and conversation there, as well. There will be other opportunities, for sure.

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“But avoid foolish controversies…” — Titus 3:9.

“Cast all your cares upon Him, for He cares for you.” — 1 Peter 5:7.

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” — Isaiah 40:8.

“… what does the Lord require of you? Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” — Micah 6:8.

4 thoughts on “On the Nature of Humans and Their Guns

  1. Thanks for writing this, Eric. Much of what you’ve expressed is how I’ve felt too.

    Something related that bothers me is this idea that people are capable of bringing “peace on Earth.” You see it in the anti-gun movement, the War on Drugs, even in sustainability and environmental issues. (Not that I have issues with any of these- they’re purely examples.) No matter how much we work, peace will not come. Not by our own hands, at least. For the entire history of humanity, we’ve been desperately corrupt and bent towards sin. Not towards peace. Real, lasting peace will only come when Jesus returns to make all things new. He is our only hope.

    Also, I saw a bumper sticker today that said, “America, bless God.”

    Amen.

  2. Great, great post. You just have to stop with the caveat that you’re not an “expert” or whatever. Everybody is and nobody is. You’re a guy with an opinion, but the thing is, your opinion is reasoned and thoughtful. That means a LOT nowadays.

    I’m with you: I’m for gun ownership but I do acknowledge that violence is terrible. It’s interesting that you cite Canada and Australia: Fewer mass shootings, but comparing these countries to the U.S. is total apples to oranges. Australia has a population of around 23 million and Canada has about 35 million, as compared to the United States’ roughly 320 million. Those countries are largely homogeneous as compared to the U.S. Of course there will be more crime here. Even if you banned guns, there’d be crime. I believe it’s culture, not laws, that dictate things like this.

    We see it with the war on drugs. All of these laws, and all of this enforcement, and the problem isn’t much better. By the anti-gun crowd’s logic, though, we have the laws, so the drug war should have been a success.

    Second, America is kind of a weird place, with the mix of Christianity and patriotism. I think the danger is thinking that God is on our side when, in reality, we need to make sure we’re on God’s. I think that is what the Founders–many of whom might not have been churchgoing members of a particular denomination but were believers in a higher power as a means to constrain human nature–thought.

    And that’s what it comes down to: Human nature. Western civilization recognized that it was self-destructive, and channeled it towards positive ends. We’ve been dismantling these systems for a few generations, and look at where we are now. I think this partially answers the question: “When did we get like this?”

    I am also one of “those people” who thinks that, if you take God out of the picture, you let human nature run rampant, you get mass murder and violent crime.

    And this might be more controversial, but I don’t think shariah law and Islam as broadly practiced and accepted by a large number of Muslims is at all compatible with Western civilization. As I’m fond of saying, bullets and bombs are not valid forms of religious expression. I don’t care if your religion hates gays and Jews and women. This is America, dammit, and I’ll wave the flag all day long to prevent any more tragedies like this from happening.

    Lastly (then I’m done, I promise!), Christians aren’t perfect, but compared to radical Islam, we are, literally, saints (and martyrs, too . . .). Vile people purporting to be Christians say dumb things after every tragedy, sure, and even when there aren’t tragedies, but the difference is that Christians of all stripes denounce and marginalize them. We don’t make them the mainstream.

    One final thought: If Christians ever started committing mass-killings in the name of Christ, do you know who the absolute first people to step up and fight them would be?

    Other Christians.

    Thanks again for this post, Eric, and for letting me rant. Keep thinking and keep writing.

  3. Thanks for your comment, I’d like to touch on a couple things in response.

    1) I’m glad you brought up “Even if you banned guns, there’d be crime” and the idea that laws are inadequate — it’s simply true, and maybe I was misleading to my point when I talked of a 0-gun idea. If there were 0 guns, people would still be awful, and they would still be awful in violent ways. And adding another law or two… is no magic bullet, forgive the expression.

    2) I’m going to give some thought to what you said about comparing Christians to Muslims, in an ethical sense. I believe that even Christians are sinful, and broken, and thus part of the awfulness of humanity. I know I am. I think God is holy, and he sets a very high bar for goodness (one of righteous *perfection,* in fact!), and I truly try to operate under a belief that I am no better than anyone else (but I also get to say they are no better than me, lest you mistake me for a welcome mat to tread upon). But! Having said that! I think, obviously, someone in Christ (and Christ in someone) is a person who is justified and being sanctified. There certain *is* a difference there, and that distinction is a worthy one. I am just not comfortable putting it into stark angels-and-demons sort of terms. But I will definitely be thinking along those lines, in the coming days. I appreciate the spur to do so!

    1. Oooh, angels and demons terms. I wasn’t trying to make it that stark! We’re all human and imperfect, as you say. But you have to look at shariah, which is practiced in dozens of countries and is a code that I personally don’t think we can tolerate here in the U.S. as compatible with our traditions and our values, religious and otherwise.

      Plenty of American Muslims practice their faith without being adherents of shariah and do not commit terrorist acts. The vast majority of them, in fact. But you have to look at the statistics for religious-based terrorism vis-a-vis percentage of the population. I also think that the conclusions are ugly, and I feel kind of slimy talking about another religion this way, but the math doesn’t lie on a percentage-of-the-population to terror-incident ratio. I know, I know, 90% of terror attacks since 1980 have been committed by non-Muslims. But that’s about 3.3 million people versus 317.7 million, so the fact that it’s 1% million that have committed 10% is pretty staggering.

      The Orlando shootings just got to me, Eric, more so than the other attacks, and I don’t know why. I feel like this one was the last straw, like I can’t sit here and play the moral equivalence game anymore. These were just people out having a good time, like the people in Paris were. Christians have done horrible things in God’s name, sure, but how recently? And to what magnitude?

      Okay, rant over. Thank you for indulging me!

      And I didn’t think your point about gun laws was misleading at all. Quite the contrary. You were very specific in discussing *mass shootings.* I just broadened the analysis a little bit.

      This whole thing really is a mess, isn’t it? We really need God’s help.

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