by Doug Fisher
Part 2 of 2
Amidst the current debate over gun regulation that has been marked by polarized conflict, Christians are called to a different source of authority than themselves. The English word, “obedience,” comes from the Greek root, “obeir”; and “obeir” literally means “to listen,” or, “to hear.” As obedient Christians we are called to listen – both to “our friends” and to “our enemies” – in order to engage that reconciling spirit which is the very spirit of their God.
Episcopal Bishop of Oklahoma, Edward Konieczny, was a police officer for eighteen years. He has been involved in shootings that resulted in death; a friend and partner died on a shift that had been his; and days before leaving for seminary, a door opened to a rifle pointed at his head that miraculously didn’t fire. As a Bishop who sometimes carries a gun on drives through his rural diocese, he confesses that both sides of the gun control debate presume he is “on their side.”
“Until very recently,” Bishop Konieczny says, “I was adamantly opposed to any expansion of gun control. But as I have reflected on the current debate — and the emotionally charged and morally complex gun-related moments in my past — I find myself struggling and evolving in my understanding of guns in our society. I think it is time for an honest conversation about the assumptions on which both sides in the gun debate base their arguments. It’s time for both sides to acknowledge that neither offers a complete solution to the problems of violence in our society.”
In a country where twice as many suicides as homicides result from the use of firearms, we need to consider the Harvard School of Public Health studies that indicate firearm access as a critical risk factor in consummated suicide. We need to consider how this selfsame access arms potential murderers. And at the policy level, we need to explore why these studies show significantly lower suicide and homicide rates in “low-gun states” than in “high-gun” states.
Many of us fight the gun industry as the political “other side.” Yet in 2000, in exchange for clemency from potential lawsuits against the company, gun manufacturer, Smith and Wesson, agreed to prohibit the sale of its guns without background checks, to install locks on all its guns, and to develop technology that would allow its guns to be fired only by their owners. Sadly, in the wake of their agreement with the Clinton administration, gun rights lobbies successfully discouraged the sale of Smith and Wesson guns, leaving the weakened company to be finally sold at a fraction of its former value.
If this attempt ended on a disappointing note, such attempts can be made again. The Smith and Wesson story tells us three things: first, not all gun manufacturers need to be against the regulation of guns; second, the technical expertise of gun manufacturers can be used in making legal guns safer; and third, because the free market has shown itself to be an inadequate agency of gun regulation, the Federal Government must regulate the marketplace to accord its citizens the inalienable right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
This may be happening in New Jersey. A state law passed in 2002 declares that when technology to prevent gun use by unauthorized persons was developed, it would be required on all new guns sold in the state. Now that electronic identification devices have been successfully incorporated into handguns – including one utilizing a “fingerprint-based locking system – such regulation is viable.
Those who see every possible solution as no less than an impossible task may take heart in Saint Francis, who knew only too well the daunting opposition. “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” By freeing ourselves from the prison of self-interest that divides us from our fellow human beings, we might stand against the odds, and with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, become another “prisoner of hope.”
As expressed in President Obama’s State of the Union address: “Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight. But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.” And in the words of Ana Grace’s father, Jimmy Greene, “What we desire and deeply pray for is real change, and we stand alongside the folks who organized Sandy Hook Promise, who say real change doesn’t happen when we immediately take sides and get ready to fight the other side.”
The kingdom of the world – whose literal gravity drew Jesus to death by suffocation – stands to suffocate the possibility of our common life of “Happiness.” Yet stretched between the kingdoms of the world and that of God are the arms that embraced all of creation, revealing that mysterious economy whereby the more we give, the more we have together. Between despair and hope, between death and greater life, between hatred of ourselves and love for God, spans, crosses, breathes anew the possibility of the pursuit of Happiness together.
We are called to embrace a world that is still torn by the cruelty of the Cross – and which can only be healed by the impossible, subversive, reconciling love of God. As inextricably entwined as death and resurrection, it is a task of impossible hope: that out of the ashes of a nation’s children lost can come a greater life of the spirit. Only by committing to a life amidst the bells that toll for the human condition can we look to a day when the tolling bells turn, and peal for eternal joy.
The time has come for the fallen children of Newtown to rise again, and to lead us. The time has come to allow their terrible deaths to be redeemed by a new life together. The time has come for us all to be gathered in God’s arms – just as these children were gathered by their teachers – to know the way of God is the way of sacrifice that ultimately transforms even death.
And only then will we know the truth that Jesus spoke in his Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Footnotes Edward Konieczny, “My Take: The Thin Line Between God and Guns,” April 10, 2013  Harvard School of Public Health Online, “Means Matter: Firearm Access is a Risk Factor for Suicide,”  Gary Fields, “Weapon Makers See Danger in Cooperating Over Safety,” The Wall Street Journal, January 16, 2013  Ashby Jones, “New iP1 Pistol May Trigger Old Gun Law in New Jersey,” The Wall Street Journal Online, November 20, 2013  President Barak Obama, “Remarks by the President in the State of the Union Address,” February 12, 2013  op. cit., Peter Applebome and Elizabeth Maker
The Rt Rev. Douglas Fisher is Bishop of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts