(RNS) — On the Fourth of July, my wife and I stood on the lawn of the White House, joining a crowd of Americans from all walks of life, celebrating a day intended to symbolize freedom and independence for U.S. citizens. Across the country, similar crowds gathered for parades, fireworks displays and family cookouts on a day filled with the joy of being with family and friends.
Seven hundred miles away, in Highland Park, Illinois — on streets I walked as a divinity student at a nearby seminary — one of those celebrations turned into a nightmare as a 21-year-old gunman killed seven people and injured dozens of others at a parade. The right to possess firearms had led to loss of life, trauma and devastation to the families and communities of the victims.
These scenes have become all too familiar. In fact, dozens of other mass shootings took place over the Fourth of July weekend throughout the country. In recent months, we’ve seen a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas; a white supremacist shooting in Buffalo, New York; a nationalist shooting at Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California; and shootings at a funeral in Racine, Wisconsin, a medical center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a church in Ames, Iowa, and at another church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama.
As the threat of gun violence has increased with no clear end in sight, my wife and I had a serious conversation about what our response should be. I asked my wife at one point if I should consider obtaining a gun for protection. She paused and told me, “I don’t want you to get a gun.”
When I asked her why, she said: “Our eternity is secure because of our faith in Jesus. We couldn’t say the same is true of anyone threatening to take our lives.”
I couldn’t help but wonder if this is the type of faith we all need to embody.
In the Bible, we are told that it is for freedom that we are set free and that our freedom should be used to serve one another in love. Our highest calling as Christians is unto God’s glory, the Apostle Paul tell us in his Letter to the Colossians, as we love God and love our neighbor with special concern for the vulnerable.
I would argue that our children and our elders, and those prone to harming themselves, are among the vulnerable. Our freedoms ought to bring about the flourishing of others, not their demise.
The proliferation of guns in this country, often argued as a “God-given right,” only seems to increase gun violence, not the other way around. Too many Christians seem to conflate constitutional amendments with biblical commandments.
Some have argued against gun safety legislation, saying we “cannot legislate evil away” and “Guns aren’t the problem; bad people with guns are the problem.”
I don’t know any serious-thinking person who believes legislation will rid any society of evil. If laws could change hearts, moral entities like the church might not be needed. Legislation simply acknowledges that evil exists and seeks to curtail it by protecting personal freedoms while limiting the potential harm inflicted by those who would abuse the same freedoms.