Barbecues, Bullets, and Common Sense

As summer approaches, self-proclaimed grill masters will put on their aprons and heat up their grills.  Each summer in America the air is filled with the smell of barbecue and the sound of music as friends and neighbors gather. And while the summer is a time of barbecues and outdoor parties, it also ushers in a time of increased gun violence.

In the early 1980s scientists from the Centers for Disease Control found that homicides drastically increasebetween July and September. Criminology professor Steven F. Messner said, “Homicides vary with social acting…it evolves from interactions.” This March five people were killed at a backyard barbecue in Pittsburgh. As a Christian I am concerned with both the spiritual and physical well-being of God’s people. With the spike in gun violence during the summer, Evangelical Christians will have to wrestle with a tough question: does being pro-life mean that you are strictly anti-abortion, or could it also include putting an end to gun violence?

Many Americans fiercely defend their Second Amendment right to bear arms and make the case that gun ownership helps to reduce or prevent mass shootings. After three college shootings in October 2015, gun rights advocates argued that having more guns would help. Michael Newborn, a spokesman for Students for Concealed Carry, said, “Every single one of these is an example of where a law-abiding citizen’s ability to fight back has been restricted by law, and the bad guy has the upper hand.” Newborn’s statement is supported by a Pew Research Center report which found that 79% of male gun owners and 80% of female gun owners said owning a gun made them feel safer. This data seems to suggest that the best way to stop a bad person with a gun is to arm a good person.

However I think that we would do well to consider the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

The tragic loss of life at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina and at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, among others, should cause us to view gun control as a pro-life issue too.

On January 4, 2016, President Obama announced executive actions that would require more gun sellers to obtain licenses and conduct background checks. This is Mr. Obama’s attempt to fix so called “gun show loopholes”, which allows both “good and bad” people to buy firearms at gun shows without undergoing a background check. Soon after the announcement the Obama administration issued a press release which stated, “Over the past decade in America, more than 100,000 people have been killed as a result of gun violence—and millions more have been the victim of assaults, robberies, and other crimes involving a gun. Many of these crimes were committed by people who never should have been able to purchase a gun in the first place.”

Christians truly concerned with saving lives cannot ignore the importance of viewing gun control as a moral issue.

We must remember that these are not just numbers. These are men and women created in the image of God. We must all remember that common sense gun control laws don’t prevent law abiding citizens from owning a gun, but they do help to close loopholes that make purchasing a gun alarmingly easy.

The National Rifle Association (NRA), a leader in the fight against gun control in America, immediately fired back with a harsh critique of Mr. Obama’s executive action. An NRA statement said, “The proposed executive actions are ripe for abuse by the Obama Administration, which has made no secret of its contempt for the Second Amendment.  The NRA will continue to fight to protect the fundamental, individual Right to Keep and Bear Arms as guaranteed under our Constitution.”

In December 2015, one day after 14 people were killed in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, Senate Republicans blocked gun control measures that would stop individuals on terrorist watch lists from purchasing guns. Offering his version of a solution, Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, told students, “If more good people had concealed carry permits, then we could end those Muslims, before they go out there and kill.” 

Many Americans believe that enabling terrorists and known criminals to purchase guns causes a public safety issue, but solving it becomes problematic when citizens fight any sort of gun control measure. In an effort to block common sense gun control, the NRA and the GOP may be shooting their “moral eye” out and endangering American citizens.

There was a time with both the NRA and even GOP hero President Ronald Reagan saw the importance of common sense gun control. In the 1920s and 30s Karl T. Frederick, the then-president of the NRA, offered a three pronged approach to gun control.  Fredrick‘s first requirement was that that no one carries a concealed handgun in public without a permit from the local police. A permit would be granted only to a “suitable” person with a “proper reason for carrying” a firearm. He also believed that gun dealers needed to report every sale of a handgun to law enforcement. Going a step further, he imposed a two-day waiting period on handgun sales. During Frederick's tenure the NRA supported “reasonable, sensible, and fair legislation."  Now the NRA and many evangelicals blindly oppose all of those measures.

Reverend Rob Schenck, a pro-life evangelical, is attempting to expand our definition of pro-life to include common sense gun control. Rev. Schenck’s film “The Armor of Light”, which aired on PBS on May 10, explores the ways in which gun violence can be viewed as both a moral and political issue. In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Rev. Schenck argues that the Christian faith supports the idea of gun control, “Our belief in the basic sinfulness of humankind should make us skeptical of the NRA’s slogan, ‘the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.’ The Bible indicates that we are all bad guys sometimes,” he said.

As Christians we must wrestle with the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:38 - 40 where He challenges us to love our enemies and pray for those that persecute us. Many Christians in America consider themselves to be pro-life and anti-abortion, yet fail to see that gun control is equally a pro-life issue. Christians truly concerned with saving lives cannot ignore the importance of viewing gun control as a moral issue. Pastors and religious leaders would do well to remind Christians that every life is precious in the eyes of God.

-Marquez Ball is the Senior Pastor of Uplift Church in Laurel, MD and is currently pursuing a doctorate at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary