The Gun Fight (Part 3): Responsibilities

*Posted by Kirk Spencer


My dad taught me the basics of gun responsibility—find the safety and keep it on… never point a gun in the direction of a person… keep the gun unloaded, un-cocked, with your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot, and, when you shoot, make sure all persons are up range (behind you).  He taught me how to load and unload safely, how to break-down our guns and clean them… and how to store them securely.  Though I didn’t recognize it at the time, I was growing-up in a gun culture, but certainly not a culture of violence.   My dad and granddads and uncles were the kind of men you felt safe to be around.  I knew they could take care of themselves and they would certainly take care of me.  They ran toward a crisis rather than away.  They were quick to take responsibility upon themselves and would never pass off responsibility given to them onto someone else—especially in a time of crisis.  Their actions were based upon a long heritage of commonsense wisdom, gleaned from many generations of the pioneering spirit.  They didn’t say much, but when they did, it was something worth hearing.  The men who mentored me taught me not to fear firearms.  They also taught me compassion… and acted compassionately throughout their lives.  They believed in the simple truths they had inherited, living by a code of honor learned from being raised in the company of other honorable men.  As a kid, I thought all men were like this—those C.S. Lewis might call “men with chests.” 

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Gun Responsibility

Beyond the basics, there are other gun responsibilities.  For instance, if the gun-owner chooses to bear a firearm for safety purposes, in my opinion, this person should search their soul to determine if they are bearing a firearm just to make themselves feel empowered or if they are truly interested in protecting innocent lives.  If so, then this person should determine, in no uncertain terms, that they are capable of taking another person’s life to protect innocent people.  And if someone is taking responsibility for putting themselves in this situation, they should also be responsible enough to take combat training.

Considering combat training brings up another responsibility of gun owners that was clear to the founding fathers.  When the second amendment was written, it was not about hunting rights, nor was it simply to bear government issue arms in military service, but it was about civilians owning and keeping firearms, as a private possession, to protect their lives, their families, their property—and their freedoms.  The second amendment, which guarantees this right, is the only amendment in the Bill of Rights with a stated purpose.  Its stated purpose is to provide for the functioning of militias.  The founding fathers, especially the anti-federalist, did not trust the idea of a federal government.  It was obvious to them that disarming the electorate would be one of the first necessary steps toward tyranny.   The anti-federalists believed it would be up to the states and the state militias to restore and secure the freedoms of the states and the people.  While this was a real fear of the founding fathers, it is considered “crazy talk” today (and there are certainly crazy people who engage in cult-like paramilitary activity that often use the term “militia”).   However, in historical terms, for two centuries we have settled into the security of seeing national powers (France, Britain and Spain) retreat from North America and, at the same time, have experienced five generations of a moral electorate, living according to a constitution designed to separate and share powers.  After all this time, we no longer fear invasion from without or tyranny from within.  And this is reasonable.

Yet, if our generation is seeing a fundamental transformation in which the moral ambiguity and skepticism taught for generations in our public education system is spreading into an electorate which routinely elect leaders who no longer protect or abide by the constitution; and this while we are talking of unilaterally disarming ourselves; and this while weapon technologies are rapidly expanding in the very countries that are politically unstable and antagonistic to the United States; and all the while our borders are wide open—when this fundamental transformation is complete—we may wake up and find our constitution has been spoiled, our leadership is AWOL and our enemies are at the gate.  Not to put too fine a point on it—Islamic and communistic aggressor nations, united and motivated by their hatred for the “colonialist” and “capitalist” United States of America, are certainly pleased that the United States refuses to secure its boarders, and they are encouraged by the United States talks of unilaterally disarming itself… and they are certainly happy to hear that the United Sates is attempting to ban all military style rifles and high capacity magazines(though they may be confused at the logic of doing it based upon the fact that only about 0.003% of gun homicides involve military-style rifles).   However, it may be that the leaders in these aggressor nations share the same ideology with many American leaders that guns are dangerous and thus don’t believe that people should be able to own guns.  Both prefer that Americans be completely disarmed (although talk of banning assault weapon actually causes many more American citizens to arm themselves with these very weapons).  The leadership in nations that use hatred for the U.S. to empower themselves would also agree with many gun-control activists that American citizens should defend themselves with chairs and fire extinguishers (as at Ft. Hood), or ball-point pens (as in the Arizona shooting), or by throwing rocks (as at the Norway shooting).  Some gun-control activists have assured us that there is always “passive resistance,” such as fainting and/or urinating on yourself (of course this might be somewhat redundant in horrifying situation where law-abiding citizens are not allowed to bear arms).

