The wind whipped as I ran across the drill field, my blood pressure flying. I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but it was clear that something was terribly awry. While flocks of people sprinted through the drill field, I was running the wrong way, my eyes darting and scanning for my girlfriend (now wife). Police cars and ambulances swarmed a building about 100 yards to my right. Dozens of men in black ran in.
I found her. We turned and ran with the crowd. Only minutes before this I sat silently in the student center, journaling, watching small snowflakes dance their way to the ground. It was April 16, 2007––a late snow for Blacksburg, Virginia. That day, 33 people died, including the shooter.
It’s strange to count myself among those who have direct experience with these mass shootings, one of the most evil aspects of our modern life.
Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Orlando, Charleston, Parkland, Tree of Life Synagogue, Thousand Oaks. And on and on. We live under a constant cloud of dread of these shootings. Dread of opening up the news, only to hear of another, or even of being caught in one ourselves.
There’s no shortage of suggestions. Concerned citizens and politicians have proposed assault weapon bans, high-capacity magazine bans, bump stock bans, increased efforts to treat mental health issues, gun-free zones, more security guards, more concealed carry, and less concealed carry. Some of these efforts I agree with, others I don’t.
I’m a Christian, and I believe in the great prophecy of Isaiah––that one day all swords will be beaten into plowshares. Indeed, I long for that day. Problem is, we’re just not there yet. While the imagery of literally hammering guns into garden tools is powerful, it’s not an effective means of protecting our neighbors.
If guns aren’t going away, and if our efforts to keep guns away from the dangerous aren’t foolproof, how ought we live in the present? I think our best option is to be a responsible, well-armed citizenry. But the motivation, posture, and attitude of those who would carry a gun are unbelievably important.
The Burden We Carry When Carrying
Sometimes, I have a gun in my pocket. Some find that jarring to hear. I get that––I even find it jarring to do sometimes.
What we commonly hear about gun owners or those who carry is that they’re filled with fear, paranoia, or irrationality; obsessed with self-preservation. No doubt, this can be true. I know some gun owners I’d describe in such a way. But the fact that some carry out of fear doesn’t mean we ought tar the idea in and of itself.
I agree with Marilynne Robinson that “fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” But is it possible that carrying a gun could be not an act of fear-based, self-preserving paranoia, but in fact an act of sacrificial love for neighbor? I believe it can and should be. If we are to be effective in how we carry guns, and increase public support for carrying, then love must be our motivation, not fear, entitlement, or resentment.
When people have asked, often skeptically, about my decision to carry a gun, I assure them that the last thing I want to do is shoot anybody. It’s true, I loathe the thought. This should be true of anyone who acquires the requisite legal permits and puts that revolver in his pocket or that pistol in her holster. We should feel a weightiness, a heaviness, a burden of responsibility. And we should shutter at the idea of actually pulling that weapon on anyone.
The person who is hesitant to carry a gun, who loathes the thought of actually ever having to use it, but decides that he will take on the burden of carrying for the sake of potentially being in a position to protect his neighbor––that is the person who carries out of love. That is the type of person we should want to carry a gun. To carry with this mind of service is actually a way to follow the command to bear one another’s burdens.
It is indeed a burden to carry a gun. It requires significant thought and planning––what to carry, how to carry it, how to conceal it, where to go, where not to go. Carrying is a limit that the carrier puts upon themselves for the sake of others. If one is unwilling to take on this burden––the strain of forethought, self-restraint, and willingness to intercede if necessary, and only if necessary––then one should not carry a gun.
Protect Your Neighbors
While there are myriad good and right defensive uses of firearms, there are also the shameful incidents that we too commonly hear about. Some people overeager for confrontation unnecessarily start fights or meddle in others’ benign affairs. The community of gun owners and carriers must be the leading voices for responsibility and accountability. We must self-enforce the idea that a posture of love is necessary to carry a gun.
We who carry guns must be the first to tell the truth about these incidents, or else we’re not credible. For these terrible incidents, it’s often not so much the law that needs reforming as does the posture of those of us who carry guns.
With the right motivation and posture, one can bless her community by living life with a gun in her pocket. Violence may be stopped in its tracks. Neighbors may be protected.
If we who carry reek of fear, or fail to call out irresponsible gun use, then the public will always be skeptical of people carrying guns, and rightly so. But if we have an attitude of love and service toward others––willing to volunteer ourselves for harm’s way, for the sake of our neighbor––then we can be humble servants to our communities.