The Kid Aimed . . .

Matthew 5:1-12  – The Fourth Sunday following Epiphany – for Sunday, February 2, 2014

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God . . .” (Matthew 5:9)

kid with gunDriving home. Weary. The day’s work was done.

On the sidewalk to my right, a few blocks from home, a woman fussed with a baby in a stroller. There was a second kid beside her. I would guess he was four. I also guessed, in the split-second impressions humans collect through glances, the gray-haired woman was their grandmother. When I might’ve normally looked elsewhere, to scan for oncoming traffic or check the rearview mirror, the four-year old startled me with his next action.

As the grandmother leaned into the stroller, maybe adjusting a blanket, the kid raised an object toward me.

A gun.

The kid aimed at my head. As I drove by, the barrel of his plastic, neon-orange toy rifle tracked the speed of my slow-moving car.

The day before I had read Jesus’ beatitudes, each one like a trumpet declaring the deepest truths of truest faith. About the poor in spirit, about those who mourn, about the meek, and including . . .

 Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus taught, for they will be called children of God.

Nothing I will write in the next sentences will matter. Whatever I write, however poorly or brilliantly my thoughts are phrased, and whoever reads my words, nothing will make a difference.

Why?

‘Cuz I’m gonna write about guns.

I know what I think about guns.

You know what you believe about guns. You know how you defend or condemn or don’t care about their use. Our minds are settled. We are all stuck in the long-dried concrete of our views.

If you agree with me, you’ll (maybe) nod your head and (maybe) think . . . old Larry made a few salient points. Good for him!

If you disagree with me, you’ll (maybe) shake your head and (maybe) think . . . dude’s got a few loose screws. I wonder what’s for dinner?

On Monday, January 13, 2014, apparently irked because someone was texting in a movie theater, a seventy-one year old retired cop shot and killed a fellow human being.*

On Tuesday, January 14, 2014, a twelve-year old boy walked into a school’s gymnasium and wounded two students with a shotgun he’d modified.*

On Sunday, January 19, 2014, in my lovely town of Fresno, two people were shot in an argument over the 49ers-Seahawks football game.*

The kid aimed at my head. As I drove by, the barrel of his plastic, neon-orange toy rifle tracked the speed of my slow-moving car.

Anytime anyone claims the United States is a Christian country, or that Christian values have guided our nation’s best decisions, I cringe. I cringe for many reasons, but one is because of the millions of guns that citizens own. Americans are gunslingers. We are a trigger-happy nation. We are not Jesus’ “peacemakers.” We are not now, nor will we ever likely be deemed, “children of God.”

How can anyone be a “child of God” with so many guns?

How can anyone be a “child of God” with so many murders?

There are more bullets than hopes in this country.

How perverse our values are. I need a gun to protect myself. I need a gun because I like to hike in the woods and kill deer. I need a gun because it’s my second amendment right. I need a gun because the other guy has a gun. If I have a gun, I can stand my ground against bullies (or people texting in theaters). If I have gun, people will listen to me. If I have a gun, no one can tell me what to do. If I have a gun, I can steal things. If I have a gun no one can steal from me.

The "Peacemaker"

The “Peacemaker”

Blessed are the peacemakers? But only if that refers to the (in)famous Colt Single Action Army, SAA, Model P, Peacemaker, M1873?

Other than military or police, what’s a good reason for anyone to own a gun?

Other than military or police, why wouldn’t everyone that owns a gun have it locked away and/or have a lock on the trigger?

Ah, you argue, if all law-abiding, God-fearing, family-loving, red-blooded Americans toss their guns away (or make those guns difficult to reach and use), then only criminals will have guns. The world will spiral into violence.

Yeah, it’s real safe now.

Yup, it's me . . .

Yup, it’s me . . .

And yet I’m a hypocrite. As a munchkin, I strapped a gun around my tiny waist. I aimed the toy gun at dogs, cats, neighbors, Mom, Dad, my older sister and the neighborhood kids. I fondly recall the sulfur smell of freshly fired caps. Bang-bang-bang. I longed to be the next Roy Rogers and thwart the bad guys. I stalked the suburban streets, a trusty six-shooter at my side, ready to tame the west . . . or at least my backyard.

