A consistently pro-life ethic should include gun control (COMMENTARY)

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Gun rights advocates and gun control supporters alike have used the opportunity to politicize the tragedy.

(RNS) There have been two very different sets of responses to last week’s mass shooting in Roseburg, Ore. The shooter killed nine people before taking his own life during a shootout with police, in what was the 142nd school shooting since Sandy Hook, in December 2012, when six teachers and 20 children were killed.

Gun rights advocates and gun control supporters alike have used the opportunity to politicize the tragedy. That isn’t, in itself, a bad thing. If politics is the business of governing a diverse body of people, and guns are both used and governed, then our response to repeated mass shootings ought to be, at least in part, a political one.

To “politicize” something that is inherently political isn’t a dirty thing. In fact, to keep ignoring mass shootings, to refuse to change gun control policy because of the power of the National Rifle Association lobby, to let 20 children die and take no national action to restrict gun access in this country — indeed, to vote against an assault-weapons ban — that is the dirty thing.


READ: Let us all pray to the almighty gun


Why, then, do so many people insist that the right to gun ownership ought to take precedence over the lives of innocent people? They may never say as much, but that is what’s at play when folks like conservative pundit Erick Erickson — who claims to be pro-life — posts a tweet saying “I’m going to go buy more guns this weekend” one day after the shooting in Oregon.

Erickson wasn’t alone. Tennessee’s lieutenant governor, Republican Ron Ramsey, wrote in a Facebook post that he “would encourage my fellow Christians who are serious about their faith to think about getting a handgun carry permit.” Journalist Rory Carroll posted a picture to Twitter of Candie Kinney, co-owner of the Roseburg Gun Shop in Oregon, with a big grin on her face. “Always a rush after a big shooting,” she told him. Donald Trump suggested that if the college where the shooting took place hadn’t been a gun-free zone, an armed student or teacher might have taken the shooter down much earlier.

Never mind that the statistics don’t bear this out; that in 2012 there were 259 justifiable homicides with guns but 8,342 criminal homicides using guns. That same year, 20,666 killed themselves with guns, and there were 548 fatal unintentional shootings. Guns in the hands of civilians do us as a society much more harm than good, and if it were up to the NRA’s leaders, I imagine they would want the “well-regulated” clause taken out of the Second Amendment altogether.


READ: Roseburg killings: How should Christians respond? (COMMENTARY)


The second set of reactions have had a different tenor. The Rev. Will Irwin, pastor of Family Church outside of Roseburg, told The Washington Post  that he preached a sermon on forgiveness after the shooting: “Some are angry at the shooter, some are angry at politicians, some are angry at officials,” Irwin said. “This gave people a chance to process. They were looking for that.”

Laura Turner is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. She is interested in the intersection of church and popular culture. Photo courtesy of Laura Turner

Laura Turner is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. She is interested in the intersection of church and popular culture. Photo courtesy of Laura Turner

The Rev. Rob Schenck has long been a pro-life activist, but after the 2013 shooting at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard, he expanded the scope of his activism to include gun control. “When we say, ‘Nobody will ever take my life, I’ll take theirs,’ it contradicts the Christian life and message,” he said.

If Christians are called to follow the example of the one who laid down his life for the sake of others, we need to start doing so immediately. There were 20 children at Sandy Hook who we could have laid down our lives for, and we did not. There are nine more people dead now. If we don’t, nothing will change. This will play out again and again, and we will mourn for a day or two — if that — before we revert to bitterly divided arguments about rights.

My rights don’t matter as much as another person’s life.

(Laura Turner is a writer and editor living in San Francisco. In addition to being a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s “Her.meneutics” blog, she has also written for publications such as Books & Culture and The Bold Italic.) 

LM/MG END TURNER

  • Fiona Dyball

    Thank you, Laura. As an Australian living here in the US for the past two years, I cannot understand why common sense gun regulation is not a priority here. Neither can any other Australian. People here say it won’t work. Australia proves it can.

  • Bernardo

    In the 21st century, we have tasers, gps monitoring, 911 emergency service, professional 24/7 security systems, OnStar and analogous systems, home and car monitoring (cameras, motion detectors, silent and shrill alarms, smart phone apps for off-site updates, window locks and alarms) so why do we need guns to protect our cars, homes and families?

    “New Jersey police: 6-year-old dies a day after being shot — by a 4-year-old”

  • Mike

    You are clearly a person that is afraid of using a gun, never have used one, or since you do not have one think that everyone else shouldn’t have….so you can live in your make believe world that people who could care less about anyone else’s lives will now magically be less likely to find another way to commit mass murder.

    Just because you do not care about your rights that you do not plan to exercise doesn’t mean the other half of the population should have their freedoms taken away. You probably have other beliefs that you disagree with and are laws now against you life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, but half the population would disagree with you.

    Everyday, half the population votes away their rights and freedoms and now everyone has less and less freedom to do what they want unless the government taxes you to death.

    You think that a small caliber AR-15 with a 55 grain bullet is bad….what about a shotgun with a 500 grain bullet.

    Go learn about guns…

  • Jack

    I would never mistake Laura Turner for being a deep thinker, but part of being an adult writer is being conversant with both sides of an issue.

    Reading her piece, you would never know that there were two sides to this issue.

    The problem with gun control can be seen in the fact that while we have multiple times the number of guns in circulation today as we did in the 1970s and 1980s, violence of all kinds, including gun violence, is far lower today than back then.

    No gun control advocate ever would have predicted this back in those decades.

    At the very least, it destroys the gun control premise — that more guns must mean more violence. And yet, over the past 40 years, the opposite has happened.

    Does that mean more guns mean less violence? Unlikely. There is likely a third factor involved. But again, it does put the lie to the view that more guns mean more violence…..along with the corollary that the key to less violence is fewer guns.

  • Mike

    Because a bullet is faster than a cop driving to your house, and a cop owes you no legal responsibility to jump in front of a bullet. He will protect himself, but who is going to protect you?

  • larry

    Not some yahoo with a gun who whips it out whenever they hear the wind rustle a bit. That is how family members and neighbors get shot by accident. Your “good guy with a gun” is a myth to feed fantasies of people who want to ignore that they are abusing their ownership of a lethal weapon.

    Most people who buy guns for reasons other than hunting, professional use, collecting or target shooting are not particularly proficient with them, nor store them in a safe manner. Your average “home protection” gun owner is a menace to themselves and others.

    I own several firearms myself and I am appalled at the rhetoric bandied about by the NRA and anti-regulation lobbyists. They promote dangerous irresponsible behavior and rely on denial, fantasies and ego stroking in lieu of rational arguments for their POV.

  • “The problem with gun control can be seen in the fact that while we have multiple times the number of guns in circulation today as we did in the 1970s and 1980s, violence of all kinds, including gun violence, is far lower today than back then.

    No gun control advocate ever would have predicted this back in those decades.”

    You are trying to hard to make a causal link when you are faced with mere correlation.

    The answer to that situation was the growth of abortion rights. The spike of abortions after Roe v. Wade came out meant fewer poor families having children growing up to lives of crime 20-30 years down the line. Crime in general has gone down across the board with the population decline.

    However,the crimes involving gun violence has gotten much more lethal and far more commonplace than it did back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Accidental gun deaths due negligent ownership has not decreased by any dramatic sense.

    Reasonable regulation is the sane option here.

  • Why do you feel entitled to own a military style rifle of a type generally banned for hunting in all 50 states?

    Do you think ownership of firearms comes with responsibility to the general public?

    Even the 2nd Amendment calls for “well regulated” militias of people bearing arms. Well regulated does not mean laissez faire attitudes nor avoiding consideration of public safety.

  • “You think that a small caliber AR-15 with a 55 grain bullet is bad….what about a shotgun with a 500 grain bullet.”

    The small caliber AR-15 bullet is designed to cause maximum damage to human sized targets by tumbling within a body. Its primary use is military because of its light weight and disproportionately grievous damaged cause. It is of no real utility for hunting. Guns using them tend to be too unwieldy for “home defense” Outside of target shooting or police tactical use, it has no legitimate civilian function. By all means the proliferation of such weapons and ammunition should be circumscribed and limited.

