Finding Peace in a World with Guns
On Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, our country experienced the deadliest shooting in modern United States history. Fifty-nine were killed, and more than 500 were taken to hospitals. This mass shooting stands as one among numerous gun-violence atrocities; in fact, the four deadliest mass shootings in our country’s history all have taken place in the last 10 years!
As the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) purports, “[g]un [v]iolence in the U.S. is staggering, with 91 people killed by guns each day. The U.S., which has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, has 30-50 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns.” This has a great impact on our communities. After the trauma, deep pain, terror and outrage of mass shootings, there are two common responses: demands to further restrict gun access or loosen restrictions. As Christ-followers, how are we called to respond? Who are we called to be within our violent present?
Jesus calls us to be peacemakers in Matthew 5:9. Jesus’ vision for peace is reflected in Micah 4:1-4. In Micah’s prophetic dream, God brings nations together to live peaceably without fear and violence. The nations turn weapons into instruments for harvesting food. Violence, fueled by fear and self-protection, is counter to Micah’s vision of turning swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.
With gun violence as a prevalent reality, an ever-widening gap exists between Micah’s vision and our present reality. How do we transform our violent present to a future of peace?
A 2016 editorial in The New York Times asserts that nine out of 10 people in the U.S. prefer stricter gun laws. Many gun owners themselves recognize the importance of universal background checks, ensuring guns are sold through licensed retailers, establishing a minimum age of 21 for gun purchase, banning large-capacity ammunition weapons designed to fire multiple rounds and prohibiting individuals from purchasing a gun who have violent criminal convictions and serious mental illnesses that pose a threat to themselves and others. The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, too, states that the people have “the right to keep and bear Arms.”
The question is: Can we find a common-sense way to interpret the Second Amendment that brings us closer to realizing the peaceable kingdom in our land?
Micah’s vision shows that our individual security is connected to the common good. Our right to bear arms and public security are bound together, but perhaps not in the way many imagine. The GBCS explains, “While many claim that the prevalence of guns in society is the path to common security, studies have shown the opposite to be the case. When a gun is present in a household, the risk of gun violence — whether accidental or intentional — increases.”
As followers of Jesus and as United Methodist Christians, surely we can engage around this multi-faceted issue in a way that refuses to demonize people with different viewpoints. Let us be thoughtful, faithful, wise and courageous as we seek to address the epidemic of gun violence that continues to plague our country. Let us claim God’s dream of a peaceable kingdom as our own and both pray and work to transform violence into shalom.
Rev. Andy Lewis
Director, Center for Missional Outreach
Center for Missional Outreach