Monday, December 7, 2015

Gun Control, Prayer, and *The New York Daily News*

You have probably seen it by now.  In the wake of Wednesday’s San Bernardino shootings The Daily News took a swipe at GOP politicians praying for the victims and their families.  “God Isn’t Fixing This,” New York’s “hometown newspaper” announced on the front page of its December 3, 2015 issue.  The page included tweets from four Republican congressmen—Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul, and Paul Ryan—and a bold rebuke: “As latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes.”

As an evangelical Christian I believe in the providence of God.  My faith teaches me that God is active in this world and has something to do with the course of human history.  I don’t know why shootings like the one in San Bernadino take place.  In tragedies like this I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 13:12: “we see through a glass darkly.” My only spiritual response to a tragedy of this nature is prayer.

This is why I was so saddened by The Daily News attack on people who pray.  Those of us who believe that God enchants the world pray during times of tragedy as a means of offering mercy and love—the mercy and love of our creator and redeemer-- to the victims, their families, and even the shooters.

I don’t know anything about the inner-spiritual lives of Cruz, Graham, Paul, or Ryan beyond what they have said on the campaign trail.  I don’t know how they pray, if they pray, or if they are simply invoking prayer as a political strategy.  But when they say they are praying for those involved in the San Bernardino shootings, I think this is a good thing and I believe them.

Having said that, something needs to be done about gun control.

I understand why the editors responsible for The Daily News cover story are angry.  I can see why they think people like Cruz, Paul, Graham, and Ryan are so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good. I am sympathetic.

We need tougher gun control laws in America.  We no longer live in the eighteenth century.  The Founding Fathers did not have assault rifles in mind when they wrote about the need for a "well-regulated" militia and the right to "bear arms." (In fact, if historian Saul Cornell is right, the Second Amendment "requires more gun regulation, not less).  As a historian, I teach my students that the world changes over time and a healthy understanding of progress requires that we must sometimes adjust and adapt to those changes. 

Whatever you think about Barack Obama's plan for fighting ISIS, I agree with the statement he made last night about gun control: 

Now, here at home, we have to work together to address the challenge. There are several steps that Congress should take right away.
To begin with, Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon? This is a matter of national security.
We also need to make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino. I know there are some who reject any gun safety measures. But the fact is that our intelligence and law enforcement agencies -- no matter how effective they are -- cannot identify every would-be mass shooter, whether that individual is motivated by ISIL or some other hateful ideology. What we can do -- and must do -- is make it harder for them to kill.
I am familiar with the arguments often made by my conservative Christian friends about gun control: guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  As a result, the argument goes, we need to do a better job of dealing with mental illness and curbing the effects of sin in this world. We need to bring the transforming power of the Gospel to bear on people's lives.  Amen.  We need to fight terrorism. I agree. 

What I don't understand is why more evangelical Christians are not supporting gun control? This is an issue in which Christians should be leading the charge.

If Christians care about life, and want to be followers of Jesus, they must stop making an idol of the Second Amendment. They have placed the right to own assault rifles over their commitment to the sanctity of life. They are losing the opportunity to take the lead on one of the most important issues of moral reform facing the United States today because they have placed their trust in an amendment, when understood in its eighteenth-century context, that is no longer entirely suitable for our modern technological world.  

Unfortunately, The Daily News headline has done nothing to move us forward on the question of gun control.  The editors of this tabloid have poured gasoline on a fire that is already raging.  We have spent the last thirty years suffering through a culture war that only seems to be getting worse.

As I have said before at this blog and elsewhere, democracy needs citizens—people who understand that their individual liberties and pursuits of happiness must always operate in tension with obligations and responsibilities to the common good.  Citizenship requires that we take care of one another.  Such caring means that we should be concerned, and willing to act, when our fellow citizens are unable to enjoy what Thomas Jefferson called the “inalienable right” of life.  

Guns don’t kill people.  People pulling the trigger of those guns kill people.  But if my fellow Christians truly believe in the historic Christian doctrine of sin, they should be doing everything they can to keep guns away from people who may be tempted to use them to take people’s lives.  This is not an issue of big government or small government, liberalism or conservatism, or even the proper interpretation of the United States Constitution.  This is an issue about the very lives that Christians believe are created in God’s image and thus have dignity and worth.

Let’s keep praying for the victims and for the country.  Perhaps God will open our eyes to what has become another one of our great moral failures.