    A shotgun with a 500 grain bullet is much slower than the AR-15 round but carries more kinetic energy due to increased mass. Since the weapons firing them do not have rifled bores, slugs do not travel as far as the other type. Such ammunition is generally used for hunting large game. It has a clear civilian use. There is little need for additional regulation

  • Mike

    And we all shouldn’t be driving on the road either for the same reasons. Let’s all just grow flowers and stay at home.

    What law are you proposing? Get rid of all semiautomatic weapons? Why target an a small caliber rifle with a bullet that is designed mainly to wound? A shotgun is way more dangerous…you are not going to walk away from that. What about revolvers…those things are really semi automatic as well..every time you pull the trigger it goes bang.

    Let’s make sure all women just use a shotgun that knocks them down from recoil instead of a smaller caliber weapon that they can actually handle. Do a search of the funny video on you tube where Joe Biden says just use a shotgun…fire two blast…he’s a gun idiot and that video proves it.

    With the millions of guns in the USA I do not think your way of thinking supports your concerns that most gun owners are irresponsible. Sure there are some, just like there are bad drivers.

  • Mike

    That is an incorrect statement. You can hunt with what you call assault rifles.

    Firearms ownership does come with responsibility to safety and there are laws already that come with stiff penalties if you threaten public safety, but yiur interpretation of the second amendment is wrong.

    It seems that the way you think is that the first amendment should also be limited to printing presses because that is what people used during the 1700s.

    I have what you call assault rifles and they are fun to shoot. I am not a hunter. I do however have the highest medal that is awarded for pistol marksmanship, which is the distinguished pistol shot medal that less than 4900 people, including military and law enforcement have ever got since 1880. I know a little bit about guns and the culture.

    Unfortunately I live in Maryland and that state does not issue concealed carry unless you are protecting money…LOL…what a joke.

  • Mike

    So you think it is reasonable to ban AR-15 because they have no legitimate civilian use….but even you said that they are used for target shooting as a legitimate use. So basically you are saying that AR-15s should be banned because public safety is more important than target shooting. In my state last year they banned M1A rifles, but guess what, they are very popular for target shooting and competition on the national level.

    Not that I hunt, but AR-15s are great hunting rifles for long range varmint hunting. They are not good for deer or larger size game due to the lack of power.

    Now the last part of Larry’s words of wisdom above about shotguns having a clear civilian use is my favorite. He makes it sound like shotguns are slow non deadly rounds, but compared to an AR-15, a victim shot with a shotgun will not work away. Oh…I think Larry is also trying to say that hunting is a legitimate use of guns, but not target shooting. Leave my AR-15 target guns alone please…

  • The title says it all. But somehow, the introduction of limits and responsibilities is very threatening to those who either profit from the sale of guns or who passionately embrace all-or-nothing thinking.

  • Mike

    There are laws that require gun owners to store their guns in a safe manner when minors and unauthorized people are around. There are millions of guns and saying that your average home protection gun owner is a menace to themselves isn’t proven by those statistics. More factual is that there are a very few number of gun owners that are irresponsible and do not follow the law to safeguard their guns.

    While it is true that most people are not like me that can shoot 10 rounds in the size of a small paper plate at 50 yards one handed unsupported, that shouldn’t mean other do not have the right to protect themselves in their home when someone breaks in. Maybe they will need a large capacity magazine so they can get one good shot at 30 feet…at least they will live another day. Why not just limit me to a 1 round since I am so good at marksmanship?

    You act like you know about guns, but the info you provide has a lot of non factual information. You lose a lot of credibility…

  • Mike

    Actually Curt, the title doesn’t say it all. I’m pro life and I want to be able to protect my life and family, but more gun control only chips away at peoples ability to do so, and I also enjoy all the target shooting sports, and the guns they want to take away are those guns that have a legitimate use.

