I sat at the kitchen table yesterday morning with my 5-year-old son in my lap. He was drawing pictures of the jockeys’ silks for the Kentucky Derby, which he saw prominently displayed on the front page of the Louisville Courier-Journal. Just below the picture of the colorful jockey silks, I was reading the headline about somebody else’s son: "5-year-old Kentucky boy killed 2-year-old sister with rifle marketed for children."
Turns out this little boy took his .22 caliber, “My first rifle,” marketed by Milton, Pa.-based Keystone Sporting Arms LLC, and accidentally shot his 2-year-old sister in the chest, killing her. Cumberland County Coroner, Gary White, characterized the shooting as "just one of those crazy accidents," suggesting that “the parents had left the rifle in a corner next to the boy's BB gun and didn't realize that it still had a shell in it.”
That I am a father of a 5-year-old boy makes this news especially painful. I cannot imagine the grief that family is facing right now.
What I can’t for the life of me figure out, however, is how it is that we live in a country where not only can 5-year-olds possess guns, but just as importantly, how it is that we live in a country where a corporation makes money marketing weapons to babies. The common response to those questions by gun rights advocates generally involves some assertion that the constitutional wording about the right to bear arms isn’t vague or ambiguous.
Why is this the common response of gun rights advocates when gun violence occurs?
But come on. What overheated paranoiac sector of Apocalyptopolis do you have to live in to believe that you are America’s (well-armed) defender against the inevitable encroachments of the one-world shadow government?
And have those offering “armed revolution” in the face of governmental tyranny as an option ever stopped to consider that the agents of American despotism whose blood they would presumably be spilling are police officers and military personnel?
More to the point, for my purposes, how exactly does marketing gun-lets for post-toddlers place a hedge on the public lawn against tyranny?
What possible civic good does the Second Amendment still serve?
An argument could reasonably be advanced that it made a certain amount of practical sense when written. But we no longer fear His Majesty’s agents of war threatening our newfound liberties from behind every oak tree. If it made sense at one point, it no longer makes the same kind of sense. In general, we risk civic sclerosis by flash-freezing the historical wisdom of a particular moment as if it were an eternal verity delivered for ensuing generations world without end.
Still, I vaguely understand how viewing the right to bear arms operates as a set of first principles for some, the sine qua non of democratic liberty for a certain segment of those engaged in public discourse. I don’t agree with it; I think they’re wrong, but I have an idea why some people see ensuring access to weapons as indispensable to American freedom.
What I don’t get is why a segment of Christianity feels it necessary to defend the Second Amendment, as if it were worthy of some sort of sacred deference. The Constitution certainly deserves an appropriate amount of respect, but it’s a working document -- intended by its drafters to be amended as new situations with new exigencies arose. It was written on parchment, not delivered from heaven by the archangel Gabriel.
Human authorship of the Second Amendment, however, doesn’t deter the Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association, Bryan Fischer, from claiming that the amendment “is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, not least of all in the teaching of Jesus himself.” He goes so far as to say that Jesus commanded his disciples to prepare to “defend [themselves], with lethal force if necessary.”
All right. Let’s mark it as read that Bryan Fischer is a wing nut, who doesn’t necessarily represent the mainstream, of even conservative Christianity. The problem is, though, guns and Christians are found together in bed at an increasingly alarming rate. The Rev. Michael Roehl, a Lutheran pastor in Bismarck, N.D., for instance, argues that a right to carry guns in church -- which, according to the recently signed North Dakota law, allows for guns to be worn in church -- ought to be up to individual churches, since Jesus didn’t really have a negative view of violence in the name of self-defense, and may have, in fact, promoted it.
WWJD? If attacked, apparently, administer a little ballistic therapy.
It takes an exceptionally pliable hermeneutic to read the Gospels and come away thinking that the one who abjured violence (Luke 6:29), who commanded his followers to love their enemies (Matthew 5:44), and who, when given the chance to engage in “armed resistance” against tyranny, chose to absorb violence rather than inflict it (John 18:10-11) was, you know, cool with the Second Amendment.
And here’s the problem: Not only is it bad exegesis that bastardizes the entire thrust of the gospel of self-sacrifice that Jesus embodied, but metaphorically attempting to fit a gun in Jesus’ hands casts even greater doubt on the whole “Jesus thing” among those who already think Christianity is for kooks and warmongers.
Because in the end, we’re still left to explain to a family that made a huge mistake that while they’re free to own guns, they’re no longer free from the consequences of our unhealthy attachment to the Second Amendment.