You need a little info about me to fully appreciate what I’m talking about in this post. I was a small boy during WWII. Both my brothers were in the Army and one of them saw extensive combat. My father had been in WWI and more than once, proudly showed me his uniform. He was also in combat. When I was a kid, war was glorified. We were told we were fighting for a holy cause: freedom from tyranny. And, of course, to protect the American Way of Life.
The other boys in my neighborhood and I played with small plastic or metal soldiers. We had little trucks and tanks and plane--implements of war. We built model warplanes and ships. We each owned at least one cap pistol and a toy rifle and we played on the battlefields of the neighborhood. I even had a dummy hand grenade and bazooka shell. When I went to the local movie on Saturday, I saw war movies and westerns. Guns blazing away in both. Bad guys falling left and right and the homestead saved for the damsel; the Pacific island taken for our side.
When I started high school, ROTC was required. I would have taken it anyway. When it became optional in the third year, I enrolled as a cadet officer. I could field strip a M-1 rifle, not quite blindfolded, but pretty quickly. For two years I was on the rifle team, including the year we won the city championship. I was on the drill team and was the commander the year we won the state competition.
When college came, ROTC was still a requirement, but again, I would have taken it anyway. I wanted to be an officer and only a non-threatening health problem ended that dream. The first year I was on our rifle team and didn’t continue the second year only because I had to work to pay for school.
During Vietnam, I was in college and seminary, and because I had a history of kidney stones was classified 4-F: women and children, then me. War didn’t seem as glamorous when we were in Vietnam as it had in Europe, the Pacific and Korea. Campuses rioted, protests were everywhere, the age of the Peacenik had dawned with Aquarius. I had two boys by then. Some of my friends vowed not to buy their sons toy guns. I have photos of both my boys with cowboy outfits and toy pistols slung low on their hips.
My point so far is: I not an anti-gun guy. At the same time, I find the slogan, “Guns don’t kill; people do,” far to simplistic and naive. But, as much as I don’t like it, there is an important chunk of truth that is a matter for our consideration. First, there is of course some difference between killing in warfare and murder. [Perhaps a topic for another day. For now, just humor me.] For a long time in this country, guns have been used in robbery and mayhem of other kinds, and still are. A few very good people have been killed, murdered by guns: Lennon, King, and Kennedy, to name three. We’ve had people who massacred many, a few in the news recently.
But, when I see on TV or read in the paper a story where a fired employee shoots his boss, I’m more deeply troubled than in the other cases. Or when I hear stories from our own community in which people are shot or killed over a parking place, a scratch on a car, or a dice game I have to ask a very fundamental question: where have we as a culture and we as a Church failed in our mission to teach morality to our children? How did we let them grow up believing that deadly force is the solution when they are angry with someone? I’ve owned guns. It has never occurred to me to settle a dispute with someone by loading up. With all the cultural indoctrination I’ve had about the place of armed violence in the world, it never included permitting deadly force because someone dissed me or did me some real or imagined harm.
What was I taught that isn’t being effectively taught today? People with guns kill because their moral compass is not pointing toward a meaningful true north. Their morality is way out of whack, and somehow, we as a people, as a Church, have contributed to that. At the very least, we have done too little to provide a context in which they could learn the morality most of learned.
I don’t like it. I’m even a little frightened. And I’m a lot confused about the way forward.