By Luke Moon (twitter @lukemoon1)
In 1992, I was serving as a missionary in Peru when I got word that my best friend, Shane, had killed himself. Friends told me he had been acting strange and reckless that day. While riding in a friend’s car to a party, Shane took out the gun he used for work as a security guard, pointed it in the air and pulled the trigger. The gun didn’t go off. When they arrived at the party, he was playing with the gun again, this time he pointed the gun at his own head and said, “If this doesn’t misfire, I’m dead.” He killed himself that night as friends were gathering for a birthday party.
I know what it is like to lose a close friend in such a tragic way. But I tell this story in part because I have personally been affected by gun violence and in part because the talking points memo from Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence says that it is important to start every conversation on gun control with a personal testimony. But unlike the faith leaders advocating gun control, my testimony does not see gun control as the solution to gun violence.
Recently, “faith leaders” gathered at the National Cathedral for “Gun Violence Awareness Sabbath.” This multi-day event feature religious leaders from a variety of faiths all talking about the plague of gun violence. Funded by Michael Bloomberg, these leaders hoped to harness their authority as faith leaders to impact political debates in Congress. This event was not simply about gun violence; it was also about gun control. The measures they explicitly advocated for was a ban on assault-style rifles, limits on the capacity of gun magazines, and universal background checks. Aside from the fact that these are purely symbolic gestures that will do nothing to stop gun violence, these faith leaders seem more inclined to treat a symptom of societal breakdown rather than the disease.
The disease that causes the symptom of gun violence, and countless other social issues, is broken homes and broken people.
My best friend Shane came to live with my family while we were still in high school. He had a nasty relationship with his grandparents who he had lived with since his dad left and his mom ditched him. In many ways my family became his family, but there was still a lot of pain in his life. Sadly, Shane’s story is increasingly common; even then, I was the only person in my group of friends whose parents were still together. A recent report by the Marriage and Religion Research Institute noted that 87% of teenagers in DC lived in a broken home. The vast majority of these broken homes are fatherless. Countless studies how shown that across the board kids from fatherless homes are more likely to drop out of school, join gangs, get incarcerated, get pregnant, etc. And it should be no surprise that gun violence is highest where broken and fatherless homes are most common. However, if gun control was the solution to gun violence, DC should have one of the lowest rates of gun violence in the nation rather than the highest.
In addition to coming from a broken home, my friend Shane was also a broken person. He was broken in the same way each of us is broken—by sin. The Very Rev. Gary Hall, Dean of the National Cathedral noted in his sermon on Gun Violence Awareness Sabbath that “gun violence will continue to be a religious problem as long as people like you and me are sinners.” Sadly, Rev. Hall downplays effect on us, noting, “My judgment is limited and finite and partial. Real spiritual and psychological health begins with an acknowledgement of my situation. “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). That’s what the Bible means when it calls us sinners: not that we’re bad, merely that we’re cosmically accident-prone.”
Our sinfulness is more than just being cosmically accident-prone; it’s even more than we’re bad. We are wicked and evil lies in every heart. But so does the Law of God. The reality is that the Law of God is written on our hearts and gives us the capacity for virtue which is the very foundation of civil society. The more we lose the self-governing virtue the more external laws become necessary.
The Founding Fathers recognized that a just and moral people should and could be entrusted with great responsibility. The responsibility given to us by our freedom of speech also implies the wisdom to self-censor. That absence of the wisdom of self-censorship is modeled by both Hollywood and Westboro “Baptist Church.” Likewise, the responsibility to own a gun implies the wisdom to know when and how to use it. My father taught me how to shoot guns and also taught be that I could never shoot something living if I didn’t plan to eat it. The absence of fathers teaching their children how to handle the responsibility of gun ownership is at the root of gun violence.
Those who are advocating for gun control clearly don’t think people can be trusted with the responsibility and the supposed evidence is apparent because 18 people die from a gun each day. But because the perverse peddle porn and the gang bangers kill does that mean we should tear up the Constitution? Should we destroy the Bill of Rights because of the irresponsibility of the few? There are 270 million guns in the hands of civilians and just 18 are used to kill people every day. Does this mean the millions of people who are responsible with their guns should be punished or deprived of the right to be responsible?
The initial discussion following the tragic Newtown, Connecticut shooting included a addressing issues of mental health, violence in the media, and violence in games. All of these have been discarded because they demand a deeper look at the social ills of our nation. It is simply easier to talk about high capacity magazines than the porn magazines that have perverted a generation of young men. Faith leaders should know that promoting useless and symbolic laws is easy, but we are called to a more difficult task which truly transforms society–discipleship.