In the face of public violence, gun advocates often repeat the mantra, “Guns don’t kill people – people kill people.” That defense fails to take a gun’s magnitude of lethality into account. In less than a month, America has witnessed a record-breaking number of mass murders, all inflicted by guns. Here’s the list:
- April 4: Five children in Washington are the latest shooting victims, killed by their father who then killed himself.
- April 4: Three Pittsburgh policemen killed and two more wounded.
- April 3: Thirteen shot to death by a lone gunman in an immigration center in Binghamton, N.Y.
- March 29: Eight people shot to death in a North Carolina nursing home.
- March 29: Five, including two children, shot dead in Santa Clara, Calif., in a murder-suicide rampage.
- March 21: Four Oakland, Calif., policemen are gunned down during a routine traffic stop.
- March 10: Ten people shot dead, including a deputy’s wife and child, in Alabama.
- March 8: An Illinois pastor is gunned down in the pulpit. While this was not a mass killing, it could very easily have been if not for the quick intervention of church members. The alleged shooter had calendared the day as “death day.”
At least 49 people, not counting the shooters who were killed, have died in a hail of bullets in the past month. In reflecting on this horrific statistic, we have to acknowledge that if the killers had used knives the death toll might have been reduced to one person per attack, if that many.
Of course, some murderers like Andrea Yates manage to kill more than one person, but not in public, and not in a setting where other adults are able to intervene. We must face it – guns do kill people, and at a higher rate than people kill people without guns.
There are often two responses when acknowledging that people kill people with guns at a higher rate than without them. One response is: Let’s arm everybody. The Tennessee legislature approved a bill recently that would permit people to carry a gun into a bar or a state park. You can’t bring liquor into a state park, but Tennessee legislators think bringing guns into a family-friendly state-owned recreation area is a good idea. And, if that were not enough, they also think arming drunks is a good idea, too.
The bizarre reasoning behind this type of legislation is that armed citizens could shoot down an armed gunman. Either Tennessee legislators have been watching too many “Bonanza” reruns, or the NRA has done a masterful job of selling this insanity.
If you have ever shot a gun, long barrel or handgun, then you know that hitting a target is difficult even under optimum firing-range conditions. Shooting at another shooter in the adrenaline-charged chaos of a crime-in-progress reduces a civilian’s ability to hit a target even more. The arm-everyone-solution is not a good solution.
The other response is always opposed by the NRA, right-wing politicians and others of their ilk. The rational approach is to have some serious regulation of the gun industry and of the people who own guns. We restrict driver’s licenses by type of vehicle, why not gun owners and guns? If a person with no prior 18-wheeler training is denied a driving permit for a big rig, even though he has a permit to drive a passenger car, then why can’t we restrict the ownership of guns by a similar scheme?
Guns are dangerous, deadly instruments. We have seen that demonstrated repeatedly in this past month. What will it take for Americans to realize that we have a gun problem, and that guns do indeed kill people?
What does this have to do with small churches – or any church? Aside from the ethical duty we have as Christians to reflect a kingdom of peace and not violence, churches themselves are “soft targets.” Few churches have security guards, cameras or even emergency plans. Gunmen have, and will, target churches where large groups of people gather with little security because they are easy targets for those with the desire to kill. And the killer’s weapon of choice will not be a knife or a baseball bat. They will use a gun to kill their victims.
Guns do kill people. Just ask the families of the 49 dead. Guns kill. That is the purpose for which they are designed, that is the reason for which they exist, and that is the work to which they are put all too often. It is now time for us as a nation to take rational action to address this issue. Guns kill people. Period.
Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Virginia.