The constitution itself provides a way to deal with the second amendment—amend the constitution to remove or modify it.   However, if our free country refuses to take the constitutional route of constitutional amendment and attempts to disarm Americans by executive announcements and legislative actions—because our country is a free country—only those who would freely disarm will be disarmed.  Outlaws will use the benefits of freedom, in a free country, and continue to keep and bear their arms as the law abiding population is disarmed.  (Tyrants would use force of arms to disarm both outlaws and “inlaws”…  Tyrants would simply take all by force.  It is even possible, in strictly human terms, that a tyrannical warlord could provide more security in a culture without a moral electorate, or a constitution that separates and shares powers.  It would at least avoid the idiocy of an ideology that believes it can end gun violence by passing laws.)

As it stands now, Americans are not disarmed.  There are millions of the civilian versions of the military issue M-16 assault rifle (known as the AR-15) in homes across the country (and more being added every day as the talk of an assault weapon ban continues).   In many ways the M-16 (AR-15) is the musket of today, designed to keep secure the freedom of a free state.  And the military does not make its “muskets” to look scary…  The scary parts have functions—heat dissipation, flash suppression, mass distribution, recoil reduction, muzzle rise suppression, impact absorption and corrosion resistance.  These “muskets” are most often chambered for the common, long range, .223 cartridge which is powerful and accurate in both military and hunting fire arms.  The AR-15 is mass produced in a way that keeps the price low (or at least the prices were low until folks started talking about banning them—now they cost thousands of dollars).  The M-16 (AR-15) is the most popular military-style weapon ever, and its popularity is not primarily because of its quality and design alone.  It has been seen in more movies, TV shows and news reports than any other rifle.  If the media makes celebrities of actors, then it can also make a “celebrity” firearm… just as the media can make celebrities of “bad guys” of all varieties.

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Media Responsibility

You should have the freedom to create whatever is in your mind.  Of course, you have to pay a price for that. ~ Ang Lee

The Oscar winning director Ang Lee is right, there is a price to pay for what we make for others to consume—and what we consume ourselves.  This is especially important in considering the impact of the various media in our media-saturated lives.  As it relates to our “culture of violence,” there is a perennial debate over whether the mass media, such as movies, television and video games, initiate violent actions; or only perpetuate the violence already begun from other motives; or just reflects the violence that would exist in the same proportions, even without any encouragement from the mass media.  There is anecdotal evidence where young boys have killed someone and then said they did it “just to see what it was like to really do it.”    And characters in a recent movie encourage a gun crime with this unfortunate line: “Pretend like it’s a videogame, like you’re in a movie.”   I once heard of a few ambiguous studies which correlate watching violence and acting it out… I say ambiguous because the irritation and aggravation that leads to violence is correlated to time watching the screen, not necessarily the violent content.  In other words, there was no significant difference in watching violent programming and watching the same amount of Barney the Purple Dinosaur.

It is reasonable to assume that gun violence in entertainment would lead to violence in society.  However, as violence has increased in the media, it has decreased in society (although this may be due, at least in part, to higher and longer incarceration rates).  However, while overall gun violence is down, mass shooting have increased with increasing violence in the media.  Considering this with the fact that most mass shooting involve mental instability, it is possible (though not necessarily correct) to speculate that increased violence in the make-believe world of the media does influence minds which have a hard time distinguishing real from make-believe (especially when they are off their medication).

The driving force in the entertainment/money-making business is the ever-increasing competition for audience which seems to require an ever-increasing level of exploitation.  Depictions of gun violence, and other vices, are simply part of this exploitation.   The creator and executive producer of the television program “Sons of Anarchy,” in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, admitted he wanted his show to be provocative and compelling just to cut through the noise and clutter over everything out there.  He explains how this is done:

…and it seems that horror and violence and gore and sex are the things that cut through the noise.  Not that we’re all idiots, but it’s like someone shaking the keys.  Look over here!  That’s what’s going on in terms of these shows that tend to one-up each other with the level of gore and violence.

