Some Religious and Semi-Religious Thoughts on Gun Control: Part 2

The biggest problem afflicting the debate over how to prevent gun violence is the tendency among the debaters to approach the issue as a contest between themselves and their ideological enemies–a contest that must be won.  In the drive to win the culture war, or its latest battle, they neglect to take the crucial first step that should always precede all fights: make sure those they’re fighting are truly their enemies.  Failure to do this is always catastrophic, because people who would be allies if they took the time to ascertain each other’s sincere interests, instead end jup transforming those would-be friends into opponents.  Unnecessary fighting and strife result from this, of course, and the solutions become all the more unattainable.  But what’s worse, the combatants all too often end up abandoning the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ which they purport to hold dear in order to defend far less valuable turf.

Clearly, the Lord respected and honored the right and the necessity to protect against robbers and thieves, and broader threats to our safety and freedoms.  He spoke of them in his teachings.  See John 10:1-3, Luke 10: 30 and 12:33, 39.  In the Book of Mormon, we read in Alma 46 of Moroni, a man of God so determined to defend his people’s wives, children and freedom against Amalickiah’s forces that he actually had those who refused to help in that defense put to death.  Mormon said of him that if all men were like him, “the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever.”  See Alma 46 generally, and 48: 17.  He named his son after him.

Jesus was also all about honesty.  He never stooped to make intellectually dishonest points to win an argument.  He taught what he taught because it was both true and important, and if it meant the Sanhedrin wanted to kill him, that didn’t dissuade him.  He was a Jew, but that didn’t make him hesitant to criticize and disagree with Jewish religious beliefs.  He agreed with his apostles or family members when they were right, but disagreed with and corrected them when they were wrong.  He didn’t protect tribal interests, he protected only godly interests.  He even famously endorsed the necessity of paying taxes to Rome by instructing to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.”  But what do we do?  Do we not adopt flawed, dishonest arguments to silence our perceived foes, caring less about what’s right than about who might win the national debate, and the next election?

In the interest of full disclosure and intellectual honesty, let me state my background and biases:  I’m a lifelong social and religious conservative, in the strictest sense of the word. That is, I strive to conserve the scriptural teachings in the Bible and Book of Mormon, and the teachings of men and women who faithfully expound on them.  But I have never gone hunting, nor had any desire to do so, on moral grounds.  In fact, I’ve always been surprised how easy it is for others to enjoy it.  I don’t judge those that hunt, as I have my own behavior to concern myself with, but I am admittedly unsympathetic to the efforts of those who promote the right to hunt without a true need to do so.  And though I usually align myself with political conservatives, I feel free to disagree with them whenever I think they’re wrong.  While gun ownership is both prudent and constitutionally protected as a general matter, that doesn’t mean the right cannot be limited if the restrictions are rationally and closely tailored to achieve a legitimate governmental purpose.

These days, conservatives are often saying things like “If you’re going to ban guns, why don’t you ban unhealthy food?  And why don’t you ban cars, since they kill far more people than guns do?”  I don’t want conservative viewpoints to be discredited, but these are not logical arguments, and they help people oppose conservatives’ other good ideas because they mix in these bad ones.  Unhealthy food doesn’t need to be banned because it has no power to kill us if we don’t let it.  All we have to do is eat it sparingly, or not at all, and it has no effect on us.  But you can’t control whether someone shoots you or not, and the first bullet may very well kill you.  Cars are incredibly convenient devices that we use every day, and without which we cannot live efficiently.  They are so vitally necessary today that their utility easily outweighs the danger they pose when collisions occur.  My own son died in a car collision, but that risk is one we’re all willing to take when faced with the alternative.

