Saturday, June 4, 2022

People Kill People

You have heard the meme: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Like all marketing slogans, this one is designed to obscure the facts. It takes both people and guns to kill people. The facts concerning mass shooters reveal that young men with guns kill people. Take away the guns and you just have angry young men. Take away semi-automatic weapons, and the death toll drops dramatically.

Recently a variation has become popular: “Guns aren’t the problem. Mental illness is the problem.” Even if the Uvalde shooter was mentally ill, how many children would he have killed if he did not have an assault rifle? Without a gun all you have is a disturbed young man. Furthermore, blaming the mentally ill for gun violence just adds another layer of stigma to mental illness. It makes it even less likely that those with mental illness will seek the help they need.

These slogans come straight from the gun lobby’s playbook. Those who repeat such things are being led to the slaughter by those whose only motive is to sell more guns. To identify the problem of gun violence all you have to do is follow the money. Who makes money off the corpses of school children? Gun manufacturers, of course!

They turn every act of gun violence into a reason to buy more guns. They tell people they need more guns to protect themselves from bad guys with guns and from a government that wants to restrict guns. “Buy them while you still can!” The gun lobby uses fear to manipulate people. They turn patriotism into a gimmick to sell guns. No one notices the irony of using the second amendment, which speaks of the necessity of a “well regulated militia,” for a crusade to oppose regulation.

But as much as I can see through the duplicity of the slogans, I have to admit that ultimately it is true that people are responsible. With or without sophisticated weaponry people will kill people. Not as efficiently perhaps, but they will still kill. The source of violence is humans.

Presently I am researching an upcoming podcast episode on the biblical tale of Cain and Abel. The Book of Genesis tells the story of the first murder. No firearms in sight, but Cain managed to use a primitive weapon – likely a farming tool - to spill his brother’s blood. People kill people. They always have.

The only permanent solution to violence is if people choose nonviolence. Government restrictions on weapons may decrease the death toll, but the problem of violence is deeper than anything that can be solved by legislation alone. Violence is ultimately a spiritual problem.

That is what Jesus taught. He said that the cause of murder is anger in the human heart. Jesus’ brother James said that external violence come from inner violence and greed. For that reason Jesus advocated a spiritual discipline of nonviolence, telling his followers to turn the other cheek and refuse to return evil for evil.

Jesus’ teaching on nonviolence and nonresistance is for individuals. It cannot be translated into national or international policy. Any nation that follows the Way of Jesus will undoubtedly be crucified, just as Jesus was crucified. There is no such thing as a “Christian nation.” The term is an oxymoron. At his trial for treason Jesus made it clear that he had no interest in earthly government. He said, “If my kingdom were of this world my disciples would fight…. But my kingdom is not of this world.”

The earliest Christian movement was an intentional community that practiced unconditional love for all, even enemies. Jesus understood the Kingdom of God as an alternative to political and military kingdoms. Jesus did not come to establish an earthly kingdom. The Church is to be a light to the nations, not a nation among nations.

Jesus’ solution to human sin – including gun violence – was a radical one. Jesus told his followers to put away their weapons, “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” He instructed his followers NOT to defend themselves … or him. Once again it is ironic that so many Christians find a reason to ignore Christ’s clear teachings on this subject.

Jesus was not a conservative. He was not a liberal. He was not a zealot, who were the patriots of his day. Jesus was a radical spiritual reformer. He was more like Buddha than Muhammad. Jesus’ vision for the Church is more like the Sangha than the Caliphate. It was a spiritual movement, not a political party. Jesus set up an alternative community that lived by a different standard than the state or political ideologies.

Jesus knew that the only real solution to the problems of suffering, evil, and violence in society was to live by the standards of the Kingdom of God now. That is what his Sermon on the Mount was all about. It is a Declaration of Independence from the cycle of human violence. It is the Constitution of the Kingdom of God.

The way to stop gun violence is to address the root of violence in the human heart, the anger and hate that is so clearly displayed in the nastiness of political rhetoric today. Peace begins by addressing the violence in our own hearts – not others’ hearts. Our heart is the only one we can change, and even that changes only by the grace of God.

As Jesus said, some evil cannot be driven out by anything but prayer. Gun violence is a spiritual issue more than a political one. When our words and actions begin to flow from a reservoir of inner peace rather than political strife, only then will there be peace on earth. Only then will people not kill people. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”


Jean Knox said...

Thank you, Marshall! I'm always grateful for your blog and your wisdom.

Douglas Wyman said...

Hi Marshall,
I am going to disagree with you on one thing… We have to have the discussion about mental illness and the medications that doctors prescribe their patients. Our governments, (State and Federal) need to get real about adequately funding mental health, and people’s access to it. For too long we have heard about the short comings of the mental health system… For too long we have heard in the after-action reports that the assailant was either on or off of certain psychotropic medications. There are violent encounters with police, teachers, the general public on a daily basis of people who are on or have recently discontinued their use of the drugs. I understand that there is evil is this world, but these statements and conversations are happening to often to be a coincidence… See my post on the Sandwichboard… I don’t think it is adding to the stigma at all, I think we owe people who suffer from mental illness the truth about the medications they are being prescribed. They need to know with absolute certainty that what they are taking is safe, and that they will be safe taking them.
Additionally, we live in a violent world… While we are dealing with mass shootings here… The United Kingdom is dealing was mass knifings! I understand a mass knifing will not have as high a body count as a mass shooting, the issue is this – It’s the relationship of the risk factors between the knifer and the shooter – they’re the same… So what the answer?,risen%20for%20five%20consecutive%20years.

EricR said...

Very thoughtful piece, thank you. That you aimed it at each individual is refreshing since it is so easy to look at society as a group and ignore the fact the one is a member. The question of "my anger" is often overlooked in these discussions.

I must admit that I have occasionally forgotten the role of gun manufacturers in all this. I'm not against them making a living, but it must be acknowledged that gun sales are in their interest. So they takes actions to promote such sales. To whitewash that is to ignore reality.

On the other hand, the desire to legislate gun bans ignores the fact that legislation is coercive and, if implemented aggressively, will involve the use of force and not always against the right people. To whitewash that is also to ignore reality.

So again, I appreciated your placing all this at the foot of the individual and one's spiritual connection. It reminded me that, even though mass shootings and the political games that are played in their aftermath fuel and angry response within me, I would do well to continue cultivating a peaceful heart.