Editor Letter

June 11 2014
19

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.

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.

19 comments

  1. Concerned Australian Married to an American

    Definitely agree with the main sentiments of this piece. I’m a little confused at the assertion of your right to own a firearm. Is this just in reference to a sporting equipment or do you believe in that right more widely? Either way, it got me thinking… for a country so gripped with gun violence, perhaps there needs to be a loosening of this sense of owning any gun (for sport or otherwise) as a “right”. Is something that has the potential to take another’s life (even if it is intended primarily for sport) a right? Perhaps owning such a gun is more a privilege of living in a non-violent society which is fair to say America is not.

    I’m a citizen of a country where gun ownership is only for sport and is highly regulated, and where the simple possession of a automatic or semi-automatic carries a maximum penalty of over a decade in prison. I’m also married to a mid-western American who’s family can’t believe I think there should be tighter gun laws in America also.

    I’m always intrigued by Christian’s asserting their constitutional right to own a firearm. I understand the constitution is an important and foundational piece of your history and culture. However the Bible is also an important and foundational part of our shared history and culture as Christians, yet authors on this website have recognised there are times when we need to carefully reconsider particularly texts as being relevant to a specific time, culture and context and not as an everlasting truth. The writers of the bible were confined by their culture and we recognise that. Why is it difficult then to see that the founding fathers were also confined to their culture?

    The second amendment as I understand it was to allow people to rise up against a corrupt government rather than protect themselves or their family from another individual. They days were any commercially available weapon could over throw the American Military machine are well and truly over. So perhaps we need to more carefully consider the history and spirit of this historical document, and recognise that similarly to parts of the Bible, there are parts of the constitution that do not apply to the current context. As an onlooker from a country with little gun violence, I struggle to see the relevance of the second amendment in modern times.

    I am proud that as a community the nation I belong to has decided that we do not view it as a person’s right to possess a weapon that is to kill another. If my country does however change it’s possession, I will remain without a gun, ideologically driven by my faith.

    Reply
    • Hey Concerned Australian,

      Thanks for chiming in. I resonate SO MUCH of what you’re saying here. I think America has a really serious gun problem.

      The US Constitution states that the people’s right to bear arms shall not be infringed, but a lot of people miss the first part, where it mentions a “well-regulated militia.” I think it’s worth consideration to say that we are not well-regulated in the slightest. Restrictions are too lenient and guns are getting into the hands of the wrong people and too frequent a pace.

      And regarding your comment about the Constitution being written in a culture by men, I absolutely agree. Simply because it’s a “living document” doesn’t make it infallible. Of course not! That’s why we have a system to amend it. It’s a long and arduous process, but it can be done, and I think we need to consider whether it’s time to begin that process.

      Personally, I’m a fan of what’s been done in Australia regarding guns. I think it’s smart, sensible, and incredibly struct… but still keeps the right to own a gun in place. It’s worth a look.

      Reply
  2. Former Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia once shared, “People have a right to not get shot.”

    He has a point!

    And while gun control laws can’t stop everything, They could at least become part of the solution. Just look at the way easy access to guns in Indiana feeds into violent crime in Chicago for instance: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/30/us/strict-chicago-gun-laws-cant-stem-fatal-shots.html. There are no simple solutions, but that’s not an excuse for inaction.

    Reply
    • “People have a right to not get shot.” That’s legit. I’m starting to wonder if our steadfast love and lenient application of the second amendment is starting to infringe upon the right to life. You’re exactly right in saying gun reform is not a simple solution, it’s not the fix-all button. But it’s something, and it’s something that can be done now.

      Reply
  3. I hear you, but I’m wondering, what is a realistic option? What do you think should be done? Because my guess is that these kids have parents who would pass air tight back ground checks, and they probably get their guns from them (I don’t know this, just throwing it out there). What do you do then? I really think our focus should be on helping families raise secure, healthy children, but we all know there will always be disfunction and sin.

    I think as community, we need to reach out to the teens we see in our neighborhoods who are “trouble”. Maybe we should all be looking at ourselves instead of at guns. What if we are the ones who were too busy or afraid or fill-in-the-blank to reach out to a kid? How many of us are in neighborhoods but rarely reach out? How many of us move to nice, safe neighborhoods to avoid trouble (I’ve done this)? Like Ani Difranco says, “…white people are so scared of black people. they bulldoze out to the country, and put up houses on little loop-d-loop streets. and while america gets its heart cut right out of its chest, the berlin wall still runs down main street separating east side from west…”

    I guess I’m saying the real hard work, the life-changing work, is when we step into the lives of those we avoid.

    Because gun laws? Unless we ban all guns, what can really be done, especially if these are teens getting their parents guns?

    What is a good gun law solution? I’d love to hear your thoughts on solutions, because I’m listening. I’ll also get to work on some research, because quite frankly, I don’t know enough. I know I believe in the right to bear arms, we are gun owners as well, but our country is a community and we need some thoughtful, realistic ideas presented.