    Great. You do not use those guns…good for you, but please do not think getting rid of more guns will solve mass murders. It’s a fact that people will find other ways to commit mass murders if they choose to due to unavailability of guns …I’d like a shooting chance to protect myself from them.

  • Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    Life is to be lived fearlessly. Guns are toys for the weak.

  • Mike

    This is my last post. There is a heavy bias in the news media about how bad guns are, but the fact is that they save peoples lives everyday in home invasions and news media buries or doesn’t report it.

  • Mike

    Life is to be lived fearlessly. Guns are “tools” for the weak.

    Fixed that for you.

  • Garson Abuita

    This article is part of the problem. It presents yet another black-and-white solution to a complex issue with no easy answer. One of those easy answers — banning all guns — is a nonstarter for several legal and societal reasons. In fact most Americans reject it. But it fits well within a pro-life ethic that holds abortion is murder and must be banned entirely. Most Americans reject that too.

  • larry

    No there aren’t in most states. In fact the NRA actively opposes such laws.

    The statistics of the menace of home protection gun owners is out there with the hundreds of incidents of accidental gun deaths per year and quite common incidents of shootings where children easily gain access to guns in the house.
    Statistics have borne out that the firearms in a house are more likely to be used on family members than home invaders.

    If you want a right to protect your home from paranoid fears of crime, then take responsibility to the public for it. You should have to carry some form of liability insurance. So we all don’t have to pay for the risk you definitely pose to the public.

    You do not need an assault rifle and high capacity magazine for home defense unless your home is a meth lab. Your assault rifle fetish is not cause for putting others at risk. It has no real civilian use except on the range or to show off to your friends.

  • Jack

    Wrong Larry. I am doing precisely the opposite. I am showing the lack of a causal link. I am showing that gun control or lack thereof plays no discernible role in the trajectory of violence in our society. Other factors play decisive roles; the lack or presence of guns plays a comparatively miniscule role if any.

    Thus the entire premise of gun control, which is that its presence can decisively affect the level of violence in our society, is demonstrably false. If we truly wish to bring down the level of violence, we must stop obsessing about something that will do no such thing, and stay focused on far more relevant factors that will.

  • Jack

    Dr. Coelho, I’m sure you recognize your argument’s fallacy. Life is not about being “fearless” or fearful; it’s about being sensible and balanced. Life should be lived with a respect for risk and how to manage it. To be a mature adult is to recognize the risks of both having and not having weapons and to balance the two in a prudent way.

    I dislike both gun nuts and the gun confiscators. The gun nuts are absolutely right to oppose gun control, but they’re equally wrong to idolize guns. The gun confiscators live in a magical wonderland that bears no relation to facts or logic.

  • Jack

    If Laura Turner were less ignorant about the gun issue, she could have written an equally provocative article, not in favor of gun control, but in favor of a cultural change where guns would simply be seen as necessary and useful tools, rather than things to idolize and worship.

    I am completely against so-called gun control, but I also think we can have a useful national conversation on why fearing and loathing guns on the one hand and worshipping and idolizing them on the other are both pathological responses to inanimate objects that are useful tools for self-defense in a sometimes-difficult world.

    If Laura were more mature and thoughtful, she could have written a heck of a good article on those two extremes.

  • Larry

    Jack, using terrible examples and claiming there is no causal link is not much of an argument. Strawman garbage as usual.

    A better example is the DRASTIC decrease in gun violence/deaths in countries which adopted sane regulations of gun ownership, but still retain such rights to the public. One looks at countries like Canada, Australia and Switzerland for models as how this usually works. These countries also faced the decrease in crime due to demographics, yet are able to demonstrate the effectiveness of gun control legislation.

    The NRA uses a plethora of ridiculous arguments against any form of regulation for firearms ownership. The most paranoid/silly being resistance to gun ownership databases which are necessary for effective background checks and to make “straw” gun buying more difficult.

    You have no wish to do much about affecting violence or crime except act like a self-righteous finger wagger and expect people to pray away the violence.

  • Larry

    When people stop pretending their negligently stored firearm needs to be around “just in case”.

