Search PNC News for stories of people and churches in our UCC Conference:

Could we partner to open conversation on guns?

Mike Denton

Conference Minister
Mike Denton

Since the Newtown shootings, the debate on guns and gun ownership has taken on a new sense of urgency. Arguments most frequently highlighted—although more passionate than usual—have fallen into two predictable, competing liturgies that similar tragedies call forth. Forgive me for these short, if not stereotypical, generalizations of the predictable litanies.

On one side, some are genuinely certain the current tragedy was a result of lax laws that allow an easy path towards unregulated gun ownership and that instituting controls over the guns and gun accessories available will help limit gun ownership and gun violence. The limits to gun ownership most frequently emphasized are related to more extensive background checks and limits on what sort of weapons and gun accessories should be sold. Some reciting this litany also add a call for bans on some kinds of weapons currently owned.

On the other side are those who are genuinely certain gun ownership is a right that should be protected and any attempt to limit gun or gun accessory ownership is an erosion of that right, so any limits need to be resisted. The right to own a gun is often coupled with a sense that this is a vital means of self-protection, as well as concern that because criminals can get a gun illegally, limits would hinder only law abiding citizens. Some reciting this litany also believe unregulated gun ownership and unregulated paths to ownership are important deterrents to government overreach and are tools to resist tyranny.

Over my 45 years, the two litanies have stayed much the same. There are new things added along the way and occasional compromises that swing one way or the other but, for the most part, they haven’t changed. Those seen as liberal are assumed to recite one and those seen as conservative are assumed to recite the other. Voting blocks and funding sources help reinforce the positions. Sometimes, those who want to reinforce their own base cynically pander to either to ensure their position. Those who speak these litanies are lauded as swimming against the current by those who agree or cowardly folding by those who disagree.

I’ve hesitated to wade into this conversation. Arguments on each side are so intense they have their own gravitational pull. That said, I’ve wondered if the religious community might be able to create a table for conversation on gun ownership to come at it from a different place. Before I suggest anything here, let me say a little bit about my own experiences with guns. The only gun I have is a non-functioning antique that is a family heirloom. I’ve fired a gun once at a target.

I’ve had a few friends, parishioners and acquaintances shot, even killed. Not long ago, a close friend shot himself. When I lived in Dayton, Ohio, it was the per capita murder capital of the U.S. off and on. A community group I was in went to sites of every murder and held services of prayer and healing with and for those affected. I’ve lived in communities where gunfire is a regular or occasional part of the soundscape. I’ve worked with youth and young adults who owned guns as an accessory and were willing to use them in a way they believed was practical but also frighteningly casual.

I’ve also known some responsible gun owners. I have respect for those who have grown up with guns as tools for feeding their families and who deeply understand the responsibility of gun ownership. I have known some who, because of their stance on one issue or another, genuinely and sincerely believed purchasing a weapon was the best way to protect themselves and those they loved. I have known many who are genuinely concerned about government overreach, as well as possible civil upset, and see gun ownership as both a respectable, honorable decision. I have known gun owners who are very cautious about access to guns in their homes and have many safeguards in place to protect others from accidental or rash shootings.

How might we design a table to have conversations around guns and gun ownership? Could the religious community help establish a table where we could talk about what it might mean to build a culture of ethical gun stewardship? For some “ethical,” “gun ownership” and “stewardship” are concepts that don’t mix at all. For some gun owners and some gun advocates, the current gun culture is just fine as it is. Some with those opinions may not want to participate. For many of us, however, this might be just the conversation we’ve been hoping for.

What if gun owners and gun sellers could share the gravity and responsibility of gun ownership and use with those who are considering gun ownership? What if standards like the Just War Theory were developed and taught to create an ethical framework around when and how guns might be used? What if gun owners and non-gun owners developed partnerships that teach and promote alternatives to violence for solving conflicts so gun use is minimized? Could there be agreement someone’s gun ownership should be limited based on past behavior or mental capacity? Could a culture arise when, after the unethical use of a gun, gun owners and non-gun owners could develop common solutions based on concepts of ethical gun stewardship? Could a culture develop so when someone is in mental distress, it would be normal for someone to hold onto the person’s guns for a while?

As the church, we do have, deep in our DNA, both the responsibility and experience of inviting others to a table. Might this be a place we could partner with our religious sisters and brothers to create a new table and conversation together?

Copyright © April-May 2013 Pacific Northwest Conference United Church News


Share this article on your favorite social media Bookmark and Share