My week started out with a funeral. It was the first funeral our mission congregation has held in its five-year history. And it’s the first I’ve presided at in over 5 years (although I’ve presided at a couple of graveside committals).
It was a tough one, too. Not that funerals tend to be fun, exuberant, etc. But the details of this particular funeral, which was actually a double-funeral, were tragic. A mother and her daughter. A mother who died rather suddenly due to complications with pneumonia. The daughter, a single mom, who ended her fight with cancer. Their deaths left behind children: a 9-year old daughter and a 16-year old son. Like I said: tragic.
That’s how my week began. And it has ended with national mourning at the massacre in Newton, Connecticut. An elementary school. 20 children dead. 6 adults. And the shooter. 27 lives ended. Needlessly. Devastatingly.
And of course, it’s almost Christmas. It’s hard to imagine the parents, many who probably already bought Christmas gifts for the children they will never again get to hold, to laugh with, to scold, to help grow up into responsible adults. Tragic.
This massacre follows several other recent shootings, and points to a growing national crisis. It is time to begin having an actual dialogue about guns. No, like most people, I am not calling for a repeal of the Second Amendment. Discussion about gun control is not the same thing as repealing the Second Amendment.
But think about our First Amendment right to free speech. Although I have the right to speak my mind, this right is legally restricted. For example, I am not free to threaten the President. I am not free to publish untrue things about another. I am not free to yell fire in a public space if there is not a fire. My speech is free, but it’s not unlimited.
And it’s the same with my religious freedom. Although the First Amendment is explicit that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”, Congress has actually prohibited my religious freedom from encroaching on the life of another. For example, religious freedom doesn’t allow someone to sacrifice human babies and eat them.
So, therefore we can- and actually have a moral imperative to- develop reasonable gun control laws in this country. No “regular” citizen needs semi-automatic weapons. No one needs 100s of guns in a stockpile. It is rational to require regular criminal background checks and psychological evaluations, and to prohibit certain violent individuals from owning guns. We should develop stiff criminal penalties regarding guns, and require people to register their guns on a regular basis.
And we should be able to discuss this rationally as a nation, without knee-jerk reactions that stifle the conversation immediately.
And I’ve heard the defenses. “Banning guns doesn’t stop criminals from having guns, just like banning drugs doesn’t stop drug-users from getting drugs.” True, but statistically we know that laws curtail behavior. When seatbelt laws went into effect, supported by the “Click it or Ticket” campaign, seatbelt use went from 69% to 88% since 1998.(*) But, some will still not wear their seatbelts. So should we just give up on having it as a law?
And since 1982, when drunk driving laws became stricter and Driving Under the Influence became more publicly denounced thanks to Mothers against Drunk Driving (MADD), we have seen a 52% decrease in drunk driving fatalities (76% decrease for persons under 21).(*) But there are still some who will drink and get behind a wheel. So should we just give up and let them? Of course not!
Rational gun control laws does not ultimately infringe upon our right to bear arms. Instead, it provides a framework in which we can live out this freedom and at the same time “insure domestic Tranquility” and “promote the general Welfare”(*) for ourselves and others.