Since last Friday’s slaughter in Newtown, Connecticut, I’ve been reading the back and forth of anger, sarcasm, and sanctimony about guns, gun control, gun rights, and gun violence.  I have heard also the beginnings of conversation about providing help for the mentally ill and their family members trying to care for them and striving desperately to contain the worst of their acting out.

Some of the illogic is appalling.  If banning guns would stop gun violence, one Facebook posting asks, why don’t we make heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine illegal, too?  Huh?  Since when has the validity of a law been measured by its complete effectiveness in stopping people from breaking it?  Speeding is illegal.  Tax evasion is illegal.  Shoplifting is illegal.  All three are perpetrated daily, but no one is suggesting the laws against them be taken off the books for failure to be completely effective.

Equally absurd is the popular slogan, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”  True, guns don’t fire themselves without human assistance, but guns certainly make killing quicker and easier.  When tempers flair, guns enable the worst response to be enacted so rapidly that there’s little time for second thoughts and little chance to prevent carnage.  Guns also enable alienated and shame-ridden people to feel big and powerful, with disastrous consequences.

We live in a nation where some 300 million guns are said to be privately owned and where gun ownership has been elevated to the level of the sacred.  We even have a Supreme Court justice who has suggested that under our Constitution, individual possession of a one-person rocket launcher might have to be recognized as a protected right.  How can we draw back from the absurd and work together reasonably toward solutions to terrible national problems, knowing our solutions will never be 100% effective?

I grow as weary of acronyms as anybody else, but I’m wondering if we don’t need a new one: IWMD.  That’s individual weapons of mass destruction.  I’m thinking of the types of weapons that enable someone who isn’t even a marksman to kill dozens of people in short order, perhaps even slaughter a whole class of school children before anyone has time to intervene.  IWMD would cover weapons designed for killing numerous people rapidly.

In the world of international politics, we don’t tell belligerent nations they can’t have at least the equivalent of a national guard or any weapons, but we do sit up and take notice when a belligerent nation is believed to be developing WMD, weapons of mass destruction.  Can similar logic be applied to individuals within our country?  Could we not ban the manufacture and sale of IWMD for private ownership?  Of course, there first would need to be conversation about what constitutes IWMD and thoughtful drafting of legislation, with input from weapons experts and gun owners who aren’t ideologically rigid about the right to bear arms being all or nothing.  Such legislation would require adult thought and conversation rather than the angry, empty-headed posturing we have now.  We would need to grow up as a nation for the sake of protecting our children.

Would putting such a limit on the kinds of weapons available to private citizens stop all gun violence and killing?  No, of course it would not.  We need better mental health care, too, but that would not end all killing, either.  It would be helpful to stop feeding the minds and emotional systems of alienated teens and young adults on increasingly realistic video games that glorify rapid, massive, and gory killing done without empathy or any emotion other than perverse joy and satisfaction.  The reality that there will be no perfect answer, no absolute solution, must not deter us from acting together responsibly to prevent as much as possible of the carnage.   We need to do what we can to restrain those who would kill and keep IWMD out of their hands,  and we need also to offer better mental health care for those who might, if we do nothing, murder people they don’t even know.  We cannot stop all killing, but why do we have to keep making it quicker and easier to kill large numbers of people, and why do we have to make killing large numbers of people seem thrilling and empowering to people who are mentally ill?

When God Becomes an Excuse for Not Trying to Prevent Slaughter


Mike Huckabee’s comments on the slaughter of children as well as adults in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut are not helpful.  By blaming the schools and the nation for supposedly banishing God from the classrooms, he’s done little more than make a preemptive strike against anyone who might raise the issue of gun control.  He’s offering an empty and naive argument at best about the fantasized connection between school prayer and lives transformed by faith, but he’s making it in an obnoxious way by implying that we have gotten what we deserve.  None of the families in Newtown deserves to be suffering the grief that has been inflicted upon them, nor do we as a nation deserve such horror because we have followed our Constitution in denying to one religion (mine) the power to impose itself in highly diluted form upon all children through a state institution.

I’m old enough to remember school day opening exercises that included Bible reading and prayer.  They did nothing to teach us faith or compassion, to make us better people more likely to get along with each other, or even to put the fear of God (or of hell) into us.  They were routine.  Some of us tried sometimes to “get something” out of them.  Some of us probably felt quietly estranged by being forced to participate in something that was meant to be meaningful but in which they and their families did not believe.  Sometimes kids made a joke of the whole thing.  Psalm 117 was read often, not because it was meaningful, but because it is the shortest psalm.

I remember from decades ago the bumper sticker I would see around the town in which we lived then: “God, guts, and guns made America great.”  Rah, rah.  Throw down a few more beers, do some chest thumps, and tell me what was great about the Friday of slaughter in Sandy Hook.

If we would look at the actual carnage that persists and seems to be increasing in our nation and if we could adopt a mentality of problem-solving, maybe we could stop reacting to each new tragedy by running to our opposite poles and shouting belligerent nonsense at each other.  Maybe we could take responsibility for trying to make ourselves into a better, safer society.  Maybe we could think and act like grownups.

Meanwhile, let me ask where God was on that Friday of terror and slaughter.  No, God was not punishing us for not imposing Christian cultural dominance upon public school children.  Neither did God need some little angels to perform celestial functions.  What happened in that school makes sense only to insanity, and unless we want to make our faith insane and ungodly, we must not try to make sense of it, to rationalize or justify it.  It was a cruciform event, meaning a horror that tears at the heart of God and should tear at our hearts as well.  For me as a Christian minister, the slaughter of the children is something in which I believe God sees and I must see also the crucifixion of Jesus, whom I believe to be God’s Son.  He suffered torture, humiliation, and execution at the hands of an empire made great by the gods, guts, and swords.

I believe that God has a long memory and that events in our past can be very present to God, which is what we Christians affirm when we share the Lord’s Supper.  On biblical and theological grounds, I believe God cannot separate that terrible Friday long ago when Jesus was crucified on the Hill of the Skull outside Jerusalem from Friday, December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.  Or from the day three little girls were killed in their church by a bomb, killed because they were black just as Jesus was executed because he was Jewish.  Or from the slaughter in Congo or Darfur or anywhere else on earth.  We have done it again.  From a Christian perspective, by doing it to the children and the adults in the school (God’s children all), we have done it again to him.

But we didn’t do it!  A mentally disturbed young man did it.  An exception to the rule, an outlier from the norm.  Perhaps we should call him a monster so we don’t have to identify ourselves with him.  Not one of us.  He didn’t even own the guns but took them from his mother whom he also murdered.  So it wasn’t a question of society’s putting guns directly into the hands of a mentally ill person.  We didn’t do it!

We aren’t going to take steps together to stop it from being copied and done again, either, are we?  We’re just going to retreat to our separate corners and shout ideological stuff at each other while the carnage is repeated in some other town and another and another and another.

Christians?  “As you have NOT done it for one of the least influential of these, my sister, my brother, you have NOT done it for me.”  Americans.  There is big money in weapons made for mass carnage, weapons designed for no other purpose.  There is also a sickness of mind, heart, and soul that equates having such weapons with being strong and manly.  “They’ll get my gun when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers.”  And a voice answers, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Can we do it?  Can we have a grownup conversation about gun violence?  Without demonizing gun owners or idolizing guns?  Without demanding all or nothing for our side?  Or will we wait for the next slaughter to blame each other again, thereby making sure nothing constructive happens? Or will we just pass the blame to God and our public schools?