by Jeanine Elliott, Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ, Beaverton, Oregon
Americans are awash in guns. Our history tells the story. The continent opened up before us as we surged across the land. Orderly communities and the law followed the surge. Guns, for good and bad, went with the frontier. Guns provided food; guns provided self-defense; guns gave people, primarily men, a sense of power and identity. The Western movie and the Western novel captured the stories of the frontier. Heroes and villains abound in these stories, and nearly all of them used guns.
The “Western” has almost disappeared from our entertainment library, replaced by war and urban crime movies, and more recently, stories that explore (or exploit) brutality, lawlessness, sadism, and other graphic violence. We have not yet reached the end of our curiosity about our human dark side.
Our faith has given us another story, though it seems hard to wrap it around the violence of much of our culture. In the story of Jesus and in the Easter story, we know the capacity of the human to cause suffering and pain, but we also know of the God-given human capacity for life and love.
As Americans, it seems unlikely we will give up our love of guns or the stories that glorify them. But the death toll is too high, and many of us do not feel safe. Far too many young men end up in prison. Far too many die at their own hand. The collateral damage (the death of bystanders) caused by guns continues. What to do, what to do…….
Ideas for change are offered. “No, it won’t work.” “It didn’t work. “It doesn’t work.” How do we know if it works or not? I was surprised to learn that some Congressional policies actively discourage research into gun violence and limit the information available about the whereabouts of any particular gun. One would think we don’t want to know about guns, deaths, and injuries. We Americans are a problem-solving people, but we will not solve a problem unless we are willing to learn about it and talk about it. If a teenager inChicagois arrested for possessing an illegal weapon, shouldn’t we know the story of the gun and the path it took in arriving in the hand of a 14-year-old who will become more collateral damage in the gun culture he grew up in? We will prosecute the teen, and he may spend his life in, or in and out of, prison. Should we not spend as much time learning about particular guns and their traffic as we spend prosecuting the teen?
What of our constitutional right to own guns? What of our individual freedom? Again the Christian message is challenging. Jesus’ message comes to and through the community of Christians, not just to and through individuals. In the secular, democratic world, our individual liberties are necessarily shaped by our communal responsibilities. Time is dear, and people are dying. As a community, let’s get on with solving this problem.
Editor’s note: It is legal to openly carry weapons into the Capitol buildings of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. In Oregon, legislation banning loaded weapons from state Capitol buildings and grounds has been introduced.