Truthfully, I don’t care about guns. Keep ‘em. Use ‘em. Go do your target practice. Walk in the woods and shoot a bear for dinner. Display your antique Thompson Tommy Guns and pearl-handled Colts next to your spouse’s collection of salt-and-pepper shakers. Please, let’s keep all the estimated 270,000,000 to 310,000,000 shotguns, sidearms, AK-47s, rifles and blunderbusses stored in closets, under beds, on racks in pick-up trucks and so forth. Keep ‘em all. Use ‘em all. Make more. Sell more. Buy more.

But what, my gun-toting, second-amendment-quoting neighbors, are your splendid reasons for owning a gun? What are your values? What’s most important to you? If you are a person of faith (any faith), how does a gun help articulate and live out those beliefs? Or, if you don’t care one wit about faith (perhaps you’re an atheist hankering to wield a weapon), what are your deepest, purest reasons for being armed?

Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus said. What a fool he was. Right? Should we picture Jesus the peacemaker with a spear in his hand? A crossbow? An M-16? An Uzi?

The kid aimed at my head. As I drove by, the barrel of his plastic, neon-orange toy rifle tracked the speed of my slow-moving car.

That kid will grow out of it. After all, most kids—particularly boys—would grab a stick if they didn’t have a toy gun. Nearly every boy in the world (Palestine or Pasadena or Patagonia) plays shoot-‘em-up. It’s in our DNA. We are hunters. There are saber-toothed cats ready to pounce just outside the feeble light of the campfire . . . right?

My grandfather was murdered with a gun. In the spring of 1978, his second wife (my grandmother had died several years before) entered the bedroom where he slept and put two rounds into his head. She then left their bedroom, walked down the hall and settled onto a chair in another room. She aimed the gun at herself and then squeezed the trigger a third and final time.

How about your family? Any gun deaths?

How about your neighborhood? Any gun deaths?

How about your town or city? Any gun deaths?

Up to April 19, 1999, I played a video game that digitally plopped me into World War II. As a way of relaxing after work, I could “join” the troops and battle those rotten Nazis. Then, on April 20, 1999, two young men entered Columbine High School and started shooting. I haven’t played a violent video game since.

However, I still watch films/TV shows and read books with guns. I’m a flawed person, riddled with inconsistencies and hypocrisies. You might be near perfect. Not me.

But I know my values about real guns with real bullets. No one—other than police or military—should own any. Not any more. Or not any more without required trigger locks and strict guidelines and ridiculously rigorous background checks. Nowadays, saber-toothed cats are low on the threat scale. With few exceptions, you don’t need to kill a deer for meat on your table.

The kid aimed at my head. As I drove by, the barrel of his plastic, neon-orange toy rifle tracked the speed of my slow-moving car.

If you’ve read this far, likely clinging to the same beliefs about guns and values as when you first stumbled onto my brilliant (or naïve) words, let’s say seventeen or so minutes have passed. In that time, according to the Center for Disease Control, another person in the United States has been killed by a gun.

Every 17 minutes. 87 every day. 609 every week.

Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus proclaimed. How foolish?

I think not. I believe not.toy-guns-media-violence

*The man in the Florida theater “triggered” my most recent revulsion about our country’s gun values. Having a kid aim a toy gun at me added to my frustrations. But here’s the sad, sad, sad truth . . . I could choose any week and link to gun deaths in these United States. Florida and Fresno this week, Delaware or Des Moines or your town next week. If I ever revise this essay in the future, finding “new” news items about humans killing fellow humans will be the easiest part. Sigh.

(Image of boy with gun here. Image of “Peacemaker” here. Girl with gun here.)

9 Comments

Filed under Epiphany, Lectionary - Year A

9 Responses to The Kid Aimed . . .

  1. Maggie bell

    Guns…I wish they had never been invented. I don’t understand the mentality of owning a gun, but I have friends that own them. Good essay, my friend.

    • Larry

      Thanks Maggie.

