The Washington Post recently profiled a typical day of gun violence in America, and following that trail of blood across the country made me think again that only people with a certain kind of standing ought to have a say in certain matters. The abortion debate should be left to people who have experience with abortion; the gun control debate should be left to people who have experience with guns.
That’s an elitist position, not an egalitarian one, but it’s a Christian position as well.
The profile made me want to ask a Christian friend to take the bumper sticker off his truck because it propagates falsehood.
“An armed society is a polite society,” the sticker says, under the silhouette of an AR-15.
There’s plenty of evidence to show that guns do not increase courtesy. Thirty million American gun owners admit to lashing out at other people, often, in anger, in spite of owning guns. A recent study found that drivers who carry guns are 44% more likely to make obscene gestures at other drivers, and 77% more likely to tailgate aggressively.
What gun ownership does increase is your chances of getting shot — by a factor of four and a half.
The trouble is that my friend doesn’t care about the evidence, because the people who provide it don’t have standing — that is, they don’t have their own experience, he would presume, which is why they had to do a study. So I’ve decided to approach him on the basis of my gun experience instead of the evidence.
I’m an armed Christian. I write these words within sight of both a handgun and a shotgun. I bought my son his first gun when he was twelve years old, and for a couple of memorable years we shot skeet together to ease the pain of my divorce from his mother.
Those facts might suggest that I had positive experiences with guns when I was young. I didn’t.
The first gun I ever saw was the one my father used to shoot our cat one Sunday morning. I had been making the cat sit on one side of me while the dog sat on the other side, to prove that they could get along while we watched “Davy and Goliath” on the black and white TV. After getting along with the cat for a couple of minutes, the dog jumped over me and tore the cat apart. She was still alive when I got my father out of bed, but she was irreparably mangled, so he shot her. I felt the report come through the screen.
I saw that gun again when I was ten, this time in my mother’s hand. She was pointing it at my father. I had broken through their bedroom door to stop their fight, having heard it come to blows, and I found him on his knees in front of her. It looked like he was begging for his life, but more likely she had knocked his glasses off, and he was searching for them. Instead of shooting him, or me, she put the gun aside and joined him on the floor. I stepped up and put my arms around them both, one on either side of me, my mother and my father, like the cat and the dog.
If those early experiences seem incongruous with buying my son a Remington 870 when his mother left me, or with gazing on my own firearms while I think about what to say next, I would add that I’m a seminarian in my third year of study at one of the most liberal Christian seminaries in this gun-besotted country. Then I would take the incongruity one step further by asserting that I owe my vocation to the gun I saw my mother pointing at my father: she was going to shoot him, and then she didn’t shoot him, and that’s why I’m a seminarian today.
How will all of that address the falsehood on my friend’s bumper?
Through the power of personal testimony. Christianity is a paradigm of witness, first and foremost, especially the witness of reversal — story after story of expecting this and getting that. Yes, the Christian paradigm includes explicit instructions to love our enemies and to resist not evil, but those instructions pale before the Christian story.
So, instead of holding up evidence before my friend and hoping it will make him take that sticker off his truck, I’m going to share my experience with guns, and discourtesy, and incongruity. Because if we’re Christians, what gives us standing in the world, here as anywhere, is expecting this and getting that.