    When people face aggravated penalties both criminal and civil for negligent storage of firearms.

    When people stop pretending their desire to own assault rifles has anything to do with “home defense”.

    When people who own guns are paying for liability insurance as a function of their ownership rights.

  • Jack

    Let’s get sensible on this issue and simply say that there are two extremes on guns in our society — one of which fears and loathes guns, the second of which worships and idolizes them.

    Guns are neither to be feared nor worshipped — in the right hands, they are a simple tool of protection of self, loved ones, and in the case of law enforcement, society.

    We need to grow up on this issue.

  • Larry

    I said nothing of a ban. I said limiting. If you feel the urge to own an AR-15 you should have to jump through a good deal of regulatory hoops to do so and should be required to have liability insurance associated with it.

    Its telling that you have to make gross misstatements of positions in order to support an irrational position.

    You get silly bans on weapons when the only people speaking on behalf of gun ownership rights are the most extreme, irresponsible ones of the bunch. If you must blame anyone blame the NRA for not reining in some of the more extremist rhetoric and positions of its spokespeople.

    “Not that I hunt, but AR-15s are great hunting rifles”

    You don’t hunt, nor know what you are talking about. Every hunting ground out there bans rifles with high capacity magazines out of public safety. Hunters popping off rounds in the woods quickly are a grave hazard to each other.

    Feel free to own your AR-15, but cut the nonsense about home defense.

  • Jack

    Larry, our society is literally drowning in guns and yet our levels of violence today are absolutely miniscule compared to their height in the late 1970s and 1980s when we had far less of them.

    You need to deal with these facts and stop running from them. Gun control doesn’t work because it’s based on the same moral equivalence fallacy behind the early arms control agreements with the old Soviet Union. The problem isn’t guns any more than it was nukes. In both cases, what matters is who has them.

    There is a difference between a violent criminal with a gun and a police officer or law-abiding citizen with one. You need to get that through your head and process it.

  • Larry

    Your car is subject to much more regulation and has far more utility than your guns do. To own a car involves taking the responsibility for the harm you will cause with it to others. Plus accidents with cars are more common and only rarely fatal (or even injury causing). That is why liability insurance is mandatory.

    My view is that gun ownership must envince the same responsibility to the public with regards to the risk posed. It is only rational to do so since guns are actually designed to cause harm, as opposed to cars.

    “What law are you proposing? Get rid of all semiautomatic weapons? ”

    Nope. Just make it harder to own them for the general public and require liability insurance for firearms ownership, unless one has a professional requirement for them or a hunting license. Also aggravated civil and criminal charges for negligent storage of firearms.

    Preserve gun ownership rights but add financial/personal incentives to responsible behavior.

  • Larry

    You don’t hunt, you have no idea what you are talking about. Hunting grounds ban use of weapons with large magazines out of public safety. To reduce the likelihood of popping off rounds that may end up in other hunters.

    Most states do not have stiff penalties for negligent gun ownership behavior. I used the exact terms of the 2nd Amendment. It is you who is stretching it beyond the text and any plain meaning of it. Well regulated militia is the term used. Not laissez-faire ownership. Well regulated means well regulated. Allow ownership but create sane limitations.

    “I have what you call assault rifles and they are fun to shoot. ”

    Me too. I also harbor no delusions of “home protection” or hunting with them. I don’t support bans, I support regulations.

    Frankly liability insurance is probably the best way to go. A market solution which avoids bans, incentivizes safety, and covers costs of possible mayhem to the public. The NRA sells policies already.

  • Jack

    And as far as “self-righteous” is concerned, Larry, you’re the one wagging your finger at people for supporting the preservation of a pivotal human right. I’m simply defending their stance in favor of this right. You guys punch people in the face and then label them bullies when they fight back. Cute.

  • Jack

    I have heard two sets of stories about Australia, which suggests that there just might be two sides to the issue.

  • Larry

    “Larry, our society is literally drowning in guns and yet our levels of violence today are absolutely miniscule compared to their height in the late 1970s and 1980s when we had far less of them.”

    We did not have far less guns out there back in the day, just far worse accounting for them. Legal proliferation was far less. It was just far easier to obtain them illegally than it is today.Gun violence itself has gotten more lethal and prevalent in the years since.

    The problem is guns and lobbyists who are promoting irresponsible ownership. Virtually all mass shootings in this country were by people who had guns which were obtained legally. Most of the guns used in the criminal stream of commerce today are bought through legal means, “straw buyers” who take advantage of the patchwork of regulations between states. People who appear to be “law abiding citizens”.

    You advocate sitting on your hands and pretending a problem does not exist.

  • Larry

    If gun owners were serious about protecting the rights of responsible, law abiding owners, then they should make some efforts to hire lobbyists who are not extremists. It only makes it easier to enable bans. When you let crazy people do all the talking for you, it makes it easy to dismiss whatever legitimate points you have.

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  • Jack

    But Larry, that’s the nature of lobbying and lobbying organizations:

    The NRA is to the Second Amendment what the ACLU is to the First Amendment and other amendments. They are absolutists by definition.

    Are any rights, be they First Amendment or Second Amendment rights, absolute?

    Of course not.

    But if you’re a lobbying organization for any of them, you’re going to be in everyone’s face about the right itself, not the exceptions or clarifications.

    Asking such groups to do otherwise is like asking a prosecutor to present the defense’s case as well as the state’s. It shows a profound misunderstanding of the nature of our society and how rights are defended and litigated.

    It is not up to civil liberties organizations to stop short of absolutes. It’s up to the rest of society to do so.

  • Jack

    Put another way, is there such a thing as a constitutional restriction on freedom of assembly? Sure. We must allow for time, place and manner. New York City, for example, has the right to say no to a permit for demonstrating on the West Side Highway at 5:30 on a weekday.

    And is there such thing as a constitutional restriction on the right to bear arms? Of course. If a state wants to have a 24-hour or even a 72-hour waiting period before issuing a gun permit, that is constitutional.

    In neither case is the basic right being infringed upon.

    But — if you expect the ACLU or the NRA to be extremely sympathetic to most qualifications and restrictions on exercising such rights, you are dreaming. They won’t, and it’s not their job to do so. I don’t expect them to, nor should you.

  • Larry

    “The gun nuts are absolutely right to oppose gun control, but they’re equally wrong to idolize guns. The gun confiscators live in a magical wonderland that bears no relation to facts or logic.”

    Which is why I advocate mandatory liability insurance for people who own guns but lack either a professional need for them or a hunting license. Gun ownership poses a peril to the community that few other possessions have outside of a motor vehicle. As with a motor vehicle, the way to spread the risk of harm from ownership is through mandatory liability insurance. At the very least it promotes behavior to avoid harming others and puts a financial incentive towards responsible behavior. An insurance requirement also stymies straw buying by creating records of ownership.

    Best of all it is regulated by the free market system. Big Brother being replaced by a party who can never be out “to take yer guns away”.

  • Larry

    The media hardly buries the stories, they are just extremely rare. Exponentially fewer of them in comparison to people killed accidentally by friends/neighbors/family because a gun was in a house and used negligently. Far far fewer than the stories about children gaining access to parents’ guns and causing mayhem.

    In the grand scheme of things it is irrational to argue for protecting against a very unlikely and rare occurrence by promoting behavior which creates a more common and obvious danger. Like preventing bear attacks by placing traps every 5 feet on town sidewalks.

  • Larry

    You are unfamiliar with the gun lobby rhetoric.

    Even waiting periods and background checks had to be fought for tooth and nail against them. Even the most reasonable regulations are opposed bitterly here and with no rational reasons. It is this kind of behavior which endangers gun ownership rights by painting all owners as dangerous and 1rresponsible.

    Lobby groups do not exist in a vacuum. Gun manufacturers are a rather small group compared to the individual members who contribute to the political efforts. (The large firearms manufacturers most of their money on the military/police market, not individuals). As long as people are willing to pay to have extremists representing their interests, they endanger their own rights.