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I am Not a Gun-Virgin (and Other Responses to My Critics)

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Originally posted to on January 30, 2013.

Like everyone, I sometimes get into tit-for-tats online, but on those rare occasions in which I am being the better version of myself, I keep in mind that online discussions tend to generate more heat than light. The nastier the critics, the less likely they are to change their minds, and the more frustrated I am going to feel. So it is best to stay out of it.

But yesterday I received a "pingback" that led me to a couple of rather civil criticisms (here and here) of my latest piece in The Huffington Post. So I wanted to offer a brief response to a few points the authors make, which I have also seen reflected in other comments on my article. Perhaps this can be one of those rare internet moments when dialogue leads to mutual understanding.

First, I know what a semi-automatic weapon is. Some readers took the following sentence to mean I am ignorant about guns. To quote myself, "Let's ban weapons that can fire a dozen shots before a fallen deer even hits the ground." For the record, that was hyperbole. I own two rifles and a .38 Special (currently stored with a family member). I am not a gun "enthusiast," but my grandfather was. He taught me how to handle weapons, and I fired many of his (as well as a bunch of guns owned by my roommate's dad -- a local sheriff). I have not been to the range in a year, but there was a time in my life when I was going a couple of times a week. During my young and impressionable (stupid) years, I seriously contemplated joining the NRA.

Second, my article was not a policy proposal. Some readers have noted that "assault weapon" is an ambiguous term and have asked me to define it. I have thoughts on this, but they are beside the point. I was doing public theology, using oikonomia to suggest that focusing on the long-term often means attending to the near-term. Let's not get distracted.

Third, oikonomia is not about freedom. Both bloggers I mentioned above said that I am not using the concept of oikonomia rightly because it is about not enforcing a regulation rather than imposing a regulation. But that is to confuse the form of oikonomia with its substance -- compassion for the individual, governed by the recognition that sometimes we cannot get to the root of the problem without attending to the immediate need.

The debate over gun-control seems to boil down to a lot of assumptions both sides make about the other, and about what a safe society looks like. For instance, the NRA says an armed society deters criminals. I say that a gun makes it too easy to kill, both on purpose and on accident; weapons in the home are more dangerous to the people who live there than to any hypothetical invader (which is why I typically exhaust all my ammo at the range). I am also uncomfortable with living in a way that presumes mistrust and danger. I do not think that is consistent with a Christian witness, nor is it a sound basis for a civil society. (I will say more about this in an upcoming blog post and Things Not Seen broadcast). But that raises other assumptions, which I do not have time to address. My point is that there are many ideological divisions in our land, which our 24 hour news cycle tends to exacerbate. The only way to bridge these divides is to have a polite, but frank, conversation, which I am grateful to have engaged in. Mission accomplished.

Addendum: It occurred to me that some might think I implied that NRA members are stupid. To be clear, my comment about the stupid years referred only to my own stupidity.