Linger here and reflect

Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012

Heaven on Earth
We need it now
I’m sick of all of this
Hanging around

Sick of sorrow
I’m sick of the pain
I’m sick of hearing
Again and again
That there’s gonna be
Peace on Earth
–U2, Peace on Earth

Some have accused me of insensitivity due to my FB posting yesterday in which I highlighted what had occurred the day before in my home state of Michigan:

“LANSING — Changes to the concealed weapons law passed the state House and Senate late Thursday, allowing gun owners to carry their weapons in formerly forbidden places, such as schools, day care centers, stadiums and churches.”

Some said it was too soon to talk about these kinds of issues.

Some said I was out of bounds for “making this political.”

Some accused me of being insensitive or narrowing this down to one issue. (because a single FB post clearly defines everything I think about a subject)

First of all, let me say that as a parent of four children, all of whom are the right age to attend Sandy Hook, and who just spent their first week in an urban public school, I was devastated to hear of this incident, and I am absolutely sick about it.  I have no idea how I am going to drop off my four little precious ones on Monday, and say, “See you soon.”  I am sure all parents feel the same way.

Yesterday was a day for grieving.  So is today, and the day after that. 

But is it not appropriate to begin to wonder: what has to change?  How can we avoid situations like this?

I get that people got angry at me.  I get that we’re all a bit angry.  But seriously, is it really worth getting angry at those who wonder: “What if this guy didn’t have guns?”

Arm Yourselves

Some are sure the answer is not less guns, but more.

We need more people trained to use guns in our schools.  Like teachers and school administrators.  More guns in our schools.

We ourselves should arm ourselves, because who knows, someone could break into our homes and threaten our own families.  More guns in our homes.

The question is: What kind of society do we want to have?  What kind of people do we want to be?

The argument that we need more guns, and more people trained to use them boils down to: then we can kill, before we get killed.

They may, in fact, be right. This strategy may well have some level of effectiveness. It may even be the most effective strategy.

Again I ask: What kind of society do we want to have?  What kind of people do we want to be?

Perhaps we need to admit that we live in a sick society, and just increase weapon proliferation to deal with the issue.  “It’s effective.”  “I’ll feel safer.”

But do we really want a society in which there are more of these weapons that can be unleashed across a schoolroom full of unsuspecting children?

And for me the more poignant question is: do I really want to become someone who has to be trained to kill someone else, as the answer to reducing violence?

What happened to making this a broader issue than just guns?  (Those who are angry at mention of gun control but turn around and say we need more guns are also talking about: gun control.  Just less of it.)

To me, this stems from a lack of imagination, and a lack of hope.

Let’s Talk About Training

I’d rather be trained in being a good parent.

I’d rather be trained in connecting with my neighbors.

I’d rather be trained in getting involved in my neighborhood school, getting to know the kids, the families, the moms, the dads, the challenges, etc.

I’d rather have others who are trained in mental health issues and counseling accessible to those who need their services and expertise.

I’d rather train my kids to deal with emotional and social issues in a healthy manner.

I’d rather train my kids to be discerning consumers of media.

I’d rather be a person who is trained to love, than one who is trained to kill (even in self-defense).

(And this is just me, I get that we do need some folks like that, but I bristle at the suggestion that we all become like that.)

A Question of Efficiency?

Call me naïve on this.  Call me ignorant or even Amish when it comes to guns.  Not a big fan.

They kill people.  Ah, but you say, guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

Well that’s fine and good.

But as James Fallows noted yesterday in The Atlantic:

“Guns don’t attack children; psychopaths and sadists do. But guns uniquely allow a psychopath to wreak death and devastation on such a large scale so quickly and easily. America is the only country in which this happens again — and again and again. You can look it up.”

And also, as I’m sure you’ve heard, there was an outbreak of violence at a school in China yesterday as well, and because there was a knife, instead of a gun, all of those children are alive today.   Though, it has been pointed out to me that knives can kill people too.  But does anyone seriously want to compare assault rifles to utensils?

Guns make it way too easy.  Pulling a trigger can happen with a momentary brain lapse.  Killing someone with a knife or spoon takes some serious want-to, and generally hurts one person at a time, not an entire classroom.

