Multiple people who participate in our congregation live life with a mental, physical, or developmental disability, including many people who live in a longterm care facility. So when I first heard the news of the shooting in San Bernardino at the Inland Regional Center, a facility for people with developmental disabilities, my heart broke. Sources now say that the shooting occurred in an auditorium hosting an event for the county's Department of Health, with fourteen dead and seventeen wounded. No matter who was targeted by these murderers, the proliferation of violence continues to threaten the most vulnerable amongst us.
When things like this occur, I see and hear without fail posts on social media that say something like, "It's a heart problem, not a gun problem." They often quote Genesis, where Cain kills Abel with a rock. The logic is fairly simple. You don't need a gun to kill someone, so guns aren't the problem. For the first time, I think I can confidently say that they're right. A sickness of the heart continues to lead to these awful events.
You see, things like this continue to happen in our country not only because guns are readily available, and not only because some people have a sickness of sin, of hatred, of rage in their hearts that lead them to murder. This happens because, in their hearts, people in our country love guns and their rights to guns more than they love the lives of the vulnerable people in our midst. That heart problem, that we love guns more than we love people, continually permits this kind of violence upon innocent victims.
This is one of those areas where Christians are called to trust the Gospel over against the logic of our country. To paraphrase Jim Wallace, faith calls us to embrace God's politics over national political entrenchments. Make no mistake. The call to love our neighbors as ourselves directly conflicts with language of personal rights, like the right to bear arms. Jesus promises us no such rights when we're yoked with the Gospel. When our rights allow the murder of our neighbor, we have a responsibility to make sacrifices in order to preserve and protect the lives of others. This likely means restricting access to certain kinds of guns as well as increasing oversight into the purchase and ownership of guns. Guns aren't the problem. Continually loving guns in a way that fosters violence instead of loving others in a way that restricts guns is the problem.
I grew up a gun owner. I loved firing my .22 rifle. I even won a 12 gauge shotgun at the county fair (welcome to rural Ohio). Though I was never good at shooting, there's no other feeling quite like the amount of power you have when you pull the trigger on a firearm. Yet, the growing number of guns in civilian hands has not led to the preservation of life. Days like today force us to see that more guns in the hands of more people increases the risk of death of innocent people in both accidental and intentional shootings. So, when my wife and I were married, we began a gun-free home, because our rights to guns are not as important as the safety of those who may enter our home.
This personal change to choosing a gun-free home is a good start, but for our country, we cannot prevent mass shootings simply by choosing not to own guns ourselves. We must work to create a country where we actually love people more than guns, with laws that prefer the lives and safety of others to our personal rights.
Further, I'm not advocating for the complete removal of guns. Many in my family are hunters, and I love venison way too much to give that up. More seriously, too many in rural areas like the one I call home depend on guns to provide basic sustenance for their family. Though I choose not to own a gun, I don't believe that all guns of all types ought to be restricted from the public. What I'm saying is the complete commitment to guns over a commitment to the lives and safety of our neighbors is at odds with the Gospel.
Yes, this is a heart problem, but not only with terrorists, shooters, or any others responsible for such violence. It's a heart problem with those of us who continue to demand that our uninhibited right to guns, with all the risks it entails, trumps others right to life. That's loving ourselves over our neighbor, and that's not God's politic. Change is needed, not just in the hearts of our people, but in the laws of our people that allow dysfunctional hearts to take the lives of so many victims. We need reform of all of our hearts and our laws if we want to save lives from the plague of gun violence.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.