After some horrific act of gun violence, a wave of emotional inertia is perpetuated by heartbreaking testimony and disturbing images.  There is an almost palpable belief that something must be done immediately—there is a demand for a plan and change for change sake, and votes for voting’s sake—in most cases just to push through some particular political agenda.  In these times of media generated crisis, the media itself can be confronted with the possibility of exercising some responsibility and toning down the exploitation.   When this happens there is generally some talk about eventually talking about the subject, but everyone seems to be just biding their time until things blow over.  A movie premier might be postponed, or even cancelled, if the violence is really off-the-chain, such as the hyper-violent “Django Unchained” (whose premier was cancelled in the wake of New Town).  It takes something really creepy to get Hollywood to even reshoot a scene.  For instance, after the Aurora Movie Theatre shooting, a scene from the movie “Gangster Squad” was reshot because it involved a large number of innocent people being shot to death in a movie theatre—all for good fun and to make a buck.  So much fun in fact, that to make even more bucks this scene was put into the finale of the movie trailer.  And this trailer for “Gangster Squad” was actually shown in the release of the “Dark Knight Rises.” [1]   But one thing is clear, through all sorts of horrifying events, the movie schedule and programming continues with its horrifyingly violent entertainment, rolled out as a long series of serial killings where the Bones of the American Horror Story reveals the Sons of Anarchy Breaking Bad and Following the Walking Dead to the Fringe of destruction—so don’t expect Hollywood to be a new town after Newtown.

Glorifying and romanticizing gun violence as an acceptable form of conflict resolution (and even dialogue), has a normalizing effect on something that is not normal.   This is especially true when guns find their way into the hands of “antiheroes” (an antihero is a bad-guy presented in a way to make him a sympathetic role model).   A similar antihero phenomenon can happen in real life with wall to wall coverage of violent news events.  To fill up air time, networks are quick to present any and all information (including an increasing amount of misinformation).  In the process, the religious and political (and other) views of the perpetrators are repeated, even inadvertently “advertising” their YouTube, Facebook and websites.  All the while, telegenic people, such as important news personalities and attractive bystanders, are shown engrossed in the events, demonstrating the appropriate amount of worrisomeness,  commenting with non-judgmental comments.  Amid the carnivalesque excitement I have even heard attempts to make excuses or find reasons for such violence with various backstories and a “buffet” of various social commentators.  Even when authorities “get tough” and speak of bringing the celebrity antiheroes to justice, “justice” usually means life in prison with room and board and three hot meals a day.  The saturation airing of a tragedy spreads the tragedy; and not just as a spectacle spread around the country as part of media circus, but in reality.  One tragedy can lead to another, when the sensationalism tempts other unstable minds (or just really evil people) to act on their violent fantasies and get people’s attention to make a statement and a name for themselves.   The Virginia Polytechnic shooter had fantasies about the earlier Columbine Shooting and the Thurston High School Shooter said he admired the Westside Middle School shooters (two months earlier).  The shooter at the Sandy Hook Elementary School had researched several mass murders and had a particular fascination with a Norwegian man who shot and killed 67 people (mostly teenagers).

The certainty of continuous coverage of a violent event can possibly lead some to perpetrate extreme violence just to become a “celebrity.”  In the published manifesto of the cop-killing cop in L.A. there is even a series of notes to famous people.  Evidently he knew he could become a “celebrity” and enter the media world of other celebrities if he killed enough people.  Famous people would read his notes he had written to them—because he would be “famous” too (and many of the celebrities did read his notes, some even commented).  Here is one of his celebrity notes:

…It’s kind of sad I won’t be around to view and enjoy The Hangover III. What an awesome trilogy. Xx xx, don’t make anymore Hangovers after the third, takes away the originality of its foundation. World War Z looks good and The Walking Dead season 3 (second half) looked intriguing. Damn, gonna miss shark week…  Christopher Walz, you impressed me in Inglorious Basterds. After viewing Django Unchained, I was sold. I have come to the conclusion that you are well on your way to becoming one of the greats if not already and show glimpses of Daniel Day Lewis and Morgan Freeman-esque type qualities of greatness. Trust me when I say that you will be one of the greatest ever.[2]

Exploitation media participates in an overload of seeming greatness (even if it is ill-gotten “greatness”).  And this is happening in the context of a dominant media culture which precipitates the same moral ambiguity our public educational institutions has been teaching for several generations.   Because of this, we may be entering our “Crime and Punishment” moment—when someone attempts to live out the amorality they have been taught.  Hitchcock made a movie about it in “Rope.”  And C.S. Lewis touches on it in his Abolition of Man:

The operation of The Green Book (values are only subjective) and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests…   Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.  And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more “drive,” or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or “creativity.” In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful. ~ C.S. Lewis[3]

If we find that both the popular media and the public education system are undermining the “rule of law” and encouraging the “rule of desire” by stigmatizing concepts of absolute morality and encouraging the questioning of everything, including traditional authority, if we agree that these things are occurring, then should we be surprised if culture is being fundamentally transformed.

