Good guys with guns

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

If you’ve been following the gun debate raging once again in the United States, you’ve heard this line.

When Americans say stuff like this, Canadians get confused. We don’t understand the American obsession with guns. It’s not like we don’t own guns. There are 30 guns for every 100 Canadians – putting us 12th in the world for gun ownership. It’s just that we’re nowhere near the United States, which is tops on the list with 112 guns for every 100 people.

There are lots of theories about why Americans love their guns. Some say it started in the Revolutionary War. But France – 11th on the list – had a revolution, and they don’t have a gun problem. Others say the right to bear arms enshrined in the constitution is the problem. But people in Switzerland – 4th on the list – have a statutory right to bear arms, and they don’t have a gun problem.

In fact, the size of the American gun problem is a hard to understand. Americans are more likely to die by gunshot than in a car accident. Every day, 91 American die by gunshot – and on average seven of those will be under the age of 19. America’s gun murder rate is 25 times higher than other developed countries.

On the other hand, only 30 percent of U.S. households have a gun today, compared to 50 percent in 1975. So while there are more guns being sold, the guns are actually in the hands of fewer people.

Looking at all this data, a picture starts to emerge. There are a lot of Americans stockpiling weapons because they’re afraid of “bad guys with guns.” And it’s tempting to think that owning a gun would protect against gun crime. Except it doesn’t. This idea that that having a concealed carry pistol would somehow allow you to defend yourself against a rifle-armed shooter is fiction – disproven in multiple studies. In fact, in the recent Orlando shooting, an off-duty policeman couldn’t stop the shooter. It took six heavily armed cops to kill him.  

‘Blessed are the heavily armed’

Which brings us back to the “why” of gun violence in the U.S. As I said, the reasons behind private gun stockpiles and the astronomical U.S. gun-death rate are complex. But there’s one factor that doesn’t get talked about much: religion.

Statistically speaking, a gun owner in the U.S. is more likely to be white than black, more likely to be male than female, more likely to be a veteran than a civilian, more likely to be Republican than Democrat, and more likely to be religious than not.

Maybe this idea that a “good guy” with a gun can stop a “bad guy” with a gun isn’t really about guns at all. Maybe it has to do with a perverted sense of “goodness.”

For a lot of Christians, the question “are you a good person,” makes no sense. If we read our Bible correctly, we understand that we’re all broken. All of us are people who – if not sinning at exactly this moment – will certainly be sinning soon, and often. For Calvinists, in particular, the doctrine of “Total Depravity” kinda hangs in the air over everything we do, and we realize it’s only by grace that we can be saved. But not all Christians think that way.

Take Sarah Palin, who calls herself a “good American” who loves “God and guns.” Is that really a Christian view?

Do we believe in good guys and bad guys? Or is sin and morality more complicated than that? Does a gun have the magical power to make you more of a “good guy” than any other tool, like a rake or hammer? Did Jesus say: Blessed are the heavily armed? Or can we acknowledge that we’re all prone to anger and that giving fallen people easy access to a specialized tool that allows us to kill quickly is a bad idea?

The bottom line is that buying a gun to defend yourself from the “bad guys” should stop you cold. Not only because it is unlikely to work – which is true. And not only because you’re more likely to hurt someone close to you with it – which you are. But because buying a gun for self-defense means you’ve imagined a situation where you’d allow yourself to kill someone – and now you have the right tool for the job.

Not the thoughts of a “good guy” at all, if you ask me.


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