    Reply
    • Tina B

      I agree about the kids getting the parents guns. We just had a shooting in our community (in one of those nice cul-de-sac neighborhoods) where a 12 year old shot his older sister and then himself. I don’t know how he had access to handguns. I know he was in a gun club so I’m guessing that his parents thought he knew enough to respect guns. Now I’m sure they understand he wasn’t, but it’s too late; the mother of two is now childless and will grieve forever. In middle class suburbia, many parent think their kids are the good kids and other kids are the troubled ones. They think their kids are mature enough to know not to touch dad’s guns, and you need them with easy access or what is the point? Anyway that is what people I talk to say. Even if they have a gun safe, they often keep one out in a “secret” spot. I remember playing with my dads “secret” gun when I was a kid!

      Reply
    • Kristi

      I think Concerned Australian already answered your question about what do we ban by citing her own country as an example. We ban all but guns used for sport, and the guns we allow we highly regulate. It is ridiculous that any regular citizen can own a modified military-style weapon, a killing machine designed for maximum carnage, simply because they want one or because they are so paranoid they feel they need one for self-defense. How do we regulate this? We institute bans, we encourage relinquishment through buy back programs and then we punish those who don’t follow the law with a 10 year mandatory prison sentence. This may sound radical to gun rights folks, but to ordinary citizens who just want to feel safe again in their homes, schools, movie theaters and grocery stores? It’s just common sense.

      Reply
  4. Nish, I’ve been looking up statistics and found two interesting things:

    1.) The mass amount of deaths by guns are suicide (62% of all gun deaths http://hotair.com/archives/2013/08/28/harvard-gun-study-concludes-gun-bans-dont-reduce-the-murder-rate/)

    2.) Gun bans don’t reduce the murder rate http://hotair.com/archives/2013/08/28/harvard-gun-study-concludes-gun-bans-dont-reduce-the-murder-rate/

    Those are two things I’ve found, and I’m sure you have done your research and have more (and possibly opposing ones), but I thought those were noteworthy. Especially if we’re really concerned about finding a solution, we need to be honest about what is a real solution, not just one that sounds right.

    It’s all so complicated.

    Reply
    • I am always perplexed when the suicide rate is brought up in a way that implies this is not also part of the crisis. Access to firearms drastically increases the “success” rate for suicide attempts. I believe these deaths are equally deserving of our compassion and should compel us to act decisively to reduce access to deadly weapons.

      Reply
      • Katherine, I agree, I was just pointing it out because I was under the false assumption that the majority of gun deaths were accidental or homicide.

        Reply
    • Hey Sarah! I haven’t forgotten you! It’s been a crazy week. I shouldn’t have written a post about gun control with the little amount of time I have to respond. I want to make sure I give your questions and suggestions a proper response, so I want to have time to really sit down and think through things while I type, and make sure I compile all of my resources! Just wanted to make sure you knew I wasn’t ignoring you. xo

      Reply
    • Holly

      I don’t have the statistics but whenever we visit my uncle in Phoenix where concealed carry is allowed he has always told us that it’s much safer there than in Chicago. I feel like I’ve read other articles to that point as well. So if that’s true, why wouldn’t we look at US cities with the lowest rates of gun crime and see what their policies are there?

      And I agree that this is obviously a heart issue/mental illness in these shootings, so if you take away guns, won’t it just manifest in other ways- homemade bombs and knives, etc.?

      Reply
  5. Patrick Allen

    Sadly, the one thing missing from your assessment is psychotropic drugs. I have served in the US Armed Forces for over 17 years and have only noticed the suicide rate go up when we started giving out Ambien and Chantix like it was candy. Both cause suicidal and homicidal tendencies. The problem is that we have way too much access to mental healthcare. Every public health office in every county offers free mental health treatment and from one of my Soldiers experiences with them, they pushed them on both him and his wife.
    Guns are a tool. Yes they are instruments of death, but also life (whe used in the capacity to protect others). The same day as Sandy Hook another school attack took place and this kid killed and mamed several kids…with a compound bow. Laws do not stop evil from happening! Good people stop evil people from committing acts of evil. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
    More people need to find the courage to say something prior to these acts occurring or to stop them when they do occur.

    Reply
    • SuChez

      I agree with a lot of what you said, especially “Laws do not stop evil from happening!” I strongly support the 2A and feel that citizens should have the right to bear arms whether that’s for hunting/sport or personal/family protection. Additional laws will only serve to limit law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves or safely enjoying guns for hunting/sport. Criminals or the mentally ill will not stop misusing guns just because the government adds more restrictions.

      The point where we differ is that you feel that there is too MUCH access to mental health services, while I feel that there is too LITTLE access. Here in northern IL the state in all its wisdom closed 2 state mental health hospitals in 2012, part of a total funding cut of 30% that year. Now the Cook Co. jail is the state’s largest mental health facility. Patients needing inpatient psychiatric treatment from NW IL are routinely sent as far as Chicago in order to find a bed now. The system is broken and there is little communication (if any) between providers. There are very few Spanish speaking counselors in NW IL despite a growing number of Latino residents – I can only imagine that access to those who speak other less common languages is even worse. Counseling and psychiatrist visits are still prohibitively expensive for many patients even if they have insurance. Some medications are very affordable, but often times people struggle to pay for medications and the number of available prescription assistance programs are dwindling. If people know someone who is really struggling with mental health issues and see signs that that person is planning to harm themselves or others, that friend or family member needs to reach out for help and has a duty to warn the intended victim. The reason that all of these gun tragedies continue is that no one is paying attention to warning signs. No one is willing to do the right/uncomfortable thing and reach out to the hurting person and/or the proper authorities before it is too late. That is where each and every one of us can play a role in stopping these senseless tragedies.