Liberals, and some conservatives and independents, often highlight the damage guns do.  Guns truly make it easier for evil people to kill and maim innocent victims.  That’s undeniable.  But those who oppose gun ownership and possession overlook that like cars, guns do much good.  They protect us in our homes and against violent attackers on the street who would otherwise victimize us, and soldiers and law enforcement officers.  The debate on gun control laws should thus boil down to whether some guns are more dangerous than useful for civilian use, like explosives, or certain chemicals and drugs.  If so, laws that ban or significantly restrict them from civilian availability might reasonably reduce the number of casualties that result when a deranged person decides he want to kill a bunch of strangers to vent his frustrations.  If he’s using a knife or a handgun, he’ll kill far less people.  We will save lives, if not all lives.  And the shooter will  be easier for an armed defender to kill, if that’s the safest way to stop him.

Here are some questions relative to the “gun control debate” that I think all spiritually sincere and intellectually honest Christians, and hopefully non-Christians as well, ought to ask themselves, even if the answers are painful and might cause a re-evaluation of our views:  (In these questions, the word “right” will be used as a synonym for “morally justifiable and intellectually honest.”)

  • Is is not true that gun control opponents and proponents alike both validly claim protection of human lives as their ultimate goal?  Doesn’t that common ground deserve acknowledgement, and doesn’t it dwarf our differences all by itself?  Shouldn’t all our discussions start with this acknowledgement of everyone else’s honorable intentions?
  • When we argue that gun possession is a constitutional right, and attempt to apply it to all guns, is it right to ignore the fact that  rapid-fire semiautomatic and fully automatic rifles, capable of killing scores of people in a matter of seconds, didn’t exist when the Constitution’s Second Amendment was written and ratified?  Similarly, is it right to ignore the fact that during that same time, no instance of a deranged citizen using a rifle to quickly kill large numbers of fellow citizens in a crowded place had ever been recorded? Is it intellectually honest to argue that the founders of the Constitution intended that civilian possession of yet-uninvented assault rifles, which would enable the unprecedented and quick mass killing of civilians by other civilians who possessed them, be a constitutional right?  Wasn’t the U.S. Constitution designed to insure, among other things like national defense, “Justice” and “domestic Tranquility”?
  • Is it intellectually honest to argue that the problem of mentally imbalanced criminals using semiautomatic or fully automatic rifles to accomplish quick mass killings is a reason to make it legally harder for everyone to possess guns in general?  Is it not more honest to acknowledge the huge role that mental illness plays in mass shootings, and that mentally unstable people are much harder to control though stricter gun laws?
  • If our perceived ideological opponent has not argued that she seeks to dispossess you of all the guns you own, is it right to attack her as if she did argue that?
  • Regardless of your own political persuasion, is it right to deny that guns in the right hands are the most effective deterrent against any kind of weapon in the wrong hands, and that most Americans are nonviolent and law-abiding? And if we align ourselves with political groups who oppose widespread gun ownership, possession, and concealed carry permits, are we not making most Americans less able to protect themselves if we succeed?
  • If we oppose tighter background checks required for firearms purchases, are we honest to claim such a procedure somehow violates a constitutional right, or places an undue burden on gun ownership?  Are such measures more burdensome than the frequent airport scanning procedures we endure in the interest of safe flights?  Aren’t such objections more designed to deny your perceived legislative enemies any semblance of success and momentum?
  • Are we being completely honest with ourselves and others when we oppose controls on the distribution of rapid-fire weapons that can kill scores of people in a few seconds, on the grounds that we only possess those weapons to defend ourselves and our property?  Wouldn’t we be more honest if we admitted, when it’s true, that we loved to play army as kids, and we still love to watch movies where the heroes mow down the bad guys with assault rifles, and we love to fantasize about mowing down the bad guys ourselves?  Don’t a lot of us possess large caches of guns locked up in safes and cabinets for reasons having nothing to do with self-defense, but much to do with the fact that we enjoy shooting things that pose no threat to us?  Which is the more efficient way to defend yourself against a burglar, to try to get to your gun safe and unlock it,  grab the gun and prepare it for firing, and tote the heavy thing into the living room, or to grab your pistol from within arm’s reach and yell to the burglar that you have a gun?  How often do homeowners shoot burglars with assault rifles?  How often do they do foil robberies with assault rifles?  On police forces, why don’t patrol officers carry assault rifles for sudden emergencies?
  • If our perceived ideological opponent has no history whatsoever of using guns in a way harmful to human safety, and he advocates increased gun possession by responsible citizens, is it right to characterize his position as an attempt to return to the old Wild West, where disputes were commonly settled with gunfire?
  • Is it right to oppose the idea of more school teachers carrying concealed firearms, or at least possessing them at school, when in our heart of hearts, we know full well that if we heard of an active shooter at our own child’s school who was at the moment shooting students, we’d thank God if we later learned that some vigilant teacher shot him dead just as he aimed at our own child?
  • Since machine guns can be used to defend lives, should opponents of all gun control laws not logically press for their legalization, if the only difference between them and semiautomatic guns is that they take a few seconds less to kill scores of people?  If possession of semiautomatic rifles with full magazines is a constitutional right, surely machine guns are too.  And bazookas.  They’re all firearms.
  • Is it logically consistent to support prohibitions against Iran or North Korea possessing nuclear weapons or WMDs, but oppose domestic restrictions on civilians possessing WMDs in the form of assault rifles?  Aren’t we still trying to prevent mass killing of innocents?  Is it intellectually honest to object to semiautomatic rifles being called “assault rifles”, when they hold magazines full of bullets and can be fired three or four times a second?  Can you honestly deny that they were first designed for military assaults, so that soldiers could kill multiple enemy combatants quickly without having to carefully aim at each one, and without running out of bullets?  If you can honestly deny that, the only reason you can is because you have willfully failed to educate yourself on the issue.  From the Wikipedia article on the Armalite AR-15: 