      Yep, every aspect of guns creates conflict. As with you, I have friends that are gun owners, that are responsible, and that I totally trust their “values” and decisions. But (and it’s a tough but!!) this remains an issue we have to talk about.

      I don’t worry about “only” criminals having guns. I worry about keeping our current practices and thinking everything will magically get better. Unless changes are made in our laws/regulations and with our values, there will always be another Columbine or Newtown around the next corner…

      • Christie Lawrence

        Boy, I hate to disagree, but guess I’m gonna! Guns don’t kill, people do. The mentality of those who hate and who inflict harm is what needs changed. Morals, values, and respect for life have gone right out the window. Good people don’t hurt others. You can outlaw guns, but what about knives, slingshots, baseball bats, and anything else that can be used as a weapon? Do we outlaw those, too? Society needs a facelift, and until mankind starts respecting life, there aren’t enough laws in the world that will make things right. Outlawing guns won’t change a thing. Those that intend to do harm will still do harm. Guns aren’t the problem – people are.

        • Larry

          Christie . . .

          Please, disagree! That’s one of the reasons I write and post publicly . . . dialog, disagreement, “listening” to others, learning . . .

          So my disagreement with you is . . . I think “good” people do harm others. Shootings occur by accident, moments of stupidity or passion, in flashes of anger . . . and intentionally. The problem with easy-access guns is how simple they are to operate. With a few pounds of finger pressure, a bullet can leave the barrel before the split-second flash of human anger ends. What if my grandfather’s wife had to spend long moments unlocking a weapon’s storage container and then long moments of finding the key for the trigger lock and then unlocking the mechanism? Maybe she would’ve killed grandpa anyway. Maybe she would have used a baseball bat or poison. But . . . I’d so desire for more people to have those longer, complicated moments before access.

          But of course, I also agree with you. It’s not about the guns. It’s about people. But how do we change our long held, second-amendment “values” that have created such easy access to, and such a casual acceptance of, cheap, deadly firepower? What is the point of “stand your ground” laws? Why should anyone—other than military or peace officers—have concealed weapons? Why can’t background checking become more rigorous and arduous?

          In my essay, I don’t ultimately argue for outlawing guns. To quote me . . . “But I know my values about real guns with real bullets. No one—other than police or military—should own any. Not any more. Or not any more without required trigger locks and strict guidelines and ridiculously rigorous background checks.” Yes, if I ruled the world, I’d probably “outlaw” guns. But I don’t rule the world (thank God!). And so I’d wish for a more aggressive approach to our attitudes and actions about what gun ownership and gun use means.

          In the three examples from the news that I gave, I bet all three shooters (a retired cop, a 12-year old kid and a friend watching a football game) were “good” people. But I’d want none of those good people to carry easy-access weapons. And I’d want all of them to live in a society where guns were not viewed as romantic (thank you Hollywood) or a right that comes without rigorous, complicated background checks (thank you NRA).

          I suspect, my dear digital friend Christie, we will continue to disagree. But I’ll tell ya, I get so weary with the daily (sometimes hourly) news items about another gun death or scare. Can’t some changes be made? Are “good” people content with our current views and laws about guns and run-related issues? Are we doing the best we can?

          Thanks for reading and responding!

          • Christie Lawrence

            I see your point – but I really believe it hasn’t escalated – it’s just become a “media darling”. The media feeds us with stories that sell. Right now, stories concerning guns are what’s “selling”. I own several guns, I just took the concealed carry class, and will soon have a concealed carry license. The first thing they teach you: NEVER pull the weapon unless you fear for your lives or the lives of loved ones. And only pull the gun if you intend to shoot. So, for me to pull a concealed carry weapon (which will be in my locked glove box) is to protect yourself from a life threatening situation. If I am lucky, I will NEVER in my life have to pull my weapon. But I’d like to think if I’m ever faced with a life a death situation, that it isn’t just game over. I might have a slight chance! Just my opinion, and that a 1.50 will buy you a cup of coffee!!!

