The topic of gun violence came up in conversation with someone the other day in a conversation about what it means to love our neighbors well. I was talking with someone who wants to see much more thorough background checks of potential gun owners, and firmly believes that this is a matter of loving your neighbors at a policy level.
I take exception with this at a number of points, starting with the very practical question of what’s “more thorough” than a criminal records check. Credit check? Mental health exam? Examination of your car maintenance records? But let’s assume we can somehow work that out. Let’s talk about the nightmare scenario that this more thorough check, whatever it is, is supposed to prevent.
Tony and Mary were high school sweethearts. After high school, they dated for another year while Tony got established in his job as a mechanic at the local auto shop, then they married. Mary had grown up waitressing in her mother’s diner, but she cut down to half-time after she had their daughter, and quit altogether when she had a second daughter two years later. The second pregnancy got high-risk toward the end, and the doctors told Mary and Tony they couldn’t have any more children.
Tony lost it. Don’t get me wrong, Tony loved his daughters. He wasn’t one of those obsessive fathers that names their daughter George because she was supposed to be a boy. But different people have different dreams in life. Some people want a particular career. Some people want to climb Mount Everest. Some people just want to get really rich. With Tony, it was all about having a son. Fishing together, throwing a football in the front yard in the fall, teaching the boy to grill a steak properly…these were the things that Tony dreamt about. And they were never going to happen.
Tony couldn’t handle it. He started to withdraw from his family. He would come home late from work, sit moodily in the den and watch TV — didn’t matter what — until late into the night, drinking steadily. Increasingly, he would come home drunk to start with. Mary tried to reach out to him, but he lashed out. Mary was already devastated because she couldn’t give him the son he always wanted. When he blamed her, that just made it worse. Then one night, he slapped her.
He cried and said he was sorry, the mark on her cheek had faded by morning, and for a day or two, Mary thought that things might work out. But after a few days, Tony went back to being sullen and drunk in the den. Two weeks later, he hit her again — and this time he split her lip and gave her a black eye. She didn’t leave the house for two weeks, ashamed that someone would see.
Over the next few months, the beatings became more frequent. One night, Mary dreamt that Tony came home drunk and beat her to death, leaving her two precious daughters alone with a drunk and murderous father. She woke up shaking in a cold sweat, stumbled to the bathroom, and puked. Mary tried to talk herself out of it — Tony loved her, she knew it, and he would never hurt the girls — but she couldn’t shake the image from her head. She didn’t get back to sleep that night. Two days later, she packed up the girls while he was at work and went to her mom’s.
That night, Tony showed up drunk and yelling on mom’s front lawn. The police took him home, and Mary went down to get a restraining order the next day. It took Tony two days after the restraining order was issued to violate it. Mary’s mom was at the diner when Tony showed up, kicked in the door, and beat Mary senseless. The police took him to jail, but not for very long. Last night, Tony was released.
Now, thorough background checks and waiting periods are designed for exactly this kind of situation. We are concerned, and rightly so, that Tony is going to go out, buy a gun, and shoot Mary. So because we care about Mary, we are going to make it pretty difficult to get a gun, and we’re going to try to keep cheap handguns of the type Tony would probably buy off the market. Love thy neighbor, right?
But let’s think a little deeper, because love needs to be wise.
Tony’s only an average-sized guy, but he works with his hands every day, and he’s strong. Mary is 5’1″ and 120 lbs. Let’s face it, he is going to show up, and he will beat her when he does. Mary needs to defend herself, and he’s stronger, faster, heavier, and taller. I’ve been teaching practical self defense since 1999; I have helped a number of people like Mary learn to protect themselves. I can help her. You know the first thing I’m going to tell her? Buy a gun. Can she effectively defend herself with her hands alone? Yes, it’s certainly possible, but it helps if she’s quick, aggressive, and skillful. We don’t have a lot of time to build skill, and in any case the object of unarmed combat is to get armed as quickly as possible. She needs a weapon. Can I teach her to use a kitchen knife to protect herself? Again, yes — and I will, cheerfully. If she can’t get a gun, a knife’s a good second choice. But to use it, she has to let him get close to her, and that’s not really a great idea. The best tool for the job, by far, is a handgun or a shotgun. And the guns Mary can afford are going to be the cheap ones.
How’s that Saturday night special ban looking now?
But hey, at least we’re also stopping Tony from getting a gun too, right? Nope. A guy like Tony’s already got a couple or three guns, even if he’s never bought one in his life. His uncle gave him a 12 gauge shotgun for his 16th birthday. When his grandad died, he inherited a .30-06 hunting rifle and the 1911 .45 pistol that grandad carried in the Philippines in WWII. Tony’s not a “gun guy” by any means, but he grew up around guns, knows how to shoot them and keep them clean, and they’re sitting in the back of the closet at home. There’s a couple boxes of ammo on a high shelf in the garage.
So the only thing our law does — besides making us feel like we’re doing something for Mary — is prevent Mary from getting her hands on the tool that she needs to save her life.
Now, we’re Christians here, and we need to see this situation as Christians. The real solution for this situation is not found in getting Mary a handgun nor in preventing Tony from getting his hands on one. The real solution for Mary and Tony is Jesus Christ. As God’s people, we need to gather around Mary and Tony (both!) and minister His grace and love to them both. In many cases just like this, miracles have happened.
Jesus is the answer.
But as Christians in a democracy, we are also the electorate, and we honor or dishonor God by the policies that we allow to be enacted in our name. Jesus is the answer there, too. I question whether our urge to disarm people reflects well on the Man who once told His disciples to sell their coats if necessary to buy a sword.