The National Rifle Association is still winning the gun control debate. They and many others believe that the latest shooting massacre in Aurora, Colo., will not change American attitudes toward gun control laws long term.
Are they right?
I believe this seeming contradiction reveals a spiritual crisis. The politics of gun control will not change until we get a lot clearer that the American trust in guns is a failure of trust in God. Religion is about what you trust in an ultimate sense, and I believe staggering from gun massacre to gun massacre without changing gun laws reveals many Americans put their ultimate trust in weapons, not God.
“In God we trust” is the motto adopted in 1956 that Republicans love to reaffirm over and over. This is starting to sound like a version of Hamlet’s mother who protested “too much.”
But if we trust God so much, why do we need all these guns?
Some, like Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, think it is more guns that will save us. Commenting on the shooting, Gohmert said, “Well it does make me wonder, you know with all those people in the theater, was there nobody that was carrying that could’ve stopped this guy more quickly?” Never mind how many more innocent people could have been killed in a movie-theater shoot out among many heavily armed theater-goers.
Guns provide the illusion of safety and it is an illusion. People who own guns are more likely to die from gun violence than those who do not own guns. But the gun lobby would love you to believe guns will keep you safe.
But let’s be clear. Ultimate trust in God would not have kept any individual audience member in Aurora safe from the shooter. It’s not that simple. Trust in God means obedience to what God wants for human life; it requires that believers act together with others, including people of other faiths and humanist values, to create a society where guns are regarded as the problem, not the solution.
Jesus’ teaching on this could not be clearer. As I noted during Holy Week this year, when Jesus is about to be arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, one of his followers pulls out a sword and tries to defend Jesus with the weapon. “Put away your sword,” Jesus commands, “for those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) And those who live by the gun die by the gun.
The politics of gun control is clearly not working. I believe what is missing is a faith conversion.
More Americans of faith today need to be challenged by a very direct question: do you trust God or guns more? This is Jesus’ challenge to Christians: put away the guns.
Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), Susan Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.