But you say, more trained gun carriers will indeed make us safer.  It’s the most efficient way forward.

Again, perhaps.

Or perhaps not.

Consider this article, which came out in September:

In the wake of the slaughters this summer at a Colorado movie theater and a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, we set out to track mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years. We identified and analyzed 61 of them, and one striking pattern in the data is this: In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun. Moreover, we found that the rate of mass shootings has increased in recent years—at a time when America has been flooded with millions of additional firearms and a barrage of new laws has made it easier than ever to carry them in public. And in recent rampages in which armed civilians attempted to intervene, they not only failed to stop the shooter but also were gravely wounded or killed.

America has long been heavily armed relative to other societies, and our arsenal keeps growing.

There is no evidence indicating that arming Americans further will help prevent mass shootings or reduce the carnage, says Dr. Stephen Hargarten, a leading expert on emergency medicine and gun violence at the Medical College of Wisconsin. To the contrary, there appears to be a relationship between the proliferation of firearms and a rise in mass shootings.

And armed civilians attempting to intervene are actually more likely to increase the bloodshed, says Hargarten, “given that civilian shooters are less likely to hit their targets than police in these circumstances.”

For the sake of argument, let’s say that more trained gunowners is the most efficient solution to avoiding disasters like occurred yesterday. Are we ceding that violence is the answer?  Is efficiency our highest goal?  And is becoming potential killers ourselves really the place we want to be?

“We need to become those trained to kill so that others don’t kill us.”

Kill or be killed, isn’t that what Jesus said?

Or was it: “those who live by the sword, die by the sword.”  I also seem to recall an ancient prophetic dream that one day swords would be beaten into plowshares, and war and fighting would be no more.

Ah… but you say, “That is way in the future.”

For now, you say, let’s eschew the Psalmist’s call to trust in the Lord rather than in horses and armies (or firearms and munitions), and arm ourselves for the sake of the children.

After all, Jesus was a bit naïve about the whole “sword thing” and the whole “turning the other cheek” idea.  Look where it got him.

As followers of his, surely we are much wiser.

Carry the weapons, shoot first, and trust in God later.

“If someone broke into your home and threatened your children, wouldn’t you rather be able to shoot and kill them?”

What kind of society do we want to have?  What kind of people do we want to be?

Linger here and reflect

I live in Washington DC.  I don’t own a gun.  Call me Amish, a wishful-thinker, or naïve…  Or maybe just a bad parent.  Speaking of which, we went for a walk with the kids last night in an area garden decorated with Christmas lights, and came across a memorial to those who died at the hands of the DC-area sniper back in 2002.

And we saw this stone:


“Linger here and reflect on those lost to violence.
Hope for a more peaceful world.
Seek a reverence for life among all people.”


There are no easy answers.  This is not a one-issue situation.  We all have some long and hard thinking to do about it.

But should that stop us from dreaming?

What if we tried to enact the prophetic dream now, and gave up our obsession with violence?  What if we didn’t wait for someone else to beat the pistols into plowshares, but set the example ourselves?

What’s the worst that could happen?

Ask Jesus.


20 thoughts on “Linger here and reflect

  1. Wow. As a non American, reading this from afar, from outside the USA, I feel for you. I feel terrible for all you who want to correct this situation but cannot. What I don’t understand is why a politician hasn’t staked his or her career on effecting a change? Is the NRA really more powerful than half the population of your great country?


  2. Thanks for this, Bryan. I think that there may, indeed, be a tipping point when it comes to gun safety. I’ve seen multiple claims that concealed-carry states have lower rates of violent death than others; I haven’t looked it up myself. But it does seem possible that there might be some kind of critical mass of gun ownership that would make that true – like the first people to get guns are either hunters or criminals, which gives criminals the edge over most people… but when more people have weapons on them, it gives criminals pause. I could see that.

    The thing is, I just don’t accept this as an acceptable baseline. It is nothing more than a small-scale arms race, and would we really say that we felt safer during the Cold War when we had just one more nuke than the Russians than we do now that it’s over?


