I wrote last week about guns and spiritual formation. In it, I asked how Christians might consider the potential spiritual formation implications of owning a weapon. These were merely questions, and not accusations of any kind. I wanted to follow up with another line of questions that I have that I did not fully include, but has since become more relevant.
Again, I am not a gun expert, nor am I a gun control expert. I should also say, in the name of putting all cards on the table, that I am not a pacifist, as classically defined, but would also probably lean more towards personal pacifism than some.
My question here revolves around the logic of gun ownership and its particular merits as a means for protection. Specifically, this is prompted by the repeated calls following a shooting not for fewer guns, but more. This is being seen here in the context of arming teachers for protection. I remember first hearing this suggestion after the Sandy Hook shooting. Another variant of this is to have more armed persons (often, it is suggested that these people be military veterans) assigned to schools.
Now, again, I have to say here that I know many trained gun owners. People who handle/d weapons professionally and in whom I have much confidence in handling that weapon, both to use it and to not use it. Many of the people who I know that own guns are people I absolutely trust with that gun.
As in my previous post, my purpose here is to ask maybe a slightly different kind of question. I’d like to here ask a question about the underlying logic of these kinds of arguments/policy suggestions. The logic is this: “Bad people will always want to do violence. What is needed for a good person to do violence to the bad person before innocents are harmed. Therefore, arm more good people.”
There is a clear, logical nature to this argument. It makes a ton of sense.
I confess, though, that I am disquieted with the logic of this rationale. What if our logic is incomplete? And if we use this line of thinking, where does it end?
If we accept this rationale, do we accept the nature of violence itself with the only end a ceaseless escalation of force? Because if “bad people will always have guns” is the accepted premise of this argument, what, then will stop those bad people from seeing the escalation of force in response and then… escalate further? What if the next evolution of this dilemma is not a peace at the point of a gun but the appearance of shooters acting in tandem? Or triplicate? Or squad?
Or what if the weaponry must evolve to answer the threat of violence residing in schools or wherever else such persons are deemed necessary? What if it becomes more and more common to use grenades or fully automatic weapons or chemicals?
My point here is that accepting the premise of the argument beneath the calls of the arming of teachers or more citizens or whatever is the case is a confession that the premise might be accepted by those you are arming against. And what results is a perpetual ramping up.
Now, I have some caveats:
One is that, from what we’ve seen, people that carry out such violent acts tend to be more solitary and do not appear to be candidates to make friends or allies to commit the escalated forms of violence that I hypothesized. To this caveat, I’d add a caveat: Columbine High School was shot up by multiple people. So it’s not an impossibility.
Secondly, from a pragmatic perspective, one can see that this could be an effective stopping act for a shooter or potential shooter. And I would also add that I have no suggestion to interrupt such a scenario apart from violence. So I’m not about to unveil a magical solution that fixes this. You may say, “This is the best that we can do in the world that we live in.”
Here, I am only asking: “Is it actually the best solution that we have?” I don’t know that it is.
What if arming teachers prepares students for a more violent mentality in the world? What if all kids, constantly being around armed guards at their schools, only seeds ideas to those very few children who are troubled or hurting or alone or imbalanced or all of the above? What if, by pursuing such a course of action, we are actually at the genesis of an even more violent outcome?
Is violence (or the threat of violence) actually the only solution to the problem of violence?
I sincerely do not know if it is. But something in my gut feels uneasy about all of this.
That uneasiness could just be the fact that I’m a wimp that should not be trusted to handle this duty. I accept that charge. That’s fine.
I would merely ask of my fellow Christian, my people, to consider this path, though. Consider its origin. With certainty, I can say that the conviction that violence is the solution to the problem is not the rationale that will win the day in the kingdom of God. At the very least, there should be recognition that this mentality will end. It is temporal. What might that tell us and how should it shape us?
Also, we ought to recognize that the kingdoms of this world, who have no concern for King Jesus, are ruled by such a mentality. Violent imposition of your will is how things are done. The key is to make sure that maximal violence is on your side, and not on the other guy’s side. The kingdoms of this world, both Biblically and otherwise, have a commitment to this ethos. It is worth considering whether believers should accept this ethos as “the way the world is” and if Christians can utilize this rationale towards an acceptably good end.
I confess that a very big part of who I am is shaped by stories like the Lord of the Rings. And I fear that the rationale behind this response all-too-eerily resembles the ring of power. Could you use it for good? Yes. But what might it do to you, to us as we wear this power wielded, even towards good ends? I think we should be careful of the Ring of Power, wherever we stumbled upon and however good we think we might be in using it.
I went and saw the Black Panther movie yesterday and this is at the heart of that fictional conflict as well. Should the Wakandans export their weapons and technology to the oppressed black people of the world to rise up and defeat colonialism and its descendant powers? Or is the Wakandan way a better way? Is the export of weaponry actually a devolution into the ways of that colonialism, a kind of moral capitulation?
I know these are hard questions with complicated attendant circumstances. What is obvious and pragmatic may be obvious and pragmatic because it is right. It is also possible that what is obvious and pragmatic may be overly simplistic and more dangerous than we realize.
If anyone in this crazy, violent world should offer up a plea to pump the brakes and consider these things carefully, it should certainly be Jesus’ people, even if we are only asking for careful consideration of what we’re suggesting. Our God Himself suffered violence as a means to disarm and destroy the kingdoms of this world. It is worth considering what the Cross should do to us as our kids walk into schools stained by blood. As citizens of this country whose allegiance lies to a Better Country, should we not, as ambassadors, be careful to propose solutions to this problem (and every problem) that make clear where our loyalties lie and who our King is? If we cannot come to a better solution than multiplying weaponry, Christians should at least be the ones who throw up speed bumps so that we might very seriously consider the weight of what’s being suggested.
I absolutely do not have a solution to the problems of school shootings or the shootings of concert crowds or anything like that. I feel helpless at the prospect and certainly believe that very smart people and even very good people are behind the “offer up more guns” argument. If my questions are overly idealistic and unfounded, I would still suggest that we would be wise to ask them. We must spot all the temptations to join into the kingdoms of this world, even if it is a line we must walk ever so carefully. Because citizenship in the kingdom of God is worth such careful consideration.
And let us not forget how different and strange and beautiful is the kingdom of Jesus. Let us, even for a moment such as this one, consider again how different the kingship of Jesus really is. It’s a delight to question the logic of this world, this logic of violence because it reminds how foreign the answer of God is, how beautifully strange it is to be an alien and a pilgrim. Because Jesus’ kingdom is so wonderfully different.
The kingdom of the Cross is not like the kingdoms of this world. Forever will it be so. Hallelujah.
UPDATE: Dr. Anthony Bradley, a professor at King’s College in NYC, wrote an article at Fathom Magazine on the need for Christian wisdom that, I think, said a lot of things really well, some of which I was trying to get at here. He’s way, way smarter than me, way more concise and I’d commend his work to you generally, but this post specifically.