Vail Daily columnist Jack Van Ens: Evangelicals shoot down gun limits
The Republican Party’s platform opposes additional gun control legislation. The GOP doesn’t want to halt over-the-counter sales of clips holding many bullets.
The National Rifle Association, by far the most effective gun lobby in the country, controls Republican evangelicals by practicing politics of fear. The NRA warns that God-given freedoms are in jeopardy. It believes Uncle Sam uses restrictions to deprive citizens from privately owning firearms.
Even though substantial changes in gun-control laws haven’t been passed during the Obama presidency, his election for a second term spells trouble for gun-toting veterans, warns the NRA. Since the president doesn’t have to worry about being re-elected, “there’s no political downfall if Obama enacts more stringent measures,” said NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam.
To question the NRA’s strict pro-gun policy invites howls of protest. Gun-buying groups blacklist detractors. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama stirred up a hornets nest from the NRA. He asked at a fundraiser in San Francisco whether our society flourished when fearful citizens “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”
Gun enthusiasts rejected Obama’s caution. They ignored statistics about gun violence in the United States. The gun homicide rate per capita in our nation is 30 times more than that of Great Britain and Australia, 10 times more than in India, and four times more than Switzerland’s rate.
Such grim statistics caused film critic Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun Times to muse over the fact that citizens mentally unstable and prone to violence inhabit these overseas lands in the same proportion as in the United States. What’s different is that guns aren’t readily available in these nations that forbid selling assault weapons over the counter.
Even Yemen, filled with violent anti-American terrorists, lags behind the United States in private arsenals. Our country has 88.8 firearms per 100 people, topping Yemen’s 54.8 guns per 100 residents. This statistic is even more alarming because violence is so common that the United States has hiked its strikes of Predator and Reaper drones and placed special operations troops on the ground to control Yemen’s terrorists.
What’s unsettling is how evangelical Christians voice few reservations about U.S. citizens stockpiling weapons. Exerting a militant stance, they take literally the biblical command to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand up against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6: 11).
Some evangelicals regard cautionary advice to curtail weapons as satanic. At the National Urban League July 25, President Obama clashed with the gun lobby, declaring, “I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that an AK-47 belongs in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals – that they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities.”
Why do evangelical Republicans support gun proliferation? After the January 2011 shooting rampage that seriously wounded then-Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed several others, Ellen Painter Dollar submitted an essay on gun restrictions to Christianity Today, the major evangelical journal. Editors spiked the article because “they felt they ‘cannot win’ on the gun-control issue with their evangelical readership.”
Evangelicals also point to our nation’s early history, when guns secured citizens’ personal freedoms. In 1787, several key Founding Fathers wouldn’t endorse the Constitution without an attached Bill of Rights. They regarded carrying guns as important as other God-given rights, such as freedom of the press and assembling to worship.
Thomas Jefferson stocked a full armory at Monticello. He led visitors on tours of his weapons, teaching them about their manufacture and use. He advised fathers to supply their sons with guns at age 10. It functioned as a sign of maturation on the frontier.
Colonials used guns to hunt for food. They killed predators of livestock. Local militias stored arms for citizens.
The Constitution’s Second Amendment allows local militia to bear arms. In June 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that citizens, together with militias, had the cherished right to keep arms.
Isn’t it a fair question to demand firearm restrictions because our times are different from the gun-slinging frontier?
Do citizens need to bear arms as a way of protecting their sacred freedoms? Some use guns to hunt; others to target practice. Today, the rest of us don’t need to act like proverbial cowboys because the shoot-em-up frontier was closed by the 1890s.
The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations.