Remembering July 4th as our nation’s Independence Day, prompted me to write a GVP piece titled A NEW GUN INDEPENDENCE DAY. A reader was kind enough to thoughtfully respond. I am grateful for his honesty and courage to speak and pose questions. I shared his response with other GVP friends to gain their perspectives. What follows is my respectful response to his response. Here goes!

He asks, “How will adding requirements for registrations, licenses, insurance and training not simply end up privileging the rich over the poor?” My response is we CANNOT put economics over human life. What is unreasonable about paying for a weapon which can be used for hunting, sport and killing people, as much as we pay for an automobile license, registration and training used for pleasure and work? Furthermore, a hunter needs a game license. Even the poor can afford a car. Why is a gun more “privileged” than a car? Citing “privilege” is a straw man to justify the right to buy and use a weapon without qualification. Finally, studies are clear that more gun regulations save lives, lowers the rate of gun violence, and still allows responsible people to purchase and use.

He asks, “Given the vast majority of gun violence is committed with handguns, why do you single-out semi-automatic detachable magazine fed rifles?” It is true that most GV, including mass shootings, are committed with handguns. I lifted-up semi-automatic weapons because they are the weapons of choice for mass shooters, and they cause the most carnage in mass shootings. The designer of the AR-15 said he did not intend the weapon be used on the streets for general purchase, but for military use only. Killing the enemy in warfare was the purpose. Compare the horrendous difference in bullet damage between a 9mm handgun round and a 9mm round from an AR-15, from clean bullet penetration to tumbling mashing of tissue. Remember the Pulse mass shooting in Florida? 49 people dead with the shooter using a Sig SauerMCX semi-automatic rifle and a Glock 17 semi-automatic handgun. Remember Las Vegas? Weapons: 14 .223 caliber AR-15s, eight .308 caliber AR-15 rifles, a .308 bolt action rifle, and a .38 caliber handgun. And this is a short list.

He asks, “Do you believe I am a crazed killer because I felt there’s enough risk to my life from fascist and/or bigoted violence to justify getting one?” My response is fear of authoritarianism and the “other” ought to be governed by reasonable regulations for the sake of safety for all. Furthermore, fear creates violence. Fear makes us rely too heavily on guns. Fear needs to be restrained and addressed in nonviolent ways instead of preparing to kill because of what we feel is a threat to our life. Why do we make guns our Great Default? Why turn to guns in dealing with authoritarianism or racism? You envision a world filled with predators and cannibals! Instead, consider political and community involvement, work to insure all people can vote and have equal access to the ballot box. Work to guarantee that all people have quality education and a livable wage to support a family and purchase a home. Work to make child care and broadband available to all. Let your fears stir you to community action rather than to vigilante violence.

He asks, “Why don’t you acknowledge the role White Supremacy is playing in gun violence?” I have written about the linking of racism and gun violence. Racism and White Supremacy are as wedded as matches and gasoline. Guns are the new “lynching tree” to borrow a term from James Cone. White Supremacy is fear-based White defensiveness in losing power to non-Whites. More guns are seen as the solution to this fear virus. White people are nearly the minority in our nation. White Supremists are saying, “Not in my city, not on my streets. I am still master over the coloreds.” It must be noted that pictures of the Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois and Oath Keepers usually show them adorned with semi-automatic weapons and handguns. The message is unmistakable: White Power! Our response to this White cancer ought to be more civilized than turning our streets into a shooting gallery.

He asks, “Why do you keep coming up with ways to make sure poor people cannot get guns?” See the above comments about economics and guns. I would also argue that those of modest and lesser means are more prone to purchase weapons. Why? Many feel vulnerable. Guns are the equalizer promising a Faustian protection in response to fear. I ask, why waste your money on a weapon when your financial resources can be used for food, mortgage and pleasure? How about donating money to a worthwhile community project? Furthermore, the statistics are glaringly clear that a gun in the home dramatically increases the chance for domestic tragedy, spouse on spouse or child on child. Finally, more guns equals more death. Why is it that the USA ranks Number One among Western Developed Nations in rate of gun violence? The main reason is we have nearly 400 million guns in circulation. Poor people have guns, and they use them. Buying a gun is almoat as easy as buying a candy bar. Are we saying that the way out of poverty is to shoot our way to the future? We can do better.

You close with “Like, long story short, I’m not giving up my guns or my right to own them until you figure out how to make sure I don’t get hate-crimes. And until you actually acknowledge and grapple with that reality, your calls for an end to gun violence are going to ring hollow. Oh, and the ‘police will protect you’ is a LAUGHABLY naive response to my final point there. In case anyone was going not try for it.” Yes, there are threatening situations that call for our vigilance. Yes, guns can be used for protection. Yes, there is a Constitutional right to purchase and use a weapon. But let’s be honest. Guns are made for sport, protection, and for killing animals and people. The mix of guns and fear is recreational as well as toxic. As fear is inner violence, guns are expressive violence. Violence begets violence. Gun violence begets gun violence. Life becomes a battlefield. Was this temptation the vision of MLK, Jr.? Mahatma Gandhi? Did they teach hate as more transformational than nonviolent love? Are we to allow hate to guide our decision-making? We can do better.

As a Christian, I look to Jesus Christ for guidance in facing life issues. When addressing weapons, Jesus says “Enough!” and “No more of this!” He says “Love God, love your neighbor and love yourself.” He never urges his followers to kill another person. He never used a sword or knife. His power was in the Spirit of God, his own God-self, in his preaching, his teaching and his healing. He gave his life on the cross so we can have abundant life and not so we can shout “Freedom!” as we kill each other. The foundational life ethic of Jesus was nonviolence. He begs us to imagine a world where no one kills the person of another race, culture or class. But instead chooses to lift each other as brothers and sisters, equal in the sight of God because ALL people are created in the Image of God.

But you say there is violence and evil people, and that some nations want to conquer us. True. But I say let us not yield to a violent paranoia which caters to lighting the match of unrestrained, unregulated gun violence where we bow to the idolatry of “freedom” to do what I want, whenever I want, wherever I want. The military and police have their place. But even they have restraints, and with the police, they need more restraints. You want a gun? Fine. I believe it is fair that you undergo a background check, gun training, be licensed and registered. Why? For life! For safety! For others! For the love of God! Be safe!

Blessings and Peace!

Ron Letnes (Rev. Dr.)