Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, said this as his response to the massacre of children at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Conn.: "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
That statement is at the heart of the problem of gun violence in America today -- not just because it is factually flawed, which of course it is, but also because it is morally mistaken, theologically dangerous, and religiously repugnant.
The world is not full of good and bad people; that is not what our scriptures teach us. We are, as human beings, both good and bad. This is not only true of humanity as a whole, but we as individuals have both good and bad in us. When we are bad or isolated or angry or furious or vengeful or politically agitated or confused or lost or deranged or unhinged -- and we have the ability to get and use weapons only designed to kill large numbers of people -- our society is in great danger.
As we have just seen again, when such destructive weapons are allowed to be used out of powerful emotion without restraint or rules, that is bad. In dangerous situations, we as parents cannot tell our children they are safe. We cannot, because they are not. After Sandy Hook many child psychologists were counseling parents like us (I have a 9-year-old and 14-year-old) to hold and love our children, tell them they were safe. We can and did hold and love them, but we cannot tell them they are safe. Not as long as such weapons are available to human beings when they are acting badly.
When we are good, we want to protect our children -- not by having more guns than the bad people, but by making sure guns aren't the first available thing to people when they're being bad. Being good is protecting people and our children from guns that are outside of the control of rules, regulations, and protections for the rest of us.
Let me be personal and theological again, this time with Rev. Phil Jackson, a young pastor from Chicago who I talked with earlier this week. A young, dynamic street pastor, he told me that Chicago had 2,400 shootings in 2012 -- 505 of them resulting in death. More than 100 of them were children from elementary to high school. Almost all of the murdered ones were people and children of color -- African-American and Latino. That's more gun deaths in Chicago than American troop deaths in Afghanistan last year. One city.
Rev. Jackson thinks that God cares as much about murdered children of color in Chicago as God cares about murdered white children in Connecticut. But it seems that mostly the white children get our attention and break our hearts. He thinks those murdered black and brown kids also get God's attention as much as murdered white kids. But he wonders why they don't get ours. It's morally mistaken and also religiously repugnant.