Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Faith Works 6-25-16
Faith Works 6-25-16
What is the attraction?
[[[To be edited further closer to print date -- The day after the Orlando killings, there were two shot in Newark. I know (at this moment) very little about the details, but guns and violence associated with them are very much on everyone's minds these days.]]]
Reading on social media, and having many friends and associates who are progressive in their politics, and also knowing many well who are conservative, the debate over gun control and how the laws of the land should be written in the light of the Second Amendment has been loud, long, and strident.
As a preacher and leader in a faith community, I don't know that I have anything new to add to the legislative discussions. I do know that there's precious little middle ground online or in the media, but my pastoral work tells me that the vast middle ground is where most people are at least in central Ohio. Add some common-sense limits on how fast and who can obtain weapons, especially the most deadly, but if you start talking about a general ban on private ownership of firearms you're preaching to your own choir . . . and in Licking County, a pretty small choir.
But I have many friends in that choir, and in similar choruses around the country, and in some of the commentary on this subject I think there is something a parson can helpfully add.
What has come up a few times as a plaintive, but sincere cry in these debates is the question "Why do people even want these weapons?" In a time when the population shift from country to city has been decisive; as fewer people not only don't hunt, but do not know people who do; with a smaller percentage of the population having seen military service or have immediate family under arms . . . it's a relatively reasonable question. I wonder why people want to own a Hummer, but I have many friends who wonder why anyone would want to own a semi-automatic rifle.
There's a new political line out, too: "weapon of war." Clever, but disingenuous. Semi-automatic rifles have been in Model A back seats, in pick-up truck racks, and sitting behind tractor drivers for generations. They are a tool, a dangerous power tool to be sure, but just as most farmers and rural laborers have power tools in the shed out back, they have rifles out in the fields. And they shoot at things, with intent to kill. If you didn't know that, you should. There are threats to crops and flocks that farmers have to manage, and rifles are part of that.
There are hunters. Even today, many of them. And not all hunting is one big blast in the fall to "get your deer," although that's all most people hear about once a year.
My mother remembers during rationing in the 40s that, when the meat coupons ran out, her father the high school principal would take his shotgun to work, lean it in the corner of his office (yeah, just think about that one!), and on the way home go by a certain grove he had privileges in and shoot a few squirrels. Mom eats stew carefully to this day.
And if you have served in the US armed forces, you learned something that started: "This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine." My M-16A1 had, if memory serves, the serial number 5145159. I learned how, in the dark, bare-handed, how to field strip, clean, and reassemble that weapon. If I were to buy an AR-15 today, I could probably still close my eyes and break it down. For those baffled by the popularity of those semi-automatic rifles, I think that's your answer in a nutshell. Millions start out already knowing how to use and care for that model.
Finally, there's target shooting. If you've never handled guns, I understand your puzzlement, but for those who are used to them, it is – and I do not say this lightly, or flippantly, but by way of explanation – a form of meditation. To control the breathing, your movements, to slow yourself down and center on the target at the end of your sights, and to put your shot into the bullseye: it is a very peaceful practice. And the methodical work of cleaning and stowing away your gear is a kind of ritual act that itself is very peaceful, and peace giving.
I believe we will see some new restrictions and controls over who and how can obtain weapons, but if we as a community are to reach those decisions in consensus, I think it's important for those who know nothing about guns to learn a bit about why those who own them feel as they do. It's about understanding, and we all could use some better understanding of each other in this dialogue.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what your community of faith is saying and doing this summer at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.