Today’s Des Moines Register contains a Letter to the Editor that sums up everything that works and doesn’t work for people who are trying to figure out a way to reduce the violence caused by guns. The author, who identifies himself as a practicing Catholic, comments positively on an earlier letter from a reader who did not understand how someone could be pro-life and, at the same time, be against ‘common-sense’ measures for gun safety. To which the writer of this letter opined: “Anyone claiming to be pro-life but silent on gun safety is irrational.”
What the author seems to be saying is that pro-life activists who also identify themselves as gun supporters are crazy, which means that there are an awful lot of crazy people wandering around. The pro-life movement has always found its message receptively received by people who consider themselves to be religiously and socially conservative; i.e., Evangelicals, many of whom, particularly white Evangelicals, also tend to be extremely pro-gun.
Does the fact that someone might hold religious and social beliefs which appear to be inconsistent to someone else make that person a nut? Or is it possible that what at first glance seem to be inconsistent religious and social beliefs aren’t really inconsistent at all?
Evangelical preachers were wandering around spreading the gospel in colonial times (basically because most were tossed out of England because they criticized the Anglican Church) but the movement really came into its own in the 1970’s and 1980’s, in particular when Evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell began to make common cause with the rightward shift of the Republican Party in the years leading up to Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign. This period happened to coincide with the emergence of a much more aggressive, politicized NRA leadership following what is referred to as the 1977 Cincinnati ‘revolt.’
Although the Evangelical movement has now spread all over the country and has even shown surprising popularity with inner-city, new immigrant groups, its basic strength has always been in the South among whites who also happen to be the population that overwhelmingly owns guns. And while Evangelical belief is based on a literal interpretation of the Good Book, another strain which runs through the faith is the idea that family safety and security are basic cornerstones of the faith. That being the case, how could the gun industry and its NRA allies not attempt to promote a narrative which linked guns to protection from crime?
The fact that someone believes in the sanctity of life doesn’t mean they are being inconsistent by promoting at the same time an argument which views owning a gun as a means of preserving life when or if that life is threatened by someone else. Ask any gun owner if he practices proper safety measures and he’ll always say ‘yes.’ Ask the same individual what he would do if someone tried to break into his home and he’ll unhesitatingly tell you that he’ll pick up his gun and blow the bad guy away. What’s inconsistent about that?
At the beginning of this column I said that there were things which worked and didn’t work for advancing the idea that we need to make a stronger effort to reduce the violence caused by guns. What works is reminding people again and again that no matter how you cut it, more than 120,000 gun injuries each year is simply a cost we shouldn’t have to bear. And it doesn’t work to wait until after the injury occurs, then grab the guy who committed the injury, slam him into a cell and throw away the key.
On the other hand, we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that just because someone believes a gun doesn’t represent a threat to themselves or anyone else means that such an individual has no honest respect for human life. I long ago decided that what I believe may conform with reality but that’s only because I define reality in a certain way. Which may or may not work for anyone else.