I have chosen never to carry or use a firearm ever again. I made that choice not because of a fundamentalist attitude toward guns, but rather because I am entirely too good with them. I reached a place in my faith journey where I realized that I would rather die than be responsible for taking another human life… although protecting the lives of those I love might challenge my commitment never to use a firearm again. But put simply, my religious faith prevents me from using weapons anymore… because I am entirely too good with them. If it were not for the requirement that military chaplains neither use nor carry (nor even touch) firearms as a part of their official military role, I could not serve as a military chaplain.
Being a good shot with firearms is in my blood. I am only a few generations removed from some Tennessee mountain men who depended upon their ability with a rifle to put food on the table. My great-grandfather was a famous soldier and marksman. My grandfather was a WWII Anti-Aircraft gunner with over 7 Japanese planes to his credit. My father’s ability with a pistol would have made him a trick-shot in the old west, had he been alive then… as a “Revenuer” in the Tennessee hills his 357 Magnum was not just for show. In the earliest days of my military career, I qualified expert with both the rifle and the grenade… and my ability continued to develop the entire time I was in enlisted service (I’m now commissioned, not enlisted).
In the wake of the recent mass shooting in Tucson Arizona, there has been a resurgence of calls for “Gun Control” measures to be passed. I stated in an earlier article that while I do support sensible Gun Control, I have never stated what I mean by that… and why I hold the position that I do. I do not believe that any Gun Control measures will stop or even significantly lessen the impact or tragedy of mass shootings, because I believe that such shootings are coming from deep identity issues within American culture. These identity issues include a vitriolic public discourse, where politicians seek to divide the American people for political expediency. It includes a culture where violence has come to be not only celebrated, but our main form of entertainment. It includes the beginnings of a reversion to an understanding of mental illness as resulting from personal sin (though we don’t always use that language). It comes from a fame-seeking culture where if you kill a bunch of people, everyone will learn your name and see your face on national television, and people will write books trying to understand why you did what you did. It comes from a loss of respect in public life, and from the idea that we can protect ourselves with enough security…
I believe we focus on Gun Control arguments in the aftermath of such a mass shooting because we do not want to deal with the profound cultural issues that rest at the heart of such shootings. Though Gun Control is more than difficult in the United States, it is far easier than trying to change the culture of violence that created our entertainment industry, or the culture of fame that has created our media industry. We do not want to deal with our own feelings of superiority/inferiority that lead to how we approach mental illness, nor do we want to look for a way to completely re-imagine our politics to take into account that the world is not as simple as good vs. evil.
There is also, to my mind, a significant fallacy in the moral logic of believing that Gun Control is the solution to such mass shootings, in that it accepts the premise that such shootings are going to happen, and all we can do is make it as difficult as possible, and try to limit the damage. Making getting firearms more difficult (and that’s not what Gun-bans do) does not prevent mass-killings. It only means the killer needs to be a little more industrious. Banning high-capacity magazines only means the killer has to bring more guns. Even without additional firearms, why is firing 15 rounds into a crowd more acceptable than firing 30? Morality and our cultural responsibility are about more than the numbers.
Now, I am completely in favor of sensible and effective “Gun Control”. I believe the current near free-for-all in the production and distribution of firearms is morally reprehensible. I believe that the Second Amendment has been twisted into a pretzel by constitutional fundamentalists who have completely forgotten the first clause and focused solely on the second. “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State…”
I believe that what has happened in this country is that the two clauses to the Second Amendment have been separated, to our nation’s great detriment. We do not have a “well regulated militia” as the writers of the constitution understood it. Many people point to our Reserve and National Guard forces as if they are this “well regulated militia”, but that is not, in my opinion, true anymore. Reserve forces (like me) are federal troops, not militia. National Guard forces are nominally under state control, but they are primarily trained and funded with federal money, and they are more and more being used as operational federal forces, focused on overseas deployment.
The intent of the second amendment was that everyone who had a firearm would be under some form of close regulation and monitoring as they served as part of a “well regulated militia”. The truth of our current situation is that most people who own firearms today, legally as well as illegally, are under very little regulation past the point of legal sale, and are under no supervision after the point of sale. They are not receiving training in care, use, and safety by a militia command; they are not being regularly assessed for their stability by a militia chaplain or command chain. They are not registered as militia forces, so we do not even know who owns weapons, where they are, or what training they have with them.
So, by the absence of a mandatory “well regulated militia” remaining connected to the “right to keep and bear arms”, we have arrived at a situation where there is almost no control of the ownership and use of firearms in our nation. What militias do exist certainly do not qualify as being “well regulated”, at least not in the sense of having any connection to formal political authority.
If I could wave a magic wand, all gun ownership in America would require the owner to be part of such a “well regulated” militia organization… similar to the system that you see in Switzerland or Israel. If you own a weapon, you should receive actual training in its use and safety, and regular supervision and monitoring of your mental fitness and intent in its use. Gun ownership should have specific obligations that go along with the right of ownership… no right should ever be held without such obligations.
Yet, I fear that the chance of such a system in the United States is long past the point of possibility, and so we are left with an almost impossible situation. The Gun free-for-all that has existed off and on for the last two centuries or more has left us with a situation in which we are the most personally armed country in the world. Even if we never sold another new gun in America ever again, there would still be more than Two Hundred and Fifty Million firearms held in personal hands in America. Add all the firearms held in government hands, and the number is even more astounding.
Unless we want to embark on a program of confiscating the millions of firearms held in personal hands in our country, (the most assured way I can think of to spark a second Civil War), our efforts at Gun Control have to take in the reality that the majority of guns themselves are well beyond our ability to control them. With the exception of the absolute necessity to prevent military weaponry from being in other than military hands, we need to craft “Gun Control” laws that focus on the ways that people use such weaponry, not whether they can have the weapons in the first place.
Every ban of an item in human history has produced an illegal market for such items… and such illegal markets are by definition beyond the reach of government regulation and oversight, and produce far more collateral problems than a well regulated legal market for the item would. I am amazed that many progressives and liberals can see this trend clearly when it comes to the movement to legalize drugs such as marijuana, but do not see that the same process works in efforts to make the sale of firearms illegal. The prohibition of alcohol in the United States had the same effect. Blanket bans of firearms do not prevent firearms (be they pistols or assault weapons) from ending up in the hands of those who will use them… they only remove any and all forms of oversight and regulation while exponentially increasing the incidence of violence and corruption associated with them.
If you ban high-capacity magazine clips, you create an illegal market for such clips. Having created an illegal market, to remove all capacity to oversee and regulate such a market, and you increase the violence and corruption associated with the existence of such an illegal market. There are few trends in human behavior more clear than this one.
So, effective and sensible “gun control” should not focus on controlling the guns, but rather on controlling the people who own guns. There should be rigorous and regular mental, physical, and safety testing of anyone who owns a firearm. All firearm ownership should be registered. Anyone who owns a firearm should be part of an organization that helps monitor the use and care of said firearm. Systems should be developed and enforced that keep firearms from being owned by those with known criminal records or significant mental instability. Everyone who owns a firearm should be required to annually qualify on that weapon, not just in using it but in knowing how to care for it and keep it safe. The sale of firearms should be both legal and heavily regulated. Everyone who owns a firearm should be connected to some kind of supportive duty as the responsibility of that ownership, be it as a member of a police auxiliary, a State sponsored militia, or a civil defense organization.
The right to keep and bear arms also comes with the responsibility for that right. We’ve been too long focusing on our rights, and ignoring our responsibilities.
Yours in faith,