The Voice of The Salvation Army in Canada and BermudaView RSS Feed
Oct7WedViolent crime is an increasing problem, but the issue of gun control raises tensions on both sides of the border. October 7, 2015 by Captain Amy Reardon and James Read
In this Talking It Over series, Dr. James Read, Executive Director of The Salvation Army Ethics Centre in Winnipeg, and Captain Amy Reardon, Editor of Young Salvationist, U.S.A. National Headquarters, dialogue about moral and ethical issues. Click here to read more debates in the Talking It Over series.
- Filed Under:
Help me understand what it is with Americans and guns. I'm not trying to speak for all Canadians, but frankly, when it comes to the “gun culture,” I just don't get it.
It's not as if we don't have firearms. According to Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, we Canadians have more guns per capita than you Americans. The difference is that we don't seem to have the same love of guns.
I don't mean that every American approves of every use of weapons. Sometimes Canadians talk smugly as if this was true, but I know that there is widespread anger, fear and grief in the United States when innocent people are killed by gunfire. You live pretty close to Virginia Tech, and I'd guess that there are many around there who don't love what guns did in the hands of Cho Seung-hui.
We can identify with the tears. December 6 is the 20th anniversary of the massacre at École Polytechnique in Montreal, where 14 women were killed by Marc Lépine. He said that “feminists” had ruined his life, so he went on campus and opened fire with an assault rifle. There are parts of Toronto where gun violence now seems an ingrained part of neighbourhood life. In other words, we have our own serial-killer madmen and urban gunners. I'm sure that ordinary Americans grieve and fear these troubles as much as ordinary Canadians.
What I can't imagine is an ordinary Canadian going to a political forum with a rifle proudly slung over his shoulder or a handgun holstered on his hip, as has happened in your country in several places where President Barack Obama was speaking. Or how about that New York Times story concerning the pastor in Louisville, Kentucky, who invited his congregants to bring their firearms into the sanctuary one night in June, saying, “God and guns were part of the foundation of this country”?
I don't know whether to scratch my head or be outraged.
First let me say that I would never own a gun, nor would I even visit a shooting range. Thank you for acknowledging that not all Americans are enamored with guns, because it does hurt many of us that the whole world seems to think we all kiss our guns good night and tuck them into bed beside us.
I am embarrassed by the “God, guns and America” subculture in my country. There seems to be this dogma that might means right, and that God loves America best—that God somehow belongs to America. It makes me shudder.
That line of thinking has a long history. Initially, it wasn't as odious a theme as it is now. This country was established for religious freedom. It's what the earliest settlers—predominantly Catholics, Puritans and Quakers—were seeking, and I regret the revisionist “pop history” that blurs that truth. It was thought that this country would be that biblical light on a hill mentioned in Matthew 5:14—a shining example to the world, according to the Puritans. Some even believed the new Zion would be here on this soil. Former president Ronald Reagan wielded the same rhetoric, though I don't think he would have interpreted it with biblical literalism.
Beginning with those first pilgrims in the 17th century, it has always been in our collective nature to be fiercely independent. It took tenacity and courage to establish the first colonies. The pilgrims endured great hardship. A century later, our rag-tag group of farmers and shopkeepers fought off the world's mightiest force, the British army, to establish our independence. In the next century, expansion to the west required an independent, fighter's spirit. If you'll allow me to neglect reference to the abuse of Native Americans, the settlers bravely conquered rough terrain, wild beasts and deplorable weather conditions. Many of these accomplishments required the use of guns.
It's just my casual observation, but it seems people of other countries don't understand the intensity of the American value of independence. Americans believe that people should provide for and protect themselves. Americans like to make their own way, and they cherish their freedoms.
The right of a law-abiding citizen to own a gun is one of those freedoms. I find a great connection between our pioneer spirit and gun owning. Rough and ready. Tough. I can take on anything, and I can protect what is mine.