          • Larry

            Christie, I have no “facts” to trumpet or manipulate (ha!), but I do think (say over the last 25 years vs. the 25 years before that) we have more confrontations with guns. I don’t think it’s just media hype. I think our culture has become more divisive, and more people feel powerless, and a gun becomes the response.

            It seems like you imagine scenarios (which you and I hope will never happen) where having a gun will make a positive difference. Like you stopping someone from harming you or someone you love. Me? I take the same scenarios (which you and I hope will never happen) and imagine only bad and more bad things happening. Like the bullet you fire hitting an innocent person or you being overpowered and your gun used against you. But all of that is safe imagination about different “scenarios.”

            I continue my question from my prior response . . . are we–responsible citizens “for” or “against” guns–truly content with the current laws and values?

  2. Thank you for an insightful post, Larry. It’s so sad we live in a world polarized by politics when it comes to this issue. Instead of discussing it like reasonable adults, partisan hysteria holds the reins. Middle-class american ignores a great deal of the violence because a lot of it is in the cities, but it’s slowly creeping out, impacting those in the suburbs. Hopefully some day the NRA will not have a stronghold on politicians and some reasonable talk will take place so our country is a safer place to live in. There must be a way that gun enthusiasts can co-exist with people who want restrictions. All it’ll take is the slanted news media to stop throwing kindling in the fire of controversy and our politicians to vote their conscience. Oh, and that’ll be the same day hell freezes over, too.

  3. Mickey

    Ju8st after Harry Truman integrated the military (with an executive order) I worked in our family’s slaughterhouse. I murdered cattle with an eight pound hammer. Hogs were slain with .22 LR. I did not particularly like doing it but then I have never particularly liked work. On occasion a customer wanted the animal (usually a goat or sheep bled rather than cudgeled or shot. When I was old enough to work by myself , with no customers or relatives around, I shot everything.
    tis true…people kill people and everything else they can get at. If I needed to kill again ( my not doing so would materially i9njure myself or those dependent on me) I prefer a gun. A gun imparts a certain distance almost as if it were not me but the gun doing the act… If someone were to attempt to kill me by and large I would rather they were limited to means that I could escape.
    I would that guns and telephones and airplanes and fast food joints and the internal combustion engine and a host of other things had never been invented
    The Question:Am I for or against guns? I must take the full plunge into rabid hypocrisy.
    Am I for abortion. No. Would I ever attempt to interfere with the decisions of women that I do not even know and will never meet?
    Am I against gay marriage? I am for my marriage, and cannot imagine caring about the contractual status of another person in that regard. Hence I am not for gay marriage or heterosexual marriage. I understand that heterosexual folk get in on some amazing number of government goodies by virtue of filing marriage contracts in the county courthouse. I am against that and I am against it no matter the sexual orientation of said contracted persons. As I see no possibility of a day coming when contracted couples will voluntary remove their hands from the pockets of their fellow citizens I can not honestly be for marriage, gay or otherwise
    But still the Question…the one about guns. Do I own a gun? Several. I have to intention of ceasing to do so. Would I vote to get rid of guns? No. I will not cast a negative vote for 300 million people. But then I would not vote to require gun ownership.
    Si . Am I in favor of guns. May actions convict me, so i must be.
    A more important question that guns… Can I square my stance on guns with my sacred duty especially as seen in the beatitudes? No.
    I cannot square a myriad of things with that duty.
    Bonhoeffer could not square his duty to be poor in spirit and a peacemaker with his participation in the assassination plot. That, of course does not get me off the hook, but it does put me in some good company. What a fine essay Larry. keep on truckin’
    Even so Lord Jesus ,come quickly

    • Larry

      Hey Mickey…

      As they say, thanks for sharing! Though your younger history is more, er, gruesome than mine . . . I too have early-on gun stories.

      Your comments reveal the complexity of this issue. Many folks are of two minds (or three or four) with any issue related to guns. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stands as an excellent and perplexing example: how can someone committed to peace agree to help kill another?

      On we’ll argue. But it is an essential argument. The worst is to accept things as they are, to remain silent. I continue to believe that we can do better with our current values about guns, that good citizens can disagree and still dialog to make life-affirming societal changes.

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