With rights and privileges come responsibilities

Does anybody still remember the Las Vegas shooting?

It’s only been a few weeks, but it really seems like we’ve all forgotten it.

How about Sandy Hook?

Yeah, that’s the one where all the kids died. …

I know we live in a time especially full of crises and headlines and things to worry about. But we said we wouldn’t forget, and we have — and I include myself in this indictment.

I own firearms, and I’ve hunted most of my life. Slowly, over the years though, the NRA’s arguments against gun control have fallen by the wayside for me:

  • “It’s a slippery slope … give an inch, they will take away all guns …” — This hasn’t proven true, and it’s a generic argument that doesn’t hold water. By the same argument, we should oppose all speed limits, because eventually they will not let us drive at all.
  • “Gun control means only criminals will have guns” — So again, we shouldn’t have speed limits because some people will break them?
  • “We need to enforce the gun control laws we already have” — OK, but it needs to be followed up with funding and support for the enforcement of those laws, which never seems to happen.
  • “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” — But firearms are astoundingly efficient at killing people and we don’t let people walk around with bombs, right? Yes, someone does need to pull the trigger. So is it really about mental illness? Most mentally ill people are victims of violence, not the other way around. A way better predictor of someone who is going to kill someone with a gun is a history of violence, but OK go after mental illness, which means it needs to be followed up with, expanding mental illness coverage and funding, which again, never seems to happen.

I know this isn’t an exhaustive list of the arguments against gun control, but it is most of the big ones. As these arguments have fallen apart for me, I’ve started to think about what is behind them, and since I’m a clergy member I keep getting drawn to an old-fashioned, biblical word: idolatry.

Our society is (and every society has been) full of idolatry; there has always been a lot of “false gods” for people to worship. And today is no different. But a few “idols” I think I see in our society that are helping drive the anti-gun control arguments are:

  • We worship violence. And I’m not just talking about movies, video games and rap music. A phrase keeps swirling around in my head: “the myth of redemptive violence.” Maybe it isn’t always a myth, but violence should be a last resort — and it should be acknowledged that pain, trauma and death are never a “success.” And yet, in America, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and how we are to live often include violence as a fairly early option, if not the first option. And, yet again, I see this in myself first of all, and all across society, whether gun owners or not.
  • We worship convenience. Often our opposition to gun control measures is about convenience. We don’t want to wait or fill out paperwork or spend a day being trained in safety and marksmanship. A semi-automatic rifle is more convenient when hunting, than having to work a bolt for each shot. A small handgun is more convenient for home protection than a shotgun. And with carrying a concealed firearm in public in order to respond to an emergency situation, it is much more convenient to just fill out the application at the courthouse and call it done, rather than getting the proper (and ongoing) training to be safe and effective. And yet again, I see this very much in myself, and the worship of convenience permeates our society, whether people own a firearm or not.

Both of these idols are really subgroups of a larger idol we worship: freedom.

Freedom is a good thing (even a biblical thing, but that’s a discussion for another day). We should cherish our freedoms and encourage their growth among peoples around the world.

But with rights and privileges come responsibilities. Implicit in the social contract of our society and in our Constitution, is an understanding that these Rights come with a price. We justly honor the sacrifice members of our armed forces made and continue to make for us. And yet we are unwilling to accept any restrictions on our right to bear arms.

What restrictions am I talking about? I don’t know exactly, but those of us who choose to exercise our right to bear arms should take up our responsibility and work to solve this problem. And, at the very least, not support an organization that opposes ever possible restriction, no matter how common sense.

Craig Rose is the pastor at Howard United Methodist Church.