Prayer and mourning are the appropriate first response to the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. This nation should be on our collective knees seeking God’s action in the wake of this tragedy: His action to heal the broken hearted and His action for justice, but most importantly His action to change the world. But there is a time to arise from our knees and ask how we should act as a state and as a nation. Undoubtedly, there will be those who demand that guns be controlled. Should there be a ban on guns? Should there be a ban on semi-automatic weapons? Many claim this is the only way to prevent this travesty from happening again. The typical response is that it is not the gun that causes the harm; it is the person behind the gun. Removing the gun will not eliminate the threat to society. There is some truth to this rebuttal.
But the rebuttal fails to carry the day. Guns do affect the magnitude of acts of aggression. Rather than killing one person with a knife before a perpetrator can be subdued, the perpetrator can kill dozens with a semi-automatic weapon. Dozens of innocent children were gruesomely slaughtered by the use of a semi-automatic weapon in Newtown. The horrific result would have been minimized with the elimination of the weapon.
So is the nation’s next appropriate response to ban the ownership and possession of semi-automatic weapons? The simple answer is No.
This situation requires a realistic, yet caring consideration of causes and effects of not only the events of Friday, December 14, 2012. It also requires a realistic, yet caring analysis of the motivations and effects of our response. The first thing we must realize is that we live in a screwed-up world. There is evil in the world that no one can control. The Connecticut shooter committed a heinous act of aggression in his rampage of December 14. It is his aggression that must be stopped. Obviously, it is impossible to stop his aggression now. His aggression is spent and he is gone.
The governments banning of guns is a more extreme act of aggression than the individual act of December 14. What is the source of aggression? It is the failure to respect the life, rights and property of another. The Connecticut shooter refused to respect the life of his mother and the innocent children he shot on December 14. But a punishment that exceeds the scope and magnitude of the original act creates a spiraling interaction of aggression.
By proposing and implementing a ban on firearms, a right granted to every individual by God and recognized by our founding fathers in the Bill of Rights, would be an act of aggression on every free individual in this nation. Consider: the act of aggression in Connecticut was the act of one man. In response, if the government establishes gun control, it takes away the rights of all free individuals based on the assumption that all free individuals are liable to such conduct. In proposing and acting on a gun ban, the government will have proposed and established in legal principle a lack of respect for all free individuals. Inasmuch as laws have consequences in that they establish principles, the government through a gun ban will establish in law a binding refusal to respect free individuals. And what would such a legal principle teach our culture?
We already live in a hardened culture where lack of respect for the life, liberty and happiness of free individuals is increasing. Abortion on demand, legalized theft through taxing policy and lifestyle mandates through national healthcare laws, just to name a few, are making us every day more callus to the rights of a free people. Every step the government takes in its lack of respect of free individuals increasingly hardens its citizens. The acts of the government are creating a culture that fosters aggression.
We already have a test case in American history that proves the truth of my assertions: prohibition. Drunkenness is a sin and a social evil. Alcohol is not. Does alcohol facilitate drunkenness? Of course it does. But with prohibition, the government declared a lack of respect for all free individuals in denying them the God given right to enjoy what He had made. The result of prohibition was the increase of aggression. The federal government criminalized the conduct of free people exercising their God-given rights. It refused to make the punishment proportional to the evil of drunkenness and fostered aggression. The result was further aggression.
How should we combat aggression? We combat aggression with love and respecting the rights of free people. We combat aggression by not only protecting the life, liberty and property of all free individuals but by proclaiming so in our laws. Missouri is moving in the right direction with legislation that would make it a crime to impose federal gun restrictions, both in line with our Constitution and God-given rights. This legislation must be passed.
But we must do more. We must realize that our culture has a problem. Our culture is sick. We have lost the vision our founders had regarding what makes a great culture. Patrick Henry recognized this when he claimed, "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ! For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here." Alexis de Tocqueville wrote it more succinctly. “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
And we have lost this because we have lost sight of what forms our culture. James K.A. Smith has posed the question well in his book Desiring the Kingdom. What
if education, including higher education, is not primarily about the absorption of ideas and information, but about the formation of hearts and desires? What if we began by appreciating how education not only gets into our head but also (and more fundamentally) grabs us by the gut—what the New Testament refers to as kardia, “the heart”? What if education was primarily concerned with shaping our hopes and passions—our visions of “the good life”—and not merely about the dissemination of data and information as inputs to our thinking? What if the primary work of education was the transforming of our imagination rather than the saturation of our intellect? And what if this had as much to do with our bodies as with our minds?
We now have an education culture that is “about the absorption of ideas and information” and denies “the formation of hearts and desires.” Or if it does, it forms the hearts and desires for mere economic advancement or economic development of the state. Indeed, the state cannot educate on passion since it is an institution created by law and is blind to passion. It is time for the Church, the only real institution that can mold hearts and desires, to reengage in its God given task of forming hearts and desires, to reengage in education, thereby producing a culture that loves God and loves its fellow man.
David Linton is a licensed attorney in the state of Missouri with extensive experience in business and utility law, lobbying and political campaigns. He is also a Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America with a Master of Arts degree in Exegetical Theology from Covenant Theological Seminary.
The comments contained in this editorial are the views of David Linton and do not necessarily reflect the views of his clients.