    1. I hear you, Meika. I had that exact thought earlier about the arms race. You could also tie in pre-emptive war into it: “Let’s kill them before they kill us.” It may “work” occasionally, but doesn’t solve anything in the long run. And again, what kind of people do we want to be, and what kind of society do we want to live in?


  3. For most people reading what brother Berghoef has to say here, it will be like “preaching to the choir” with me being one of them. It would be great if a more peaceable nation was the result of people becoming more open to a change of attitude toward guns. But I think the key word to this puzzle is “ego.” Guns are an extension of egos in their many forms. This is a nation which fuels consumerism by feeding our hungry egos. The lines of acceptable behavior and thinking get blurred by this when taken to the extreme. God please feed our spirits, because that’s what’s hungry…and let the ego take a back seat.


  4. One other thing that strikes me:
    As the “Pub Theologian”, you are a fan of beer I would say- as am I. However we would have to be completely ignorant if we did not recognize all the harm that alcohol has done over the years (*far* more than gun violence on the whole)- the drunk driving accidents, the abuse, the medical cost- yet somehow we not only do not push to outlaw alcohol, but we sometimes encourage it’s use as a lubricant for good discussion. I think we would agree that it is responsible use where the truth lies- understanding that an enjoyable evening for one can result in a downward spiral for another, and hoping people make that distinction.

    I hope people make that distinction.


    1. As for the alcohol comment, I will quote a friend:

      “And it is just flat-out NOT TRUE that any criminal that wants a gun will be able to get one if guns are more tightly regulated. We only think that because in our country it’s easier to get a gun than it is to get the Target cashier to sell you a bottle of wine if you left your driver’s license in the car. It really, really, really is not that easy everywhere.”

      Alcohol is highly regulated, in part because of its potential danger. I haven’t said we should make all guns illegal, merely that we ought to increase regulation.

      And it’s really hard to kill a whole classroom of children with a six-pack of beer. However, after downing a six pack and then having access to a GUN, bad things really could happen.

      And as for drunk driving, we have increasingly strict laws and penalties for this, as we should. Ask your brother, who can’t drive, but could probably buy a gun.


  5. Interesting post. Of course, I’d rather we didn’t have to have this discussion because there wasn’t a shooting. The reality is that there was, and there is evil in this world. You bring up the idea of how in the knife attack in China no one died. True- but I would imagine there are some *very* deep scars (on all levels) for those students that were in that room. Not to mention that in 2010 the same thing (knife attack) happened in China and the attacker killed 8 kids. In the Chinese incident of yesterday, you make it seem as if no one died, so that’s much better. How much better would it have been if no one was injured? If someone had stopped the attacker before he walked into that classroom in China? You seem to be missing the point about evil actually existing. Evil *does* exist in our world, be it knives or guns. It’s a reality- and you mention our society should rise above it. True- but shouldn’t we also deal with it? Can we do both?

    I lock my car doors and our house when we leave. I don’t usually leave the keys in the car. It’s because I don’t want someone to steal my stuff. It’s only stuff, but I’d rather they didn’t take it. I guess I don’t turn the other cheek there either. I suppose if I truly lived the words of Christ I would leave the keys in the car and leave the doors of the house unlocked.

    Do you?

    Chris- the NRA does *much*more than simply lobby the government, but in a sense, you are correct. They do spend money (sadly it’s what our government runs on) to protect second amendment rights, and they do overstep their bounds. Just like the ACLU- they are constantly fighting cases and working legislation to protect constitutional rights. I may not agree with everything these groups do, but I certainly appreciate the fact that there are groups out there working to maintain our Constitution and push the envelope of freedom.

    I’d rather these groups exist within our society to keep watch on our enumerated rights- it’s far better than having the government constantly erode them away- wouldn’t you?

    I might just be missing the point of all this. I’m simple like that.


    1. I have a hard time taking seriously the comparison of locking car doors to owning a gun for the purposes of killing or seriously injuring someone.

      It also might be worth giving a rest to the hard work you are putting into comparing utensils to assault rifles. They are not the same. Yes, there are extremely broken people who will find a way to perpetrate terrible crimes. The obvious point being made repeatedly, is that we ought not make it easier to commit such heinous crimes by having certain weapons easily obtainable. It’s just that simple.

      As for rights and privacy, we all have our privacy infiltrated anytime we board a plane, and we all agree that at some level that is necessary. What is so precious about owning a WEAPON, for goodness sake? It’s not like anyone is saying you’re not allowed to love your family, or go to church, or enjoy a good steak, or anything like that. As someone noted earlier today: “The Second Amendment was written for a world which no longer exists.” The reasoning and wording in the 2nd amendment has nothing to do with the average citizen owning an assault weapon, or a semi-automatic rifle. We don’t live in that world anymore. That was written before missiles and bombs and nuclear weapons.

      Do you really want to worship an outdated interpretation of an ancient document over keeping kids safe?

      People used to justify slavery because it was “supported” in the Bible. Now people realize that it is just plain wrong.

      One day people will realize that allowing average Joe to have easy access to a weapon of terror is just plain wrong. But unfortunately for the kids at Sandy Hook, we’re not there yet.

      Many civilized countries have already realized this, and taken action. Check out the statistics on gun deaths in the US vs any other first world nation. We should be ashamed of ourselves.


    2. I explained the point of my comment in the 2nd sentence.

      As for the suggestion that we need the NRA, let’s not be naive. There is no popular support in the US for overturning the 2nd amendment. A CNN poll from this summer has 90% of Americans supporting the right of individuals to own guns. So, the idea that the 2nd amendment is under threat is a lie the NRA tells. Conveniently, it helps the NRA raise funds and promote weapons sales.

      Despite the fact that there’s no threat to that amendment, I have no problem with an organization supporting it. Of course, the NRA could protect 2nd amendment rights without also supporting everything the weapons corporations want, but it doesn’t. Even a majority of NRA members support increased regulation. But the NRA typically sides with weapons corporations over its own members.

      So, we don’t have to fall for the false dilemma of either supporting the existence of the NRA or “having government constantly erode” our 2nd amendment rights. We can say no to both. We can support the right to bear arms, and call for reasonable legislation that would prevent unnecessary deaths–as most Americans do.


  6. I realize your post isn’t primarily about a political issue but about a broadly moral issue. But you since you bring up the fact that in the wake of this shooting some people are calling for more guns, I’d like shed some light on why that happens.

    The NRA bills itself as a defender of Constitutional rights, but in practice it’s the face of the gun manufacturers’ lobby, one of the most powerful lobbies in Congress and well connected to the MSM. That’s why after every mass shooting, there are politicians and pundits arguing that more guns is the solution.

    It doesn’t matter to weapons manufacturing corporations that people die unnecessarily as a consequence of their push for more sales and further gun deregulation, just as it didn’t matter to tobacco corporations when they knew they were selling an addictive and deadly product. All that matters to a corporation is the bottom line.

    It doesn’t matter that after every mass shooting Americans call for stricter gun regulation. It doesn’t matter that a majority of Americans, though overwhelmingly opposed to banning guns, favor a number of regulations that could significantly reduce gun violence.

    Until the influence of big money is out of politics, we won’t see any significant changes on this issue.

    I know I’ve said that last bit a million times, but it is at the center of every anti-democratic policy of our government.



    1. Thanks, Chris. Lots of good thoughts there.

      And this from today’s Washington Post:

      “If roads were collapsing all across the United States, killing dozens of drivers, we would surely see that as a moment to talk about what we could do to keep roads from collapsing. If terrorists were detonating bombs in port after port, you can be sure Congress would be working to upgrade the nation’s security measures. If a plague was ripping through communities, public-health officials would be working feverishly to contain it. Only with gun violence do we respond to repeated tragedies by saying that mourning is acceptable but discussing how to prevent more tragedies is not.”


  7. Reblogged this on Cassie Being Cassie and commented:
    What is a Satanist doing quoting a Christian you might ask? Quite simply this person makes a lot of sense. I don’t belive in the Christian ethos of always turning the other cheek although I think there is sometimes wisdom in that approach. Overall however I think this guy hits a lot of nails on the head. A well reasoned, thought provoking read.


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