Long before the events of December 14, 2012 shattered our hearts and launched our country into a time of mourning, gun control was a heated subject. In the aftermath of the Newtown shootings, that heat has escalated to a boiling point. Americans are feverishly reevaluating the terms of gun control in our country, and surveys show an almost immediate shift in favor of increased regulation.
Given the emotions surrounding this debate, I enter the fray with two disclaimers. First, I support the Second Amendment. I do not believe that Americans should have their Constitutional rights stripped or their guns taken away. I am not suggesting the government confiscate all guns in order to end gun violence, anymore than I would suggest the government confiscate all cars in order to end vehicular deaths.
But in the same way that we have regulations to minimize auto-related fatalities, we should regulate gun use as well. To me and many other supporters of gun control, this means that gun rights and gun control are not mutually exclusive ends. We can have both.
A second disclaimer: While the gun control debate is integrally linked with the U.S. Constitution, I am writing as a Christian first and an American second. As a citizen of this country, the Constitution is indeed an authoritative document in my life, but its authority is not ultimate. I am first beholden to God. So when the laws of the land are perpetuating violence and destruction, as I believe they are in this case, the Christian's position cannot be neutral. We are called to object, to resist, and to protect "the least of these."
Which leads to the reason I support gun control. In our nation, the individuals most affected by gun violence are those that we as Christians are commanded to serve: the poor, the abused, and the young.
Consider first the effects of gun violence on our nation's poor. Gun violence is most prevalent in poor communities, a reality that has hit African Americans the hardest. In fact, gun violence is the leading cause of death among African American men ages 1 to 44, and 54 percent of all homicide victims are African American.
Since they are most affected by gun violence, it is not surprising that African Americans support gun control by a margin of 68 percent to 24 percent. In contrast, white males are the demographic most likely to support gun rights. This statistical discrepancy suggests that the ideology of one group is wreaking havoc on another.
In addition to the disproportionate effects that gun violence has on black Americans, gun violence is also responsible for the deaths of dozens of children each year. While our country was aghast at the loss of 20 tiny souls at Sandy Hook Elementary, nearly the same number of American children and youth are injured or killed by a firearm each day. In Chicago alone, nearly 700 children were hit by gunfire in 2010, and 66 of those children died. What's more, children and youth constitute 38 percent of all firearm deaths and non-fatal injuries. In addition to these data, studies show that the risk of having a gun in the home far outweighs any benefit, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that the safest home for a child is a gun-free home.
And finally, there are the statistics on gun violence and domestic abuse. Studies show that "access to firearms increases the risk of intimate partner homicide more than five times compared to instances where there are no weapons. In addition, abusers who possess guns tend to inflict the most severe abuse on their partners." Women are also more likely to be murdered by intimate partners than they are strangers, and in such domestic disputes the weapon of choice is usually a handgun.
Despite current gun regulations, gun violence continues to significantly impact the poor, the young, and the abused. As Americans we can sit and have a debate about how this information shapes our interpretation of the Second Amendment, but as Christians we are called to more. We need to take meaningful action to ensure that these most vulnerable members of our society are not subject to on-going violence for the ideals of a privileged few.
"Meaningful action" does not, however, mean arming citizens with more guns. Not only is the efficacy of this solution entirely disputable, the motives driving it are dubious at best. The NRA is financially supported by the gun industry, and the gun industry is conveniently selling both the problem and the solution. We would be naïve to ignore the greed that hides behind the righteous mantle of the Second Amendment.
Instead, meaningful action entails doing all we can to protect the vulnerable in our country. Yes, this means having a more serious conversation about mental illness, as well as education and poverty. But it also means closing the loopholes in gun purchase background checks, and reinstituting the ban on assault weapons. Given that the number of homicides in Chicago outpaced the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan, gun violence cannot be reduced to mental illness; it is also about guns.
There is a well-known mantra promoted by gun rights advocates: "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." There's a kernel of truth in it. No amount of gun control can heal the human heart. As long as there are broken humans on earth, there will be violence and death. However, we cannot hide behind this spiritual reality as an excuse for inaction. Sinful people kill people, but guns sure do make it a lot easier.
In Luke 4:18, Jesus proclaims that he has come to preach good news to the poor. As Christians, we must consider what his example means for communities ravaged by gun violence. Chicago mothers are wailing for relief from the violence that is stealing away their children, and, to our shame, it took a massacre in a white suburban elementary school for the nation to hear them. Now that we do, how will we respond to their cries?
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