I am generalizing, of course. But it seems to me that it is this history and spirit that has made our culture accepting of guns. But where has it taken us? My son attended Columbine High School (after the shootings); the fear is close to home for all Americans. But for many, the fear of losing the right to protect oneself and one's family is even stronger. You know what they say: if you take the guns away from the good guys, the bad guys will still have them.
The bad guys will have them whatever the rest of us do or don't do. But it's a fallacy to think that being able to pick up a handgun as readily as we can pick up a litre of milk will protect us. From what I can tell, people really aren't safer because they have a handgun at the bedside. It seems that people are wired to fear strangers, and we want to protect ourselves however we can from the dark shadow that threatens our family or possessions. So we jump to the conclusion that a weapon would help. The myth at the heart of the fallacy is thinking it's evil strangers who do the most bodily harm.
The case for strong gun control is clinched when we realize that we're in the grip of a myth. My heart sinks when I hear about children who have been killed by a sibling who's been playing with a gun that was meant to protect them. Guns cause serious accidents. According to a report from the U.S. Center for Disease Control, firearms injuries are the second leading cause of death in children and adolescents. And if it's not an accident but an intentional use of the gun, it's the person we know, not the person we don't know, who's more likely to cause us harm.
Rather than debate where that takes us on government gun control, though, I'd like to pick up on your fascinating remarks about American history and the way it's shaped the American consciousness. Canada has a different past. Your country began with a war; my country was negotiated into existence. I think you are right to suggest that these diverse beginnings make a difference in the national ideals still held today.
You talk about the American ideals of self-esteem, self-reliance and independence. On the other hand, the adjectives used to describe Canadians are “nice” and “polite.” (Have you heard how you can tell the difference between an American and a Canadian? Step on the toes of an American and she'll say, “Hey, buddy, that's my toe you're stepping on.” Step on the toes of a Canadian and she'll say, “Oh, sorry!”) There are worse tags to be labeled with, I admit, but here's my point: nice and polite aren't always virtues.
I admire a spirit of fierce independence because, from a Christian standpoint, there's a great deal to be said for the capacity to stand firm against tyrannical power. When the First Commandment says to have no other gods than God, one implication is that we ought to pray that the Spirit will so stiffen our spine that we do not acquiesce to a government that runs roughshod over human rights. Being nice or polite in the face of dictatorship is not enough.
At the same time, independence can deteriorate into arrogance, selfishness and incapacity to settle differences peaceably. Some people may idolize a tyrant, but others idolize themselves. The faults are equally wrong in the Bible's view. Is it too much to think that we can be strong, courageous, independent-minded and self-confident, but remain collaborative and non-violent? Can any country breed such citizens?
You are right: independence can be an advantage or a disadvantage. American independence has afforded our citizenry a “can-do” attitude and an inner fortitude to stand for what we believe to be right. But some Americans also have a cowboy sense of justice. If you hurt me and mine, I'll be sure you pay for it. I'll exact the punishment myself, with a smile on my face.
The thirst for revenge, however, is not distinctly an American problem. Nor is the idea of idolizing oneself. In fact, that is the original sin: wanting to be like God. Revenge and pride have plagued humankind since Adam and Eve. The Bible is bursting with stories on these themes, as well as instruction on how to handle temptation.
Couple humanity's lust for revenge and power (god-likeness) with the availability of weapons, and you've got a recipe for disaster. A recipe more frequently cooked up in the United States than in any other Western country. Still, there are more instances of abuse and neglect than there are instances of shootings. And every country shares that blame.
Can the ideal citizens you describe be bred anywhere? I don't believe such a citizenry can exist outside of the influence of Christ. Some day he will establish his Kingdom on earth. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. But until then, Christians should be examples in their own societies of all you've mentioned: strength, courage, confidence, collaboration and peace. Those of us who are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven must live out God's values and principles here and now.
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden … let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16). My ancestors mistakenly thought that the nation they founded would be that light. But Christians throughout the world must be that light, each in his own land. We shine bravely as we wait for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Even so, Lord Jesus, come.