Gun control and all that - a critical response

Sunday 20 January 2013 5:14 AM

On the Second Amendment

In the course of a discussion on Facebook the other day, a friend referred me favourably to the above post, asking my opinion. In reading and then pondering it, it occurred to me that my gradually forming response to the article might of itself be worthy of my own published reflection. So what follows is in one sense a respectful critique of the article, but also more broadly an expression of my own thinking on the current gun control debate, especially in the US. 

I want to emphasise at the outset that I greatly respect this writer, whose public profile is considerably higher than mine. I respect him as a Christian brother, with whom I profoundly agree on many matters of current public discourse, not least the fundamental integrity of faith-driven perspectives and hence their right to an equal and respectful hearing in the public square. It's out of that personal respect that I'm omitting his name from this critique of mine, even though his identity is no secret in the article in question, published on his own blog. I'll follow the formal convention of calling him simply 'the writer'. Notwithstanding all I've just said, I have to say I've found his approach here quite disappointing, and will now elaborate on why. 

The heart of what disappoints me is that in this and sadly also several other articles, the writer has surrendered to the 'left is bad, right is good' temptation. So 'lefties' are anarchic extremists who want to rob society of all that’s right, good and true, out of a worldview built on naive simplisms. Conservatives, by contrast, are savvy, well-informed guardians of the good, drawing from the deep well of cultural history. What this polarisation too often produces is a style of writing that holds one's opponents up to ridicule, as simpletons whose opinions don't deserve the time of day from thoughtful folk. Such an approach ignores the reality mature Christians should instinctively know, that all humans are sinners, having a universally compromised grasp of what is good and real, and imperfect in their living of it. One learns that one's opponents sometimes get it right. It's therefore wise, quite apart from simply kind, to treat them and their views with the kind of evenhanded patience one hopes to have returned. Ridicule fails to produce helpful public discussion, because it commonly portrays the opponent with a kind of caricature, which in turn results in a failure to interact with the real substance of their case. The caricature becomes the entire object of engagement. Such an approach is disappointing at the best of times. But what makes it most saddening in this writer's case is the irony that this parodying style of argument is precisely the kind widely used against Christians by the most aggressively atheistic sectors of the media. Make all people of faith look like gormless simpletons, so no one will take us seriously. Christian writers, of all people, should avoid emulating that style of discourse. 

Now to the subject itself: the 'Second Amendment' to the US Constitution, and the modern-day question of gun control … There may well be a class of agitator who seeks the dismantling of the 2nd amendment in the name of pure pacifism. But I at least have yet to encounter any such participants in the course of the present gun control debate. The mainstream of gun control advocacy is frankly uninterested in the 2nd amendment, for or against. Our concerns are almost entirely with the pattern of random mass murders of innocents, carried out with semi-automatic guns. It's therefore simply perplexing that an article such as this from this writer, published only yesterday right in the thick of the aftermath of the Connecticut school shooting, would address the gun control debate entirely on the 2nd amendment and with not so much as a mention of this or any other mass civilian killing. Right about the middle of his piece (the 14th paragraph), the author reduces the entire gun control position to a single sentence comprised of three snappy but very simplistic sub-clauses - and then responds to that, as if it were the whole substance. 

For just one example, I'll take the aspect in my view most central, namely the 2nd clause of the three: "that [the 2nd amendment] only applied to weapons of the day". That, with respect, is a lazy parody of the point gun control advocates are making. The real point is about the contrast between the firearm technology of the late 18th century and that of today. The "arms" the writers of the US constitution were referring to - the only kind in existence in their time - were muskets. Even in the hands of the most skilled marksman, a musket could fire two shots in a minute, at best. Put that beside a semi-automatic assault rifle of today, and there's simply no comparison for destructive power. The fathers of the US could not possibly have conceived of such weapons even being developed, much less the scenario of them being in the hands of hundreds of thousands of citizens. It seems extraordinary to appeal to the 2nd amendment, which is about military defence against national tyranny, to oppose any restriction on weapons which are now being used to kill numbers of defenceless non-combatants on the random impulse of a lone gunman. Liberty and security are not about enabling or even allowing citizens to kill eachother in peacetime. 

These perspectives have been expressed far more eloquently by any number of writers, recently and in the past. Here is but one, which I commend: How the Right Has Twisted the 2nd Amendment. More broadly I urge all reasonable people, and Christians most especially, to think very critically about the linking of the 2nd amendment with gun control, for which we may thank the National Rifle Association. The uncritical adoption of such an association has resulted in the extraordinary modern phenomenon of people, who by all accounts should passionately champion the defence of human life, defending instead a position which demonstrably serves the opposite end. In this strange new world, people who denounce late-term abortion can be the same ones who defend a 'right' that makes ongoing multiple child murders all but a certainty. Simply senseless. 

To close very concisely: Why should Christians, above anyone, support gun control? Simply because our Creator God sets the highest value on all human life. (Gen 9:5-6). No person's life is of lesser worth than internal security.