Why Aren’t Christians Pushing for Gun Control?

Mosque Prayer
Men pray toward the direction of Kabah in Mecca during 1:30 prayer at the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City on Tuesday afternoon, June 26, 2012. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

“Jesus was crystal clear on the question of whether violence is an acceptable response to violence, on whether arming ourselves with fists or swords or guns is the way to protect ourselves from fists and swords and guns.” So says Ellen Painter Dollar today in response to the horrific deaths of twelve people. Why are American Christians so slow to question our society's knee-jerk protections of the right to bear arms?

Please read the entire post here. Here is a highlight, including the sentence I already quoted:

Christians ultimately look for guidance not only to common sense, but to Jesus and God as portrayed in Scripture. On issues of sexuality and babies, Jesus and the Bible can be a bit murky. Yet Christians consistently speak on these issues with certainty and passion. In contrast, Jesus was crystal clear on the question of whether violence is an acceptable response to violence, on whether arming ourselves with fists or swords or guns is the way to protect ourselves from fists and swords and guns. Nonviolence—turning the other cheek, keeping your sword in its scabbard even under threat, loving your enemy—is a centerpiece of Jesus’s gospel.

And yet Christians (at least, the conservative Christians who frequently represent our faith, however incompletely, on the national media stage) have largely been silent on guns for more than a decade, as the front-page stories have piled up—lone gunmen able to give deadly voice to their rage, alienation, and mental illness by mowing down fistfuls of human beings in seconds, because they could easily obtain weapons that make such fast and furious violence possible.

Dollar wants to know why Christians have been silent on this issue, at best. I second her challenge. Americans willingly accept limitations on our First Amendment rights — we believe in freedom of the press, for example, but we also have checks in place in cases of libel; we uphold the freedom of religion, but not where such freedoms impinge upon the rights and safety of other people. But Second Amendment rights are largely off the table. Politicians know that to discuss their limitation would be political suicide. And as Dollar points out, even Christian publications don't want to touch the issue, judging from Christianity Today's decision to kill a gun control post she wrote last year.

Second Amendment rights are not absolute. They arose in a particular historical context, when a new nation remembered how British soldiers had disarmed ordinary colonial families and quartered themselves in the colonists' homes. Disarming the colonists robbed them of their right not only to defend themselves against attack, but to hunt for their food. Guns were often necessary tools of survival in the late eighteenth century.

The framers of our Constitution and the authors of the Bill of Rights could not have conceived that the Second Amendment would be used to defend the proliferation of semi-automatic weapons purchased anonymously on something called “the Internet” and inflicted upon fellow citizens in peacetime.

Having just read Os Guinness's new book on sustainable freedom (see Saturday's post), I am aware that freedom and license are not the same. What Americans are guaranteed is freedom. What we are practicing, however, is license — an unchecked and potentially dangerous licentiousness that exacts a human cost.

When will Christians step up to the plate to question this? Why are the Christians who think it is God's will to close down abortion clinics in the name of life not equally outraged at the way gun culture threatens life?

About the author

Jana Riess

Since 2008, Jana Riess has been an acquisitions editor in the publishing industry, primarily acquiring in the areas of religion, history, popular culture, ethics, and biblical studies. From 1999 to 2008, she was the Religion Book Review Editor for Publishers Weekly, and continues to write freelance articles and reviews for PW as well as other publications.

She holds degrees in religion from Wellesley College and Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. in American religious history from Columbia University. She speaks often to media about issues pertaining to religion in America, and has been interviewed by the Associated Press, Time, Newsweek, People, the Boston Globe, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and Newsday, among other print publications, as well as “Voice of America,” the "Today" show, MSNBC, and NPR’s “All Things Considered,” “Tell Me More,” and “Talk of the Nation.” 

She is the author, co-author, or editor of nine books, including Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor; What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as a Spiritual Guide; Mormonism for Dummies; and The Writer’s Market Guide to Getting Published. She blogged for Beliefnet before coming to RNS in 2012.