My first and only experience with a gun took place when I was eight. My dad gave me a BB gun for a present. I remember shooting at a simple target in the front yard of the home where we lived.
More vividly, I remember the time that a friend was preparing to shoot at the target, and I foolishly passed right in front of him. My friend wasn’t ready to pull the trigger when I passed by, but my dad sternly scolded me. “Never walk in front of someone with a loaded gun,” he said.
Good advice. But I didn’t need it because I never became fond of that gun.
In fact, I’m not fond of guns now — not BB guns, rifles, handguns, or semi-automatics. I never developed any sort of fascination with things that shoot.
I realize this is due to my upbringing. Despite the gift of the BB gun, my father was not really interested in guns either. He didn’t hunt or fish, and so didn’t raise me in that outdoors, survivalist, camo-wearing subculture. Instead, I grew up interested in sports, books, music, films, and urban life.
At some point in my life, I came to the conclusion that gun ownership was actually antithetical to the lifestyle of a Jesus follower. I still believe that.
It is because of that conviction that I don’t own a gun, and never will.
In the midst of the current, post-Newtown national debate on gun control, this is my sole contribution to the discourse. It is my personal pledge, my manifesto.
I don’t own a gun, and never will.
I refuse to claim the rights (whatever they may be) of the Second Amendment. Those rights don’t mean anything to me as a follower of Jesus, who warned us that those who live by the gun, die by the gun.
I’m not that interested in changing the laws either. Yes, I think it’d be great if access to guns were restricted, but wouldn’t it be better if people just began to disarm themselves? Wouldn’t it be better if each of us said to ourselves, “I am not going to own a gun anymore”?
And wouldn’t it be better if, in particular, those who claim to follow Jesus decided to disarm? Imagine the impact if hundreds of thousands of folks said, in unison, “I don’t own a gun, and never will, because I follow the way of Jesus”!
I’m not advocating any sort of forced, government-imposed disarmament, but the free choice of people who are ready to live differently in this gun-loving nation, who are willing to completely divest themselves of weapons in the name of the Prince of Peace.
Why don’t we rise up en masse to refute the words of NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, who foolishly said, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”? Theologically, this statement is indefensible. Jesus stopped the ultimate “bad guy with a gun” by giving up his life non-violently, and in the process, “destroyed death,” according to the Apostle Paul. The whole truth is that there are lots of ways to stop a bad guy with a gun, and not surprisingly, love is one of the ways.
Furthermore, there is a stark, false dualism at work when we so glibly refer to “bad” and “good” men. How can one really tell the difference, especially when Jesus kept pointing out that those whom his contemporaries thought were “good” were remarkably “bad,” as in the “scribes and Pharisees” who were hypocrites, and that the “bad” deserved compassion and kindness, such as the prostitutes and tax collectors? Guns enforce a black-and-white view of the world, which is extremely gray. And it’s amazing to me how many “good” guys suddenly turn “bad” when they have a gun in their hands.
I can’t think of a more powerful faith statement than to stand in solidarity and say, “Despite the presence of evil and terror in this world, I will not succumb to the false security of owning a gun.”
A word to hunters: Yes, I know that there are many folks who follow Jesus who also like to hunt. I know that your reason for owning guns is recreational. I don’t intend to try to persuade you to give up your guns, nor to insist that there is something morally wrong with hunting. If you hunt, then hunt safely. And keep following Jesus.
A word to those who carry guns which are required by profession: I am aware that there are many folks who follow Jesus who carry guns as part of their job. Again, I have no interest in trying to persuade you to take my pledge. I know that you carry your weapons with a clear conscience. I am not interested in starting an argument. All I ask is that you continue to wrestle with the words of Jesus, in particular, the command to, “Love your enemies.” That’s the best that any of us can do, to continue to struggle with the full import of Jesus’ message. He said some pretty strong things, and commanded us to do some really hard things. None of us are able to live completely and perfectly in the way of Jesus, no matter how hard we try.
However, the person who professes to follow Jesus must grapple with his teachings, as well as the example which he set. It’s clear in my mind that the arc of Jesus’ ministry steers us away from violence in any form, toward peacemaking and acts of radical love. His life also teaches us that violence can never be used to accomplish peace or love; the ends do not justify the means.
I can’t imagine a more powerful witness to the way of Jesus Christ than for as many of us as possible to say proudly, at the top of our voices: I don’t own a gun, and never will.
Who wants to say it with me?