    “The ArmaLite AR-15 was a select-fire, air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed assault rifle manufactured in the United States between 1959 and 1964. Designed by American gun manufacturer ArmaLite in 1956, it was based on its AR-10 rifle. The ArmaLite AR-15 was designed to be a lightweight assault rifle and to fire a new high-velocity, lightweight, small-caliber cartridge to allow the infantrymen to carry more ammunition.[4]

    “In 1959, ArmaLite sold its rights to the AR-10 and AR-15 to Colt due to financial difficulties.[5] After modifications (most notably, the charging handle was re-located from under the carrying handle like AR-10 to the rear of the receiver),[6] Colt rebranded it the Colt ArmaLite AR-15. Colt marketed the redesigned rifle to various military services around the world and it was subsequently adopted by the U.S. military as the M16 rifle, which went into production in March 1964.[4][7] The ArmaLite AR-15 rifle was not available for civilian use.[citation needed]

    “Colt continued to use the AR-15 trademark for its line of semi-automatic-only rifles marketed to civilian and law-enforcement customers, known as Colt AR-15. The Armalite AR-15 is the parent of a variety of Colt AR-15 & M16 rifle variants.”

  • If you claim that you use semiautomatic weapons for hunting, does that point negate the fact that semiautomatic weapons in the wrong hands enable quick mass killings?  Isn’t the reason you use those weapons for hunting because they make you a more successful killer, and give you more chances to drop the animal before it escapes?  Isn’t that the same way those guns work on people, and isn’t that in fact an argument against them being commonly accessible?  And on that point of hunting, are you sure your interest in killing mammals posing no threat to you whatsoever, and which you don’t need for food (since your vehicle and guns and gas cost far more than several sides of beef), is an important enough reason to make semiautomatic rifles generally available to the public?

As the reader might have discerned, I support legislative initiatives which restrict possession of semiautomatic rifles to law enforcement agencies and military personnel.  For those who already possess them and have a perfectly clean record of nonviolence and are free of drug addiction and mental illness, let them continue to possess these weapons, but only if they can certify that they’ll never allow access to them by prohibited persons.  If this means that going forward, sales of these weapons to new buyers will cease, that’s a result we should we willing to live with in the interest of the common welfare.  There are lots of things we used to be able to buy and possess, which we no longer can, but life expectancy has continued to increase.  Semiautomatic weapons are simply not useful enough to civilians, given the myriad other kinds of effective guns available to them, to outweigh the danger of mass murder they pose when they fall into the wrong hands.  We’ve had enough mass killings where these guns were used, as we all seem to see clearer as soon as it’s our child, grandchild, spouse or parent who’s shot.

I also think we ought to pay significant salary bonuses to school teachers or professors who are willing to legally possess guns on school campuses, and to use them if a Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook or Parkland situation recurs.  No teacher should be compelled or expected to do this, but those who are willing to step forward and perform this service ought to be financially rewarded for assuming that risk.  They would of course have to be screened to determine their mental fitness and past history, but I get the feeling they’d be more than happy to do so.

And if these measures seem too onerous or scary, I urge you to pray to God and see if his sympathies lie with you, or with the growing list of those who’ve lost loved ones to mass shootings.  As we read in Mosiah 18:9 that Alma urged, as a Christian, do as much as you can to show that you’re “willing to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”

 

16 thoughts on “Some Religious and Semi-Religious Thoughts on Gun Control: Part 2

  1. Great thoughts here. I completely agree that everyone benefits from carefully thinking where their arguments on gun control really stem from, and if they’re mainly from political loyalty, then we’re never going to get anywhere.
    One key point that I didn’t hear you address was the argument that everyone needs the right for high-powered weapons so 1776 could happen again if the need ever arose. I don’t know what I think of this argument, since from a practical standpoint, citizens standing up to the US military is absurd, no matter what weapons a few radicals might possess. I think it comes down to choosing what is most important to us, curbing mass shootings or preserving the possibility of future revolution. I think our intense pride in the founding fathers and the American revolution motivates conservatives to stick to their guns (cough) more than people do in Europe or other places. Right now, I agree with your ideas for legislative approaches. But it’s possible that some catastrophic turn of future events could change our minds.

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    • Thanks, Hugh. I didn’t respond to the argument you referenced because I’ve never heard of it. That one’s really, really out there. I would expect the “We have to be able to fight off the Muslims when they come for us” more than the one you referenced. From what I’ve seen, a huge number of these gun owners own virtual arsenals, but I guess they’ll never feel they have enough firepower.

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  2. I liked your argument. I think i could agree with it. I actually had no idea that anyone would use a semi automatic gun for hunting game. Where is the sport in that? I know this misses your point, but do people really do that? To your larger point, yes, we all want the same thing–the safety of our children. But politics will always mess everything up. Nice essay. And thanks.

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    • Thanks for your comment, Barbara. I myself didn’t know until about a week ago that hunters were now using semiautomatic rifles for hunting. They ought to be ashamed of themselves. I’ve never considered hunting of any kind to be a sport, so I had to try extra hard not to let my writing drip with contempt when I dealt with the argument of hunters that semiautomatic rifles are acceptable because we hunt with even more powerful ones these days than the ones used to commit mass murder. I’d like a general authority to give a talk like Spencer W. Kimball gave decades ago and say to church members, “Don’t shoot the little birds!” If none of them have the heart for it, or if none of them agree, I’d be more than willing to give the talk myself. I think lots of people would.

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  3. As the commentator Kurt Schlichter pointed out in a tongue-in-cheek advise column given to dating couples, the correct answer to the question as to how many guns he/she owns would be “not nearly enough!!”

    I believe it was Winston Churchill who coined the notion that “If you are young and not a liberal, you have no heart. If you are older and not a conservative, you have no brain.” Coming from a family whose father was a gun-nut (100+ firearms in the house…many of them loaded…), I once subscribed to the notion that an AR-15 or AK-47 (more correctly, an SK-47) type of weapon had no place in the hands of citizens. When I expressed this view to my father ’round about the time I was graduating from college, my father was extremely offended. Unfortunately, he did not possess the tact nor patience to articulate why he thought I was wrong. At the time, I thought the Second Amendment was all about hunting. Now that I am older and have an even greater understanding of history, I understand that the Second Amendment really has nothing to do with hunting and EVERYTHING to do with being a citizen (as opposed to a subject) and the self-evident fact that every person has a responsibility to provide their own security for themselves and their family.

