I remember the first time I shot a gun.
My husband, our dear friend Evan and I all took a few of the family heirloom rifles into the back woods of Oregon, about an hour’s drive outside of Portland. Our German Shorthair Pointer, Ranger, was in the back, his head sticking out of the window, big brown ears and tongue flapping in the wind. We went up an old logging road and found a relatively open space where we could park and set up some beer cans and the clay pigeon launcher. The pine trees were thick surrounding this open space and the ferns created a thick green underbrush. The sky was a lovely, dreary shade of grey, as it usually is in Oregon in October.
They shot the rifles a bit, we laughed at the horrible aim, and I sat in the tailgate of the car, drinking my PBR while Modest Mouse played over the speakers.
The guys repeatedly asked me if I wanted to shoot, and every time, I wrinkled my nose in protest and said, “Nah. It’s not for me.” They would shrug and keep shooting (and missing) clay pigeons. After they took turns shooting the different types of hunting rifles and shotguns, our friend opened up the small black case he brought with him and loaded his black SIG Sauer 9mm handgun. The guys took turns shooting and admiring the craftsmanship of the pistol.
Erik turned around and asked me again, “Do you want to try?”
I took a deep breath, a swig of my PBR, hopped off the tailgate of the rig and said “Sure.”
I think Erik’s eyes about fell out of his head. “Really?!” he asked. “Yeah, sure. I’ll try,” I replied with a shrug.
Erik and Evan walked through how it worked. Every little detail. How it loads, how the mechanics of a gun work, how to operate the safety, how to hold it, and always have the end pointed down when not in use. I nodded, trying to remember all of the details. The handle of the gun was warm and a little slippery from the guys’ hands. I handed it back to Erik and wiped my palms on the thighs of my ripped jeans and asked for it back.
With Erik on one side and Evan on the other, I raised the gun, squinted one eye to see the beer can clearly through the sight, and pulled the trigger. The force of the gun firing cranked my elbows back and I almost hit myself in the forehead with the back of the weapon. It was terrifying, knowing that the shot I just took could have killed someone in a different context. To hold that kind of power in your hands is scary. It’s thrilling, in a bizarre sort of way, but it’s really, really scary. I expressed that fear to the guys and they both explained that the fear and the scary part of it is a good thing. It means I understand the danger and power of guns, and I understand it for myself.
(Also, let the record show, I hit the can on the first try.)
After I shot the gun that afternoon in the woods, we went shooting only a couple more times. Once in the woods again, and another time at the shooting range (with my parents and brothers). But I haven’t shot a gun since. It’s been almost six years.
I didn’t grow up around guns. My dad owned one, maybe two, while I was growing up in the house, I’m actually not sure. I didn’t know where he hid them, we never talked about them. But I knew they were there, somewhere.
My husband grew up around guns. From the time he was about 5 years old, he knew how to shoot a gun and take care of it. Beautifully-crafted, highly valuable rifles have been passed down to him from his dad and grandfathers. There was never really any weird stigma surrounding them, they were just a part of life, and always something to be cared for – but more importantly, respected. Those rifles and shotguns are still in our possession.
So yes, we are gun owners.
* * * *
Earlier today, a shooter took to Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon, a suburb about 20 minutes to the east of Portland. The shooter killed another student, injured a teacher, then killed himself. This is the 74th school shooting since the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, which happened only 18 months ago. The Huffington Post reports:
The average school year typically lasts about 180 days, which means there have been roughly 270 school days, or 54 weeks, of class since the shooting at Newtown. With 74 total incidents over that period, the nation is averaging well over a shooting per school week … The majority of the school shootings, 39, have taken place at K-12 schools. The remainder of them have happened at colleges or universities.
This is beyond crazy. We have surpassed the “epidemic” mark. I can’t bring myself to look at the actual number of children who are killed and injured every year from gun violence. I’ve heard it’s in the thousands.
It’s time to stand and say, “Not one more dead kid.”
Jesus told us that blessed are the meek. Blessed are the peacemakers. Our culture and our country would have us go the way of the gun. Let me be clear: There is nothing meek or peaceful about a weapon that is crafted for the specific purpose of killing another human. I’ve held guns, I’ve shot guns. I know there is no meekness, no peace down the barrel of a 9mm.
If it’s meant to kill, there’s nothing meek or peaceful about it.
I know this issue is complicated. I know that school shootings are happening at a higher rate because of a whole host of issues. Mental health services are hard to come by and we are in need of serious reform. Our culture celebrates and obsesses over violence (I should know. I’m a huge fan of Game of Thrones), and that piece of culture starts at home with our kids. I know this is a difficult issue, I know there’s no easy fix, and I know that the government isn’t going to solve all of our problems. Spare me those arguments.
But, a large piece of the puzzle is the lenient access to firearms and weapons in this country, and that’s something that we can act on NOW. My husband and I are gun owners and we are American citizens. I believe it is both mine and your constitutional right to own a firearm. I really believe that – I’m conservative in that regard. However, as followers of Jesus, we should not be waving the banners of the NRA and marching under the calls for the protection of the Second Amendment. As followers of Jesus, we need to be willing to lock down access to guns so it’s near air-tight. As followers of Jesus, we even need to be willing to lay down that Constitutional right if it means it could help keep kids from getting shot in classrooms. Our first allegiance is to the upside-down ways of God’s Kingdom.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Let us be meek. Let us be peacemakers. Let us be followers of the way of Jesus, rather than the way of the gun.
If we call ourselves followers of Jesus, it’s time for us to hold the third and seventh Beatitudes as more precious than the Second Amendment.