Gun control and all that – a critical response

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.


A coin toss

I’m trying to decide which major party I respect less. Labor for sacrificing the world’s poor to appease the god of economics, and insulting our intelligence with a spurious casuistic rationale? Or the Coalition for straining credulity beyond breaking point, with their feigned moral outrage? It’s a tough call. Guess I’ll just toss a coin. At least I have one.

Not the Olympics

Modern Olympic Movement pioneer Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s mind would be exercised by more than in-flight gender discrimination between athletes. Were he to return from the grave now, he’d be perplexed at best (dismayed at worst) to learn that handsomely remunerated professional sportspeople are even participating. Though not opposed to games athletes receiving some financial recompense for income lost whilst competing, his vision was premised on the capacity of athletic competition to promote understanding and harmony between cultures, when played between amateurs for whom competing itself was chief among rewards.

De Coubertin may scarcely recognise the 21st century’s take on the Olympic dream. When complex political machinations precede the selection of every host city and nation, when the hosts are judged and judge themselves by their own medal tally and the glamour of the opening ceremony, when the city’s poor are temporarily abolished to impress the tourists, when only the First World can dish up enough glitz to adorn the flat screens of the West, when nations like our’s invest billions scaling the heights of their jingoistic pride, when television networks jostle for the promised windfall, and when a place on the podium is worth the risk of performance-enhancing drugs …

When it’s come to all this, the Baron himself would likely fly economy.

King Warnie

Whoever first dubbed Shane Warne “the King of Spin” spoke more than they knew. Move over, Will & Kate. No offence intended toward our esteemed constitutional monarchy, but we just don’t need to salivate over a royal wedding on the other side of the world when we now have one in the offing in our own backyard. The Warnie-Hurley caper has everything a royal gossip columnist could want.

A mansion for starters. Not Buck House, granted. But it looks similar enough. And the gaggle of journos out the front would pass for a horde of tourists at the changing of the guard. And then there’s the actress, the rich no-longer-married playboy who seems to get around, the dark luxury car, the golf club, the pursuing paparazzi contingent, the bookmakers’ punts on the nuptials, the wire-tapping. (They call it Twitter these days. I’m sure Charles and Camilla would have used it if it was around then. With 140 characters they’d just have left some bits out.) No corgis sighted yet, but I’m sure they’re out the back.

We’ve got it all. Forget the republic. Monarchy’s much more fun.

Leading flick

A number of friends have raved on Twitter, Facebook and blogs about the new movie “The King’s Speech“, describing it as a must see. As a self-confessed film dork who bombs out on every movie-related trivia question, I wondered what the fuss was about. But having just returned from watching it with a family member, I wonder no more. It really is a must see! (And that from one who cinematically is essentially brain-dead.)

Anyone who finds themselves in leadership, feeling totally inadequate and/or wanting to run away, anyone close to such a person, and certainly anyone who in some sense mentors leaders, simply has to see this. The film well and truly “got to” me on all of those levels and more, at the end – not that I wasn’t gripped well before that.

For those who happen to be followers of Jesus, echoes of many human leaders in the Bible itself, and down through Christian history, leap out of many scenes. Open your Bible .. start with Moses .. swing over to Jeremiah, Samuel, Solomon, Peter .. close the Bible, and keep going. This would be a fabulous flick for a nervous leader and their new mentor to watch together.

Oh, and it even kindles a few sparks of Aussie pride (of the good kind) too. Perhaps a timely antidote to ashes melancholy …

God-talk on Facebook

Some thoughts by one recent Facebook returnee …

Facebook has without question become one of the key places where the world hangs out. (e.g. a recent newspaper article reports that a third of the Australian population now has a Facebook account). So whatever misgivings one may have about Facebook (and I certainly have some), my personal conclusion is that Christians generally, and leaders especially, should be here for the Kingdom’s sake.

But questions remain, and here is but one of them. From a Kingdom point of view, what is the most helpful approach to open discussions (such as occur frequently on one of my friends’ wall) between members of the Christian community, where folks who may not call themselves Christians are listening in and sometimes participating? Is this the right or best place to discuss especially matters of serious contention between believers? (NB: I’m asking this openly, with no assumed ‘right’ answer!)

It’s not that there needs to be a problem with spiritual seekers seeing that Christians have disagreements. And indeed, thinking in terms of Paul’s engagement with the Athenians (Acts 17, second half), there’s something potentially very exciting about taking the Gospel and it’s ramifications into the public ‘marketplace’ of ideas.

But one question that arises is the risk of misunderstanding in this very detached medium, where it’s no simple matter to convey all the nuances of meaning. e.g. To a listener who doesn’t know the wider context or the range of what’s assumed among Christians, a positive comment based on an orthodox understanding of the Bible could well read as hopelessly bigoted or arrogant.

Or to look at it another way, if we’d at least think twice before passionately debating it in a café, should we debate it on Facebook?

My purpose is definitely not to draw lines in the sand. But I hope this may generate some thoughtful reflection.

When truth leaks no one stays dry

The first flush of WikiLeaking has awoken the world. But in the scramble to untangle the cables, response to the leaker has been anything but nuanced. The most talkative will canonise Julian Assange if the most powerful don’t lynch him first.
On the balance of probability however, history will judge him neither the Messiah nor an especially naughty boy. In human affairs the truth is rarely if ever that simple. For instance, words or phrases like “democracy”, “freedom of speech” or “public accountability” look grand on placards and make fine seasoning in speeches. But who among democracy’s most passionate soldiers would not be on the phone to their lawyer like a rat up a drainpipe, if one of their own ill-judged deeds or utterances were made known in the wrong circles? Accountability is at its best when farthest from home.
Two realities must be held together in this age of unshackled information. Anyone who imagines that inconvenient truths can be kept hidden forever, is a fool. But when truth leaks no one stays dry.