Viewing the World through the Barrel of a Gun

I write this post on the eve of Election Day in the United States. In the state of Washington, we will be voting on an initiative that would make it a requirement to run a background check on guns sold even at gun shows, which are currently exempt from such a requirement. The issue of access to guns feels even more freighted here since, just a little over a week ago, we had yet another mass slaying at a school by a boy with a gun. In addition, I work just up the hill from Seattle Pacific University, a community that suffered a similarly horrific mass slaying by a shooter with a gun last spring. I will readily admit that I wish it would all end. That we would gather all the guns in the land, melt them down and make some sort of a monument to all those who have died from gun shots.

Yet for all that, I will still admit that occasionally something visceral stirs within me if I imagine someone holding a gun pointed towards my wife or children, or anyone’s children for that matter. I honestly do understand, at least in some respect, the argument that people want to be able to defend themselves against scary people breaking into their homes, or following behind them on a deserted street in the dark, or loading packages into their car after everyone else has left. The thought of carrying, or having in your home, a weapon that weighs heavy in your hand, a weapon that you know could tear apart the vital organs of any attacker or intruder with one pull of the trigger, that is a powerful feeling. But it’s too powerful.

Leave aside the fact that the vast majority of bullets fired in a home end up tearing apart the vital organs of those known by the one who pulled the trigger. Even more important is what happens to the thought process of someone who brings a gun into their home, who puts one under the seat of their car, or worse, carries a gun with them walking in their neighborhood, their place of work, or around a city. They carry with them, they have ready to their reach, the power to kill someone, to kill anyone. Say, even, that they have spent years at the shooting range training their accuracy and would be able to simply tear apart a leg, or an arm, simply wound, rather than kill. Still they have ready to their grasp, an extremely powerful weapon that is able to inflict severe pain on someone, anyone. What happens to that person’s perception of the world and their place in it?

This past month, Seattle Magazine had a personal essay in it, about a young couple earnestly struggling over the question of whether or not they would bring a gun into their home. Neither of the pair were categorically against gun ownership for others, or even for themselves. In fact, the catalyst for the conversation was a gift of a gun from the man’s brother. For his family, bringing a gun into their first home amounted to almost a rite of passage. Their struggle was no knee-jerk reflex in a liberal / progressive political direction. If it had been me receiving the gift of a gun, I probably would have dropped the thing and fled the room in flaming-liberal fashion. For the couple in the article it was an open question what they would do. What struck me most about the decision they came to was not the result itself, but the reasoning they expressed about it.

In the essay, “The Gun Debate Comes Home,” by Berit Anderson (Oct, 2014), the author herself writes:

The thing we kept coming back to, amidst the heated conversations about family patterns, apocalypse scenarios and firearm absolutism, was the way that keeping a gun in our home changed how we related to the world.”

The man to whom the gun had been given as a gift, Brett Horvath, himself explains:

The trouble with owning a gun, or carrying it, is that you can start relating to the world that way.”

Ms. Anderson wraps up the essay as follows:

We didn’t want to live in a reality where the gun – and violence – became our go-to option for dealing with major problems; a lens through which we see the world. Even if that problem was an armed intruder. Rather than living according to the fantasy of protecting ourselves from a man in a ski mask, we’ve chosen to protect ourselves from the more likely reality of accidentally hurting ourselves or someone we know.”

At several points in the Greek scriptures of the Bible, those who seek to follow the path of Jesus are exhorted to, in various wording, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone.” (Heb.12:14) Ultimately, I don’t think we can live this out with a gun ready to our reach.

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