      Reply
  6. Bonnie

    To Ben,
    Don’t go away mad, just go away. You have made your point, you have posted your views, and they were addressed. Simply put, you have attacked Nish’s character, morals and beliefs. Your stalking the blog site and her email. I think this could be characterized as a stalker or better yet a mental situation.
    As I said before….
    Don’t go away mad, just go AWAY!

    Reply
  7. Linsey

    Why does it seem like our politicians paint this issue to be one extreme or the other. It seems like it has to be either we have guns or we don’t. I don’t understand why we can’t just have stricter gun laws and stricter punishments for those that break them. Background checks, mental evaluations, etc. We’re not going to have a perfect situation but isn’t it a start? Isn’t it better than what we have now?!

    The second issue as I see it is a decline of societal values. Nothing in our culture seems to be off limits or bad anymore. Families are falling apart. Violent video games and movies are everywhere. Pornography is so readily available. Until we can put our families back together and parent our children (sorry, the truth hurts), this is going to continue to be commonplace in America.

    I loved this piece, thanks for writing it!

    Reply
  8. When you’re brave enough to write about this, the loonies come out of the woodwork. This is a huge problem, with no easy solutions, but it seems to me that at the very least, we could make semi-automatic weapons of war unavailable, period. Thanks for puttin’ your brave on, Nish.

    Reply
  9. Outsider looking in

    I can’t say I’ve ever understood what appears to be the American obsession with gun ownership and the right to bear arms, but I’m British and have only spent a short amount of time in the States so cannot pretend to fully grasp the culture from my limited foreign perspective.

    Rights and responsibilities are always about finding the balance from where one person’s rights begin, and another one’s ends and who gets priority. I think most people would agree that not getting shot is a more important right than having the freedom to go clay pigeon shooting (the first perfectly innocent example I could think of, I know people own guns for loads of different reasons). That’s oversimplifying it but you get my point.

    Now of course, even if you made gun ownership a much stricter deal, really nasty people would still find a way of getting hold of them. I can’t deny that. But many violent crimes are done spur of the moment, and if the weapon isn’t available on the spur of the moment, it won’t get used. I can’t think of a single school shooting to have occurred in the UK recently. I think there was one in Germany a couple of years ago. My point is it’s rare. Much rarer than once a week at least. This cannot be an accident. We have an unfortunate level of knife crime it’s true, but it’s much harder to stab 20 people to death than it is to shoot them.

    I’ve never owned a gun, or even held one, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out. So I don’t understand why people are so desperate to hang on to them when they can have such dire consequences. Like I said, I’m missing a big aspect of the cultural background to guns in the USA so I’m not sure my opinion counts for much. But I just can’t see how any cultural background can justify putting up with one school shooting a week.

    Reply
  10. vanessa

    Background checks are required in every state, mental health clearances in many. According to the laws of Virginia, the Va Tech shooter shouldn’t have been able to
    purchase a gun because he’d been the subject of a mental health hearing. But it didn’t show up in his background check because of a screw up at the county level.

    When we compare the US and other countries such as Canada, Australia, and Britain, severa things get overlooked…and that’s bad if we’re looking at them for suggestions on how to do this well. The US has more people (many many more). Canada and Australia are huge but much less densely populated. The cost for mental health care and enforcement here would be much, much greater. Not saying we shouldn’t spend it, just it seems few op-eds and blog posts (from well-meaning people) really consider that.

    Then there are 50 different states, each with with much more autonomy to pass their own laws AND much more autonomy to say how they will implement federal legislation. And each state has numerous counties that each implement programs with variations. Look at how Medicare programs are administered differently in each state, or how states issue marriage licenses, then compare that to the parliamentary systems elsewhere. It’s just not the same. Which means any systemic change here is far far more complex. Just ask anyone who’s tried implement changes to our education system.

    These differences affect everything generally proposed to stop gun violence -from access to mental health care on down.

    Although I think increased mh access is needed, in the most publicized and deadly cases – Virginia Tech and Columbine – the perpetrators were middle class and had full access to mental health services, had been on medications, had therapy, etc.

    Guns do kill many more people in a short time, but so do bombs. The Columbine shooters actually planned and planted bombs, the guns were used when the bombs did not detonate as planned…a fact that rarely got reported because it didn’t fit the narrative that the media (and we the consumers) liked. it was too terrifying to think two boys from “nice” families who had access to healthcare and no material want, could do this.

    Proposing that we amend the constitution? Check out the history of the Equal Rights Amendment to see how difficult that might be.

    Reply

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