Imagine a world of pretending which feels less dangerous and so we “turn out the lights” and allow ourselves to be entertained into ignorance, until we are stupefied and the stupefaction is contagious, making getting anything done in our distracted lives seem hard and also hard to find.  So we just give up and say “oh well,” “whatever,” “nevermind,” literally losing our minds and the ability to reason and only act upon emotional stimuli, ending in a series of meaningless helloes that become the words “how low?” and we wonder “how low?” will we descend.  The answer becomes the repetition of an indefinite denial.  In such a world, it might be easy to see why a culture would want to…

Load up on guns, bring your friends
It’s fun to lose and to pretend…
With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us…
I found it hard, it was hard to find, oh well, whatever, nevermind…
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
A denial, a denial, a denial, a denial, a denial, a denial, a denial, a denial, a denial.”

from
“Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Kurt Cobain
Nirvana

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Christian Responsibility

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that approximately 60% of all firearm deaths are suicides [4].  Many more people kill themselves with guns than kill other people with guns.   And, of the remainder of people killing other people with guns, it has been estimated from 25-80% of these are related to criminal activity in the drug war in urban centers of America[5].   Considering these numbers, the overwhelming majority of violence with guns is either self-slaughter to end a seemingly hopeless life or killings associated with the drug industry supported, in large part, by people attempting to escape the feelings of hopelessness in life.  Beyond the distraction of the media show, the question of gun violence becomes “is there a cure for hopelessness?”  And here we can clearly see the Christian responsibility.

The loss of hope goes beyond our politics and policy differences.  In the end, the bad news, by which we are exploited, shows more clearly our need for the Good News by which we can put aside the bad and the old and become new.  The “culture of death” is replaced by a transported life of hope we can find in Jesus Christ.  The belief that there is no hope and no Truth and no justice in this world are lies from the “father of lies.”  It is Apollyon that uses these lies to tempt us to destruction.   Christians, as Christians, have the responsibility to fight back—but not with the weapons of this world.

While defeating hopelessness might seem hopeless at a distance, the power of prayer can accomplish much, if Christians will pray, believing—not just for the nation as a whole, but for specific groups and individuals that are struggling with a sense of hopelessness.   Prayer is a powerful long distance “weapon,” though for a while it was banned from our schools.  Just read through the psalms and consider all the prayers that are warring-prayers against injustice and hopelessness.  There are also many midrange “weapons” that can be used.  Plugging into social media and supporting, and volunteering, in the many varieties of community organizations, such as suicide prevention and post-abortion counseling groups, which reach out to people struggling with hopelessness.  And, as Christians, we should never forget that almost every day we engage disguised hopelessness in the lives of those around us.  We should pray that God will make us sensitive to those who feel helpless and alone; and intentionally reach out and help them grapple with their enemy—sharing the hope we have found in Jesus Christ and the reality of a life of both receiving and giving forgiveness; sharing our own struggles and how God has made a difference in our lives; sharing that there is power to overcome in the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, Who has provided a way of hope and forgiveness in His death, burial and resurrection.  Faith in Christ provides a way out of the kingdom of darkness and destruction.

I often wonder if the gospel had not reached the lives of so many and changed them (including myself) what other horrible things might have been done in trying to face Hopelessness, alone in our inadequacy.  And when considering the many stories I have heard about those who have committed horrific acts of violence and later found Christ and forgiveness in prison—when I hear these stories, I think “What if someone had brought this message to them before…”

The Christian responsibility is to be a true disciple of Christ—to be different and make a difference—to bear the fruit of the Spirit and share its seed in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

After killing two young women in the parking lot, a young man walked into a church with an assault weapon and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, intending to kill as many people as he could.  He was met in the foyer by a woman in the church who shot him to death before he could kill anyone else.  In the backseat of his car, they found a hand-written letter to God.   He said this in his letter:

…Where can I find the “real” Christians?   Who are the “real Christians”?  How can I be right with you?…  I’ve heard good things about what Jesus can do, yet everywhere I go in Christianity, all the Christians I see or meet are miserable, angry, selfish, hypocritical, proud, power hungry, abusive, uncaring, confused, lustful, greedy, unsure of their doctrine and mean spirited…  I just wish I knew the “true way.”   Am I too lost to be saved?  My soul cries for deliverance…

A man entered an Amish schoolhouse and shot ten girls, killing five of them before he killed himself.   Within hours after the shooting, the Amish community members extended forgiveness, visiting and comforting the widow of the shooter and his parents.  The Amish community also set up a charitable fund to help support the children of the shooter.  About 30 members of the Amish community attended the shooter’s funeral and invited his widow to the funeral of the girls.   The shooter’s widow wrote a letter to the Amish community.  She said this in her letter:

Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.

The forgiveness, grace and mercy found in Jesus Christ—it is the cure for hopelessness and it really can change the world.

 


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