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Viewpoints: Is gun control a religious issue?

Viewpoints is a SpokaneFāVS feature where our writers respond to a weekly question. Readers are invited to participate by posting in the comment section below.

The mass shooting in Orlando has sparked, yet another, gun control debate in the U.S.

The Guardian reported this week that, “there is a mass shooting – defined as four or more people shot in one incident, not including the shooter – on five out of every six days, on average” in the United States.

Gun control measures failed in the Senate this week, but it hasn’t silenced politicians on the issue.

But is just a political issue? We asked our writers:

Is gun control a religious issue? Why or why not?

Neal Schindler: Yes, because life and death are religious issues

Neal Schindler
Neal Schindler

Recently, we Jews celebrated the holiday of Shavuot. The cause for celebration? God’s gift of the Ten Commandments to the nation of Israel. Before the commandments, there was chaos! After, there was order. In the Torah, the ultimate Top 10 List is first enumerated in Exodus 20:1-17. It’s Exodus 20:13, specifically, that informs us that we shalt not kill.

What do we do with this commandment? Conscientious objectors may take it literally. People who serve in the military or reserve the right to defend their property in “stand your ground” jurisdictions may think of it differently. In any case, killing seems like an inherently theological topic inasmuch as capital punishment, abortion, and right-to-die laws all spark heated debate because they deal with life and death.

Since Orlando, I’ve heard AR-15s described as “tools,” as though they were garden hoes. The idea is usually that guns don’t kill people… and you know the rest. Guns, the logic goes, are morally and functionally neutral tools until someone picks one up with ill intent. In a show of dissension, Isaiah 2:4 reminds us that swords are not, in fact, the same as plowshares, and spears are not identical to pruning hooks. I’m thinking Isaiah may have had a point.

Gun control is a religious issue because life and death are religious issues, and guns are killing machines. Sure, a zillion action movies have taught us that they can also be used to shoot a lock off a door when you don’t have the key. But mostly, killing is what they do. Or, in the case of home defense, it’s scaring people half to death because you could kill them.

Weapons have existed as long as humans have, and likely longer, but it took our huge, scarily amoral brains to produce weapons that kill dozens, or thousands, in a very short time. Just ask Robert Oppenheimer. We have essentially made ourselves masters of life and death. That’s a religious criticism often lodged against right-to-die laws and abortion. It’s also used against capital punishment; I think it should be used just as vehemently against America’s laissez-faire attitude regarding guns. Who are we to make massively efficient killing machines, just because we can? Are we trying to harness God’s power? And who are we to make them so incredibly easy to buy?

For the most part? Capitalists, that’s who.

The Second Amendment is seen as the 11th Commandment by some. Moses himself, Charlton Heston, may now be as famous for his “cold, dead hands” quip as for anything he did on-screen. What we have to ask ourselves is how many more cold, dead bodies we’re willing to produce before we consider, as a nation, enacting serious policy reform related to guns. Years ago, massacres in Australia and Scotland led directly to strict gun control in those countries. Sandy Hook led to thoughts and prayers and not much else.

Pro-life theology that opposes abortion, euthanasia, and — hopefully — also capital punishment is a major political force in our country. Proponents of this brand of religious thought may want to consider supporting gun control, as our current approach is starting to seem pretty damn anti-life.

Readers, we want to hear from you too, but remind you keep the FāVS comment policy in mind: Seek out answers, move the discussion forward, assume the best in others — treat others as you would like to be treated.


About Tracy Simmons

Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. Currently she serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She is also a Scholarly Assistant Professor at Washington State University.

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One comment

  1. Good perspective Neal, I wrote as well that guns are used to take human life, so this necessarily makes them a religious issue.

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