The NRA polarizes people. Some assume the worst from the NRA and others assume that the NRA speaks near-100% truth. Admittedly, I have been in the first group more often than not. Therefore, I made a conscious effort to watch the entire Press Conference the NRA conducted today concerning the outcry for gun control laws in the wake of the recent Elementary School tragedy. I have to confront my own prejudices like everyone.
Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre spoke about our practices of placing armed guards at banks, sporting stadiums, around national buildings, around important people and then questioned why we do not do the same for children. He pointed to the problems of violent movie and video game content and music videos. He criticized the media for their unwillingness to report about this content. He criticized politicians for their unwillingness to take what he called the “hard stands.” In the solution section of his speech, He called for congress to make the resources available to put an armed police officer in every school. Further, he pledged the NRA’s commitment to providing expertise and training. He indicated the need to look at access control, building design and adequate training. Finally, he introduced former US Congressman Asa Hutchinson as the NRA’s National Director of the National Shield Our Schools program.
Since you can read his comments verbatim, I will not try to summarize anymore. There are places where I agree with Mr. LaPierre. I have seen first hand the significant good that campus-based police officers do. They offer much more than security. Like everyone else, I wish that our police were better funded and that we could provide a police officer for every school down to the elementary schools. Second, I agree with him that gun control laws become the point of focus too quickly and too easily.
We do disagree. And in saying I disagree with him I want to also admit that I am guilty of making similar mistakes in different directions. All men are sons of Adam and brothers of Cain. Adam uttered the first lame excuse of human history by blaming someone else for his sin. His son Cain uttered the second lame excuse of human history implying he didn’t have the responsibility to be his brother’s keeper. Both of those tactics show up in the discourse around gun violence discussion along with other issues. So, by pointing these out in LaPierre’s speech I would simultaneously confess to them in my own.
LaPierre is right when he says that the NRA too easily becomes the target of the blaming. Yet, he too gives in to that temptation by blaming a host of others-media, politicians, makers of violent video games. Others, I agree with him, who share some of the responsibility for the problem. I think I would have found him more persuasive if he had admitted that the NRA has contributed to the problem. If he had admitted that the easy availability of guns, which the NRA has protected, is one among many contributing factors to gun violence, I would have found him persuasive.
The biggest disagreement I have with him concerns whether or not we are responsibility for our brothers’ and sisters’ welfare. His speech had an undercurrent, fatalistic anthropology. He repeatedly used the words “monsters” and “bad guys” as though we simply have to consign ourselves to live in world where people choose to do bad things because they are hopelessly bad people. I believe that there are some people who become hopelessly bad. And when that happens, I believe we all share part of the blame. I believe that we help form one another. And should not consign ourselves to the inevitability of evil buy actively seek to counteract it.
We belong in a system of responsibility for one another. He said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” I cannot concur that the only way to respond to the potential for violence is armed protection against it. We should set aside the histrionics about whether we want an armed police officer responding should someone be breaking into our house. Armed protection is necessary. But just as the NRA claims that laws are insufficient so too I would say that armed protection is insufficient. It takes the transformation of hearts and minds, the development of habits of wholeness, and in a single word it takes conversion. When we admit that we ourselves have sinned because we are sinners and we make a conscious decision to turn from sin and turn toward God, we contribute to the conversion of our system. When service and witness together enable others to make that same move, we help repair our system. A good guy with a gun is necessary to stop some bad guys with guns. But the real answer is for the bad guy to enter a redemptive relationship with a good God.
There’s an analogy that the Baptist preacher and founder of Koinonia Farms, Clarence Jordan, used in talking about the impact Christ has on people. He talked about a mean dog. What the law does is chain the mean dog to a tree (he was talking about Old Testament law). What Christ does is actually change the nature of the dog. Similarly, in issues like this I think we have to come to agreement that laws by themselves are incapable of making the necessary changes. People’s violent natures must be changed. And that’s a transformation of the heart.