I am inspired seeing a younger generation seize the moment to march on their Capitol in Florida, urging legislative action to help prevent future slaughter of children by assault rifles. Is this a “tipping point” (dubbed #NeverAgain), where our society begins to meaningfully deal with gun violence – or merely another cry among so many others again unheeded?
In 1994, Congress passed an assault rifle ban, while affirming recreational firearms use. A compromise needed to get the legislation approved, included a 10-year “sunset” on the legislation. Assault weapon deaths declined but the ban expired in 2004, as there was little public resolve to renew it. That bill came in the wake of a series of shootings, one of children and teachers in Stockton, California, all involving semi-automatic weapons. Former U.S. Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan joined then-President Clinton in pushing for the law. The bill was vehemently opposed by the National Rifle Association, which succeeded in getting the sunset provision.
Today, the NRA is even more powerful than ever. For them, it’s all about power, money and control, maintained by fear. The fear that the NRA feeds is that the right to own guns will be taken away. The youth rising up today are only talking about limiting semi-automatic assault weapons. But, a mass movement is needed to begin to meaningfully challenge those legislators who only serve the NRA, or replace them if necessary with those who will put human life above frankly an idolatry of guns.
In the season of Lent, Christians should at least consider that our country’s obsession with collecting guns is idolatry, placing the amassing of “objects” above human life. It’s not – as claim the NRA and other defenders of assault rifles – a problem with mentally ill individuals who somehow acquire these weapons. It’s frankly that we don’t adequately limit assault weapons. Are we Americans more ill, or morally depraved than citizens of other countries? No, yet no other developed country has a fraction of the death by guns that we readily allow.
Twenty-some years ago, Australia had its own mass shooting moment, a massacre in which a man with a semi-automatic rifle opened fire at a tourist destination, killing 35 and injuring 23. Twelve days later, a conservative prime minister introduced the “National Firearms Act,” which banned the sale and importation of all automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, required people to produce a legitimate reason for wanting to buy a weapon, and installed a 28-day waiting period. In the 20 years since passage there have been no mass shootings in Australia. Joe Hockey was then a conservative lawmaker who reluctantly joined in supporting that legislation. Now, the current Australian Ambassador to the U.S., he recently tweeted it can’t happen here because “guns are more pervasive and cultural” in the United States. In a subsequent interview Joe said he’s stunned there’s not greater outrage here.
The NRA and other “conservative” opponents always claim controlling guns is the first step to overthrowing democracy and imposing a dictatorship. I disagree. It’s not by keeping guns in our homes, but maintaining the vibrant checks and balances provided by our Constitution and laws, and a vigorous and free press that prevents dictatorship. We need political change to stop the carnage, how best to achieve that I’m not sure. It may begin by simply seeing this obsession with guns as evil. Note that in his letter to Timothy, St. Paul never said money is the root of evil, but “the love of money” is that root. It’s that love (obsession) of anything (including guns) that takes precedence over life that becomes evil. This is not questioning the right to possess guns for hunting and other sporting events. (It is interesting that those who seemingly adhere to a strict interpretation of the Constitution conveniently look the other way when it comes to consider the real intent of the Second Amendment, which was tied to “a well regulated militia”.)
I hope we listen carefully to these young people, who are our future, and consider their call for a ban on assault weapons.