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The 2005 film “Thank You for Smoking” is about a tobacco PR executive who wins a public debate about smoking by sidestepping the health questions and reframing the debate as an issue of consumer choice and individual rights. I wonder what would happen if the gun debate were reframed in the opposite way. Instead of asking whether people should have the right to own semiautomatic rifles with unlimited capacity ammo clips, my question as a pastor is whether it is morally compatible with Christian values to collect guns. Not to have a gun to defend yourself and even carry around the shopping mall with you if you live in Arizona. Not to have a gun to use for hunting (I love it when guys from my church give me venison). But to collect guns. Lots of them. Not ancient muskets to be displayed in cases, but powerful guns that you take to some out of the way place to show off to your friends. Is that morally compatible with Christian values?
Whenever a mentally ill, socially isolated middle-upper class white guy shoots up a theater or a school, I think back to my own middle school experience. I was a loner. I got bullied a lot. When Pearl Jam’s first album came out, there was a song called “Jeremy” that I would play over and over in my walkman: “At home drawing pictures of mountaintops, flaming yellow sun, arms raised in a V, the dead lay in pools of maroon below… King Jeremy the wicked ruled his world. Jeremy spoke in class today.”I drew some pretty disturbing pictures in middle school. My other favorite song was “Straight Outta Compton” by NWA: “When I’m cornered, I got a sawed off, squeeze the trigger, and bodies grow harder. You too boy if you **** with me, the police are gonna have to come and get me.” Gangsta rap was how I coped with being bullied. I wonder if the reason it took off was because of all the scrawny white suburban kids who bought those albums for the same reason.
My dad didn’t own a gun. If he had owned one, I almost definitely would have been too chicken to do anything with it (if I were somehow able to get a hold of it). Not because I didn’t fantasize about doing very evil things to the kids who picked on me, but because I was very much a rule-follower (at one point in my life), and even though the other kids picked on me, I wanted my teachers and other adults to think I was a good kid. But what if something really intense had happened like a horrible rumor about my sexuality or something and I was terrified of going to school the next day and filled with adolescent rage against the kid who started the rumors? Could my immature 14 year old brain have lost all sense of scale and reality and consequences? But my dad didn’t own a gun.