The AR-15 is the bestselling rifle in America, and it is selling even faster after its use
in the Newtown massacre. Thousands of people are buying Lanza’s weapon of choice, but they are not emulating him. In fact, most will only ever use their rifles for target shooting and home protection. Sometimes after a disaster, an object, not a person, can become a scapegoat. For example, Roosevelt refused to sell Helium to Hitler’s Germany, and so when the Hindenburg was struck by lightning as it loomed over New Jersey, it became a hydrogen-fueled ball of fire. Passenger airship travel was dead. And this has happened in some ways after Newtown: the media and a tenuous majority of the populace want to see stricter gun control laws. But other people, with perhaps a deeper understanding of human nature, have dissociated the weapon of massacre from the thought and act of massacre. One man may buy an assault rifle and murder with it. Another, perhaps a serviceman, may buy an assault rifle and prevent murder. The assault rifle is the common denominator, but not the cause, of both actions.
The majority of gun-owners are probably a little eccentric in their belief that formidable weaponry is necessary to maintain the freedoms they enjoy. Some of them are irrationally fearful of government search and seizure, or of a foreign invasion as laughably implausible as Red Dawn. But even Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who now wants to renew the Clinton-era ban on high-capacity magazines and assault rifles, if she is thinking rationally, cannot associate the millions of gun-owners, even assault-rifle owners, with the violence of Adam Lanza and Jared Loughner and James Holmes and Anders Behring Breivik, and the other mass killers, lionized by the media, who have terrorized innocents in the past few years. Lanzas and Loughners are not the 1%, they are the .1% or less of gun owners. Any regulation of weapons must weigh in the balance that it will not prevent crime, because it will not prevent criminals.
This is not to repeat the tired mantra Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. The uncomfortable truth is that guns are the most effective method of killing people that people have access to. In countries where guns are rarer, the murder rate is lower (often, however, the incidence of violent crime is much higher). However, massacres like Newtown are the exception that proves the rule: for every cold and calculating Newtown, there are murders (like the 500 homicides in Chicago in 2012) motivated by drugs, money, lust, or hatred. American ‘gun culture’, I submit, is not necessarily good or evil. It causes murder, it prevents murder. In a far-off country with an unarmed populace, most criminals are unarmed–and their criminal life goes on. It is the same, in America, with armed citizens and armed criminals.
There are two ultimate solutions to the problem that people use guns to kill people. We could ban civilian gun ownership completely and confiscate all of them. The murder rate would fall into the basement for a while, but human nature would not be changed. Violent crimes would still be committed, and some criminals, namely the more dangerous ones, would somehow sneak their guns under the government safety net. Such a blanket ban would violate the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, and change society in unmeasurable ways. It would not mean the end of freedom, at least not immediately, but it would make American citizens impotent in the face of terror. It is not a farsighted solution.
The other solution, advocated by a slightly crazed Wayne LaPierre in a recent NRA press conference, is to arm almost everyone. The basic fact that armed guards in schools would prevent crime is true, but it would not fix the problem. There was an armed guard at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. He was one of the first to die. Training the American populace, all of us, to use guns to defend ourselves, our families, our pupils, our friends, seems to make a lot of sense. However, advocating a heavily armed populace means despairing of any less drastic remedy. When the “West was won” and dusty little towns on the railway line were pacified, it was a relief for federal marshals and right-thinking cowboys to hang their rifles over the mantle, to sequester their gun belts to museums. It was progress for civilization, that we had all agreed to live together and not shoot each other. The NRA is advocating a step backward: they have already, because they love guns, dismissed the possibility that we can prevent crime without turning every citizen into an arsenal. For me, I would prefer a future where there are as few guns in schools as possible. Guns and children do not mix. The NRA seems to think there would be no victims if everyone had a gun and could use it. But there would still be predators and prey, rapists and cons who can talk their way past a .38 Special. You can die just as easily from gunfire whether you are armed or not. Maybe we should give everyone a gun and body armor. No! Where would it end?
The NRA has lost touch with reality almost as much as their opponents. One side has forgotten the depth of human evil, so deep that all of us are Adams and Eves and Adam Lanzas, murderers in our hearts. The other side has forgotten that humans, because of grace, can get up in the morning with beating hearts and open eyes and a very limited amount of hatred for our fellow-men. I do not want to have to strap a gun belt on my waist every day, even though I have used firearms and enjoyed them for as long as I can remember. I want human civilization to have moved forward, if that is even possible, so that I don’t have to be constantly armed, constantly vigilant. It is true, and I think many gun enthusiasts know it in their hearts, that any John Doe with anger problems (and that’s most of us) might be more dangerous with a gun on his belt than without. He might prevent a crime, prevent Newtown even, and then be caught up in the anger and darkness of his heart and commit crime himself. There is no one righteous, no, not one. There is no one who seeks God.
I am trying, always, to resist the urge to put any measure of faith in human civilization. I seem to have more of it than my friends: most of them would agree, reservedly, with the NRA’s position that maximum-gun America is the safest America. All of my faith should be placed in God–but civilization is His gift. He has given us this framework for dealing with each other so that we have redress for grievances beyond the gun, and a police and a military to protect us, sometimes even effectively, from the chaos of the evil of men.
For myself, I think guns should be registered like cars, and rigidly protected from government seizure. If some way could be found to profile likely psych cases like Adam Lanza or James Holmes, then I would support preventing those people from having guns. Adam Lanza stole his mother’s guns. If she had locked them up, she would probably be alive today. We can’t use technology to save humanity, because only Christ can do that (and He has), but a gun with thumbprint activation, only to be fired by its owner, is safer than one without. Let those who wish to be armed be armed. Let the government safeguard their right to be so. Let those who do not wish to be armed feel safe, because the government and the armed populace work together to protect them, and perhaps, by the grace of God, to prevent the next Newtown.