    Yes…it would be nice if we could foist that responsibility on government or someone else to do that “dirty work”…but we have to recognize that when seconds count, the police are minutes away. Plus, how can we place the responsibility for our own protection on some stranger employed by government if we are unwilling to provide it for ourselves? Why would we expect someone else has an obligation to put their lives on the line to assist us when our own lives are on the line?

    Reading through your commentary here, I agree with many points you make, but have to disagree with your assessment that AR-15 type rifles should be banned for all except law enforcement and military. The foremost consideration is that these rifles makes their owners citizens and not subjects. Read the Wikipedia article on the April, 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising to see a rather extreme case of why AR-15s could possibly be needed when things go bad. Remember that the United States experience in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere largely have been opposed by peasents armed with AK-47s…so even the mighty US (and Russian, in the case of Afghanistan) militaries have had fits trying to bring these insurrections to heal. The second consideration is that these weapons are VERY effective defensive weapons…much more so I believe than a handgun. This is something one can learn by utilizing these weapons on a range.

    The recoil of an AR-15 is slight. It is very easy to control, and is very accurate…even when shot “from the hip”. Handguns, on the other hand, are quite inaccurate, and are harder to keep “on target” because of the recoil and need to regain sight alignment after each shot. For home defense, given a choice between say a Glock 19 or an AR-15, the AR is far superior.

    A recent case out of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma illustrates this point.

    http://www.tulsaworld.com/communities/wagoner/news/woman-arrested-after-broken-arrow-area-man-fatally-shoots-three/article_55328216-4dda-5991-838c-1db99e20014e.html

    Three teenage burglars entered the home of a gentleman in March, 2017 armed with brass knuckles and a knife. They were confronted by the homeowners 23-year old son, who shot all three dead. The female “getaway driver” was arrested and charged with three counts of murder and three counts of burglary.

    I would be happy to take you out on the range and let you see for yourself how much more easy it is to control, aim and fire an AR-15 as opposed to the Glock 19 type handguns typically used for concealed carry. I’m sure Bramlett would join.

    Bottom line–before you advocate for limiting law-abiding citizens their Second Amendment rights re: “assault rifles”, you might want to see for yourself why these weapons are as popular as they are. And why examples such as that in Broken Arrow come as no surprise to those familiar with the AR-15. And though I am not a hunter, I believe these weapons helps to establish me as a citizen, and not a subject.

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    • As we’ve discussed in person for hours, the essay you’re responding to isn’t an anti-gun essay. It endorses the utility of citizens being armed. However, I don’t agree with any of your arguments about AR-15s, which are assault rifles, much as you hate that term. They were designed to be used in military combat by soldiers so they could kill larger numbers of enemy soldiers more quickly and efficiently. When first manufactured, they were sold exclusively to the military. Your reference to the Broken Arrow incident doesn’t help your point, because you can’t show that the killing was necessary in the first place, or that using an AR-15 was the most efficient way to accomplish that killing. The three youthful burglars possessed no guns, so if the 23 year-old gun enthusiast shooter felt he had to kill them, it’s wrong to believe he couldn’t have done so more quickly and easily with a semi-automatic handgun. As a 30-year criminal prosecutor, I say with confidence that taking the time to retrieve an assault rifle from a locked safe or cabinet in the dark, with your back turned away from wherever the burglars are, and then get that weapon out and look for burglars is a stupid way to react to a burglary. It takes way too much time and it endangers your own safety while you’re retrieving your gun. The best way is to grab the handgun next to your bed, yell loudly that you’ve got a gun, and the burglars will quickly run out of your house. If for any reason they don’t, fire a warning shot into something soft and they’ll be convinced. Assault rifles not only aren’t necessary for defending against burglars, they handicap you in acting quickly. Halting their sale will have zero impact on the ability of people to defend against burglars. Even police, when they’re clearing a house of potential human threats, do so very quickly with handguns. There’s a reason for that.

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      • Technically, M-16s (and today’s M-4s) are military fully-automatic weapons. The AR-15 designation is specifically targeted to civilian use as a semi-automatic weapon, and always has been ONLY for civilian use. (I’m trying to demonstrate how illiterate you are on these things…because of your obvious bias against this particular weapon…which is the same bias as that demonstrated by Chucky Shumer and Dianne Feinstein.)

        You don’t address that I am offering to try to diminish your biases through a demonstration. An AR-15 is not nearly as useless as your biases are trying to rationalize. Even an untrained/unskilled user of an AR-15 can accurately and efficiently use this weapon with rudimentary training…unlike a handgun. Yes…that makes them more lethal…but also makes them safer because you can better put your rounds on target. Recently, the San Francisco Police Department had a shootout with handguns where the police fired 65 rounds…and not one hit the suspect who was firing at them. (The suspect fired three shots with a handgun, and not surprisingly didn’t hit any of his attempted targets either.) If given a choice in my home of using an AR-15 over a handgun, the AR wins every time because I can be much more confident I am placing those rounds where I want them to go.

        Finally, you don’t address the issue of being a citizen as opposed to being a subject. With today’s technology, the AR-15 is much more likely to serve to make people citizens. This goes to the 1776 objection raised above by your brother. The second amendment states the “right” of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Your AR-15 ban infringes on that right. I have the right to insist that you don’t have the right to disarm citizens as you propose.

        Maybe you think the weapon just looks to scary, as Dianne Feinstein once opined. Would that God would grant that we have no need to use them against others. But if that possibility becomes a reality, shame on you for depriving “citizens” of the most effective tools to get the job done.

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      • You’re wrong about the AR-15, Alan. It was first manufactured for miliatary use, and sold exclusively for that purpose for a few years.
        You also are ignoring what I’ve repeatedly told you, which is that I’ve already been to the shooting range and shot an AR-15. And I know a lot about home invasions and burglaries, as a career prosecutor. If assault rifles were an efficient way to clear a house of possibly armed intruders, cops would go into the house with assault rifles instead of the handguns they actually use. It’s close quarters, the weight of the gun, and the need to occupy both hands to carry it that make its firing range capabilities irrelevant inside homes. Finally, I would point out that in Roe v. Wade, abortion rights advocates used the same argument you’re now using to find a constitutional right that doesn’t actually exist in the constitution. The right to bear arms can only be reasonably be consrued to mean those arms, and those dangers, which the founders were familiar with when they wrote the 2nd Amendment. Otherwise, “arms” has an unlimited meaning, as shown by the acronym S.A.L.T., where the A stood for arms, and meant nuclear bombs and missiles. I’m sure Islamic terrorist cells would be happy to adopt your interpretation, though.

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    • Both sides would have liked AR-15s, but as it was, the GIs didn’t kill anybody. With AR-15s involved, the carnage would have been worse on both sides. But this event was a battle between a criminal regime on the one hand, and vigilante G.I.s on the other hand. In my opinion, the lessons to be learned from small southern town shootouts with criminals are hard to define, and don’t provide a reliable basis for national gun policy 72 years later.

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      • I mentioned the episode to illustrate that such has happened in our country. Don’t let your biases keep you from being educated.

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      • But the episode doesn’t educate us on any point under consideration in the current debate. And If I wanted to keep from being educated, I wouldn’t have read the article.

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  4. Hugh is right. There are a large number of gun proponents out there that have a secret terror that if we give up our AR-15s (and you are right, your discussion points will all be dismissed if you suggest those are assault rifles), then the next day all our guns will be taken from us, and the day after that our government will corner us, send us to camps, and in all ways control us, because we gave an inch on guns. They believe this with all their hearts.

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    • Yes, I’ve learned in the last 24 hours that you’re right. One of my siblings appears to believe that way, as you can tell from reading her post on her blog. It was hard for me to believe this is a serious argument even by fanatics, but fanaticism has now been normalized.

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