The problem with the renewed debate over gun control, sparked by the most recent school shooting in Florida, is that much of what is being said has been said before. One major issue with this debate being the extremes to which both proponents and opponents of gun rights choose to frame their concerns. Gun rights activists are portrayed not as merely wrong, but complicit in murder. Likewise, gun control advocates are characterized as not only mistaken, but jack-booted thugs preparing us all for an authoritarian government. All of which makes reasonable, incremental change – the kind our government is designed to create – extremely difficult, if not impossible. (The time-consuming processes, purposely built into our governing bodies, inhibiting us from making knee-jerk responses to perceived danger or threats; fostering a wiser, well-thought out solution to issues and crises.)
A number of sub-issues are imbedded in the bigger debate of gun control; including gun owner registration, back-ground checks – including criminal records and mental health assessments – as well as the age of those making purchases, waiting periods between sale and receipt of purchase, and the fire-power of individual weapons. All of which creates tension and frustration for those hoping to see progress in tangible ways in a reasonable amount of time, which I believe includes most of us. Taken as a whole, these varying “complications” seem insurmountable, while dealing with each issue individually, or the most pressing one’s as a body – in incremental fashion – might actually give us the best chance of success. But if there continues to be a lack of willingness to talk and compromise where possible, nothing will be accomplished – again.
Surprisingly, statistics show over-all gun violence in America today trending downward, with the exception of suicides and school shootings as part of extreme attempts to make a social point, gain notoriety and exact revenge. In particular, the perpetrator of the Florida killings fit the profile of a potential mass murderer, was identified and reported by a number of people as such, the break-down occurring in the end-stage failure of authorities to respond appropriately.
Most Americans believe in a constitutional right to bear arms, for sport-shooting, hunting and self-protection. A few still view their weaponry as a bulwark against extreme governmental over-reach. Which some would argue is in our historical DNA. (Thomas Jefferson believing, “…the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Maybe an applicable, if over-exuberant, sentiment of his time – but a rather scary idea for most of us today.)
Surely we can come together with a reasonable, pro-active response to this issue as well as others facing us today that will protect innocents from harm while safeguarding individual rights and guaranteeing the system of due process that is so integral to our democratic society. At the very least intensifying background checks and restricting – if not removing – access to the kind of fire-power used in Florida and other attacks.
However, a crucial component all-but-ignored in this debate thus far is the one of most importance to me. Addressing the head and heart issues behind the noted rise in suicides and mass shootings as expressions of need or disagreement. And while I won’t attempt to draw a straight line from the removal of prayer from our schools to the problem of gun violence, I don’t think we would be remiss to view this issue – and others – as symptoms of a larger problem. The abandonment of the ideals of scripture and religion that have informed our politics, policies and personal behavior for much of the life of our country. (Which is not to say we’ve ever been 100% Christian in our practice or politics, but that the principles and ideals of Christianity have gone a long way in promoting healthy attitudes and behavior of the religious and irreligious alike.)
The deeper problem lies in what scripture describes as a deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9) functioning in a depraved generation. (Philippians 2:15) Consisting of people who no longer, “…think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God,… (who) have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.” Romans 1:28,29 Their minds set on the desires of their sinful nature rather than the nature of the Spirit, which is hostile to God; unwilling and unable to submit to God’s law. (Romans 8:5-8 These contrasting nature’s obvious features being enumerated in Galatians 5:19-23) However, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” Galatians 5:24 And act accordingly. (If not perfectly.)
Scripture likewise advises us to, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the well-spring of life.” Proverbs 4:23 Jesus explaining, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (And consequently, his actions flow.) Luke 6:43-45 Paul further admonishing us to, “…not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve… God’s… good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2 The recognition of God’s will for our lives coming as a result of our having been, “…taught, with regard to (our)former way of life, to put off (our) old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be make new in the attitudes of (our) minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:22-24
Until we, the people of the church, get back to teaching these basic truths of the gospel instead of spending inordinate amounts of time fighting over the symptoms of disease rather than its cause, nothing of consequence in our society will change. Except to get worse.
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