By Jonathan Soder, Faith Co-Editor (Courtesy Photo/Creative Commons)
Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Parkland – in the last six months each of these towns has felt the pain gun violence brings to a community. Each incident has sparked national conversation, and each time talks have been reduced to a country-wide shouting match between gun control proponents and gun rights supporters, just as it has after shootings past. With history seemingly bound and determined to repeat itself in this way, how can both sides contribute to effective conversations about gun control?
First, because there are several facets to this issue, the core topic in this national debate must be identified. Associate professor of political science Dr. Chris McMillion said the conversation is currently focused on how to interpret the second amendment which says:
“A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
There are two camps of thought. Gun control supporters latch onto the phrase “a well-regulated militia” and argue that civilian access to guns ought to be limited, or completely banned, because this phrase doesn’t necessarily confer individual rights to gun ownership.
On the other side of things, gun rights proponents claim that the 2nd amendment does in fact impart individual rights to gun ownership. They draw support from the 2008 Supreme Court decision of the case District of Columbia v. Heller, which was 5-4 in favor of individual gun rights.
In the national conversation, these two positions have been construed as having conflicting aims, when in reality, McMillion said, both are trying to protect the same thing – liberty.
“For those who make the gun control argument, it seems that there is a conception of liberty that insists on protecting the right of individuals to be safe from firearm violence,” Mc-Million said. “…That a right to life and to general protection of liberty is impossible if you constantly need to be concerned about dangerous individuals in possession of firearms who could interfere with your life or end it.”
On the other side, McMillion said, gun rights supporters seek to protect this same life and liberty, but through the arming of individuals in order to suppress the possibility of the uprising of a tyrannical government regime. This view reflects upon America’s history and struggle against British rule during the Revolutionary War.
One approach, which both McMillion and assistant professor of biblical and theological studies Dr. Matthew Arbo said is necessary to have effective conversation, is for both sides to open up to compromise.
“If we understand that we’re dealing with competing [philosophical] conceptions in this particular circumstance… [and] it’s not clear which of these perspectives should absolutely hold true, I think we open the ground for compromise,” McMillion said. “For finding more decisions and mechanisms to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, while simultaneously not parting with the conception of the individual right that seems so critical to others.”
While gun rights supporters may need to admit a need for greater inhibitions to purchasing guns, Dr. Paul Donnelly, assistant professor of criminal justice, says that the national conversation needs to steer away from the topic of mental health – one of the favorite arguments of gun control advocates at present.
“A very small percentage of people with mental illness harm others and even more rare are those who are mass shooters,” Donnelly said. “This comes into focus when comparing rates of mental health disorders in other countries who have similar mental health issues but almost no mass shootings of the type that are becoming a regular occurrence here in the United States.”
Donnelly, who served in New Jersey as executive director of the Juvenile Justice Commission and in Texas as Deputy Director of the Texas Commission on Children and Youth, said that focusing on mental health alone is too narrow. If discussed, it must be viewed in light of other factors.
“Like many difficult problems in our world, we want simple explanations to complex problems, followed by quick fixes,” Donnelly said.
Racial stereotypes also must be re-examined.
“There is something unique happening to many of our young white boys in this country, that is not happening anywhere else in the world. Guns and mental health are important areas for examination and problem-solving. However, the problem of mass shootings in the U.S. is the culmination of many things.”
Paralleling McMillion’s statement that the gun control debate is fundamentally philosophical, Arbo said that one thing Christians, in particular, must understand is that conversations on this topic are “moral discourse.” For Christians, the standard of morality comes first from God, not the law.
“Either those commands about how to care for life matter deeply to us or they don’t,” Arbo said. “Our freedom is to be used to honor God, to make His name known, whether in deed or in word.”
Consequently, gun owner or not, Christians are to live out their convictions on this issue in a manner that honors God. Part of honoring God for Christians, according to Romans 12:18, is to actively pursue peace “with all men.”
“In a general sense, when we are called upon to be the ‘addresser,’ we need to consider the example Paul gave us on Mars Hill,” professor of communication arts Dr. Vickie Ellis said. “Paul role-modeled how we should follow God, engage people where they are, find a place of agreement and then share with love, truth and conviction.”
“Additionally, I don’t believe there is a Christian monolith regarding the issue of gun control. That’s another reason we need to join the conversation.”
This is the second installment in the Let’s Talk article series. Students may suggest topics for future articles by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org