An elementary school in rural Connecticut under the care of a capable principal with a committed staff, a recently updated security system, children schooled in emergency lock down procedures—a neighborhood school that had done everything right—became the site, at least at this writing, of the most recent witness to the violent nature of our society. It would provide a bit of comfort were we able to write it off as the action of one deranged young person. That would enable us to avoid acknowledging the fact that it is easier for some to get his hands on a semi-automatic assault rifle than to make an appointment with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor—and lacking adequate insurance, it is cheaper as well. In many states it is easier to get a gun than to adopt a puppy from a local shelter.
American children between the ages of five and fouteen are 13 times more likely to be killed by gunfire than children of the same age in any other industrialized nation. More U. S. citizens have died in gun homicides in the last six months than have died in all the terrorist attacks in the last 25 years, including those killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Want more statistics? One million Americans have died from gunshot wounds since Martin Luther King was assassinated. By comparison, throughout all of England, Scotland, and Wales, over a one-year period of time, 60 people will be killed by a gun. In the United States 30 people are killed each day, the equivalent of a Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy—each and every day.
The argument that an assault rifle is a suitable hunting weapon or appropriate for household security is patently bogus. Adding insult to injury, recent experience testifies that even with the best of intentions such weapons cannot be adequately secured. Despite what some would have us believe, keeping guns in the home is an invitation to family tragedy—just ask the mother of the Sandy Hook shooter whose own weapons were first used on her, or the police officer whose service weapon became an attractive play toy for his child.
Of course, it’s not just the guns. Our children and grandchildren play violent computer games in which, for entertainment, they annihilate amazingly realistic representations of human beings. They watch violence as entertainment on big and small screens, and then, reinforced by what they hear and see on the local news, come to accept such violence as the norm. Historically, Friends maintained a testimony on the appropriateness of certain forms of entertainment.
Many of our elected officials seem tongue-tied and mesmerized. Maybe they are merely scared of the power of the myth—the idolatry of guns. And reelection campaigns are quite expensive. We should be under no illusion that this is a matter that local, state, or national legislators can address. You can’t legislate morality.
Accommodating such a culture makes a mockery of our testimonies as Friends to peace and justice. Against all odds and swimming upstream against culture, Friends have held tenaciously to our interpretation of the story of Peter when he sought to protect Jesus from those who came to arrest him in the garden. Jesus instructed Peter to put down his sword. The answer isn’t convincing legislators to pass laws that support our sensibilities, but rather for us to live according to our own principles.
What we face is deep, dark, and complex. It’s not just about guns, and it’s not just about games of violence. It is about the moral fabric of our communities and our nation. It is an extension of the breakdown of civil discourse and the inability of leaders in our states and our nation to seek cooperative solutions to our challenges rather than being perversely adversarial. Trusting in a personal weapon for our household security and trusting in a national military exponentially greater in size than any other on the globe are different only as a matter of scale. It is putting trust in something other than God. The Hebrew prophets would say that it is simple idolatry. Whether in Clackamas or Connecticut, the hard lesson is that, as followers of Christ, we are unable to be secure in this world by trusting what the world has to offer.
Contributed by Nick Block, pastor, Spokane Friends. Eight years pastoring Spokane Friends, Nick has held pastorates in Western and North Carolina YMs and for a decade worked with FCNL. For 45 years he has been married to Susan, an Indiana YM friend.