A letter to America

Dear Friends,

Once again we find ourselves in a world reeling from the news of another shooting in America. And once again the media coverage, emotional responses and political spin form their familiar dances around the issue.

President Trump has been quick to label the tragedy as a mental health issue and ‘not a guns situation’ (not that he has any intention of addressing either!). The perpetrator was a young, white, American veteran and is therefore deemed by the media outlets not as a terrorist but as a man with a ‘difficult’ background; a ‘lone wolf’.

And once again the gun lobbyists and enthusiasts have been quick to jump on their 2nd Amendment bandwagon; proclaiming with ‘patriot’ passion their ‘right to bear arms!’

I am not an American citizen. But I struggle with the 2nd Amendment argument from those quick to fall back on their Constitutional prooftext.

I am a Christian. I am a pastor of a local church. I teach from the Bible. I have received academic theological training, part of which was the art of critically reading ancient texts – a skill largely lacking in many 2nd Amendment arguments. I know all too well the dangers of proof-texting and am often challenged on how I can possibly allow my 21st Century life to be so influenced by ancient manuscripts; manuscripts written in other languages, in other cultures, thousands of years ago. And my answer is this:

  • I study the text – what it says in and of itself.
  • I study the culture in which it was written – what principles were the authors trying to convey.
  • How can I learn from and embody those principles in my own life?

There are many complicated verses and passages in the Bible. There are chapters and books that appear to contradict one another. It is difficult, to say the least, to take the entirety of the Bible literally and embody each and every teaching accurately.

Perhaps the same can be said of the American Constitution. Whilst a relatively young document, the Constitution was written in a time and culture not our own. It would be dangerous to take 18th Century principles and slam them into 21st Century America. How can we critically read, for sake of this argument, the 2nd Amendment?

What does the text say?

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

What of the culture in which in was written? A fledgling country finding its feet and establishing independence from, in their view, a tyrannical regime. Wanting to secure for themselves a new country based on liberty, they installed within their constitution the right to collectively defend their cause by military means if necessary.

What principles can we bring into our contemporary lives?

Firstly, a ‘lone wolf’ is not a ‘well regulated militia’. The definition of militia is ‘a military force that is raised from the civil population to supplement a regular army in an emergency.’ Individuals carrying guns for ‘personal protection’ is not a ‘well regulated militia’.

Secondly, shooting the general public – including children – in schools, churches, shopping malls or concerts are not the actions of a well regulated militia defending and ensuring the security of the state against a tyrannical or oppressive force.

Thirdly, as I understand it, the 2nd Amendment is about defending the country you love from powers who would seek to destroy it from within or without; so defend it. Protect it, not by shooting one another but by forging a society that is fair, benevolent, equitable and peaceful. Forge a country your forefathers would be proud of. Forge a nation so renowned for its respect for the life of each of its citizens that the thought of using a gun against any of them for any reason is repugnant. Those struggling with their mental health need access to health care not assault rifles.

The Government has a responsibility to act. Millions of prayers have been offered up over the years for the victims of mass shootings in the U.S. Thousands more for those affected by smaller gun crimes across that country. I believe in prayer. I believe it provides a comfort for those who mourn and a peace that surpasses understanding for those who grieve. But I also believe that we can so often be the answer to people’s prayers. And those in power in the U.S. Government have the power and responsibility to answer the prayers of its own citizens, and citizens of the global community of which the United States of America is a part.

President Trump swore an oath to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ the constitution. It is well within his job description to prevent U.S. citizens from misusing the Constitution for their own selfish end.

Gun control is constitutional.

Yours,

A concerned British Friend who shares your pain.

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