By Stephen K. Reeves
I am a gun owner. A Remington 870 pump 12 gauge shotgun to be exact. I bought it while I was in law school in Lubbock close to family land I could hunt on. I enjoy quail and dove hunting. They are part of my family history, culture, and tradition.
Growing up, whenever visiting my grandparents in Anson, you’d most likely find my brother and me with a BB or pellet gun in our hands. We’d wander around the pasture shooting cans, milk jugs, and the occasional bird. (Yes, this sounds a lot like Matthew McConaughey‘s story, but it is common for Texas boys.)
When we were a bit older, and with adult supervision, we’d ride out to one of Grandpa’s cotton farms to shoot targets with a .22 rifle. Skeet shooting and target practice are frequent forms of entertainment at family gatherings. I’ve also shot plenty of pistols, big and small, and I’ve even shot an AR-15.
I am a gun owner, but for God’s sake something has got to change about America’s love of guns and our ridiculous, irresponsible, and tragic lack of sensible gun laws.
Honestly, aside from an occasional exasperated post on Facebook, I’ve mostly stayed out of the gun debate. It has always been so partisan and predictably unproductive. Everyone from politicians to friends and family on social media seem to be inhabiting different worlds, unable to agree on basic facts, and completely talking past one another.
If there’s any hope that we’ll get out of this incomprehensible death spiral of mass shootings and everyday gun violence something has got to change. This includes you, and it includes me.
Debating interpretations of the Second Amendment is usually a waste of time, but no Constitutional right is absolute. With any right comes the responsibility not to abuse that freedom. Free speech doesn’t mean you can yell fire in a crowded theater and if my religion calls me to punch you in the face, you’ll be glad when the government restricts my free exercise.
I don’t believe that reasonable gun regulations infringe on Second Amendment rights, but even so, America’s current experiment in gun freedom has proven us irresponsible.
Maybe it is because I have kids nearing the age of the precious ones killed in Uvalde, but I don’t know how anyone can read accounts like this and not decide to do everything in their power to protect our children and prevent it from happening again.
Too often anger and fear are stoked and abused for political gain. They rarely move us towards the better angels of our nature. But I’m furious and afraid for my kid’s lives.
The reasons for our gun violence problem are complex and run deep, but easy access to weapons and high-capacity magazines whose sole purpose is to kill as many people as possible as fast as possible is certainly one of them.
Our civic leaders are called to protect citizens and promote peace. They are failing. Inaction in the face of repeated massacres is a sickening failure of leadership and shows a callous lack of imagination. I refuse to believe we are too weak, uncaring, or powerless to prevent a problem that almost never happens in any similarly developed nation.
It is mighty convenient for politicians to point to a return to traditional family values as the real solution. While this contains a kernel of truth, it cannot be legislated. It allows them to effectively wash their hands of the problem. Meanwhile, they not only refuse to enact rational regulations within their power, they’ve mostly gone the other direction.
For almost two decades, since the expiration of the assault weapons ban, with rare exception it feels like we’ve only tried to prevent gun violence with more guns, easier access, and fewer restrictions. When do we decide enough children have been murdered that a different strategy is worth a try? The “good guy with a gun” theory has failed far too many grieving families.
If I have to plug my shotgun so that it only holds three shells when hunting migratory birds, it seems reasonable to limit large capacity magazines on rifles that so efficiently kill elementary school kids.
We may never prevent all mass shootings, but we should demand our leaders try options other than more guns. Christians are called to be agents of peace. We don’t get out of this duty just because it leads to messy partisan political debates.
I admit to growing somewhat cynical about the prospects for policy change. But I’m just idealistic enough, and have seen enough examples in the last few weeks, to believe this time may be different.
Too often our political system feels broken and our politicians unresponsive, but if reasonable folks, and especially responsible gun owners, don’t engage, there’s little hope for change.
There are numerous bills and policy proposals that would change the status quo, many of which are supported by large majority of Americans. They include universal background checks, “red flag” laws, raising the age to legally buy rifles, mandatory waiting periods, safe storage laws, and reinstating the assault weapon and large capacity magazine ban. I’m glad to see bipartisan movement on some of these ideas.
Our policy responses should be driven by data, and realistic about the kind of impact they will have. As Michael Gerson recently wrote, “The reaction of a working political system to the Buffalo and Uvalde murders would be to exhaust the most promising policy approaches.”
So how might we make sure that now is different? Here are a few ideas.
- Call elected officials. You probably already have. Yes, sometimes it feels like shouting into the void, but keep it up.
- Vote based on this issue, especially in the primaries. Choose candidates that also have change as a priority.
- Contribute based on this issue. Support candidates committed to change and volunteer for their campaigns.
- Thank elected officials who stand up. They need to be affirmed and recognized when their efforts are appreciated, especially when they buck the party line.
- Talk about gun violence even when uncomfortable. Don’t let falsehoods go unanswered.
- March and protest. They often don’t have the immediate policy impact we hope, but there is power in being together with others who share your passion and commitment. We could all use encouragement and a reminder we’re not alone.
- Follow and support organizations and leaders doing the work. Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action, Sandy Hook Promise, Sojourners, Shane Claiborne, Rob Schenck and the Rev. Deanna Hollas to name a few.
- Offer the teachers in your life a word of encouragement. This has already been an incredibly challenging season for those committed to students and service in our public schools.
- Pray. When we feel hopeless and powerless, lean into the one who sustains, resurrects and can make a way out of no way.
Stephen K. Reeves serves as the CBF Director of Advocacy and is the Executive Director of Fellowship Southwest.