Gun Appreciation Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day
I’m a Canadian so I didn’t actually realize this until yesterday morning: only two days separate Gun Appreciation Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States. I’m not sure if this is true every year, just a fluke this year, or whether Gun Appreciation Day is even a regular thing (maybe it’s just in response to the debate right now?). I find this a little bit funny because I can’t help but wonder how many Americans who are celebrating both days realize how MLK did what the incredible world-changing things that he did. There’s an obvious difference between what the two days are celebrating. As usual, I am not aiming to make a point on a political issue. I am aiming to point out the differences between the two and challenge you to seek the Kingdom of God in all things.
Some gun control proponents would be quick to say that the difference is that there are the gun nuts who like to shoot things/people and those who don’t. Those on the opposite side of the politics would instead argue that the gun control people don’t care about rights and aren’t being realistic about containing evil in the world. As is almost always the case in politics, it isn’t nearly that simple. I do firmly believe that both want the same goal of peace. However, there’s a radical difference in opinion on how that is to be achieved and there is to some extent a radical difference in who we are trying to accomplish peace for.
Gun users and gun rights proponents are essentially arguing for a form of Just War Theory but most of the time with less-strict requirements of when you are allowed to be violent (e.g. in Just War Theory only a legimitate government, whatever that means, can use violence). The same core is there, though: violence is accepted as bad if not outright evil but is considered acceptable in cases of restraining or limiting other violence. Even in the strictest Just Wary Theory, there is an assumption that any individual does have the ability to judge the criteria to determine when violence is tolerable (never good, but on rare occasion allowed). In the looser versions of the same thinking such as those of the individualistic version behind most of the pro-gun arguments, that and other similar assumptions can become even more dangerous. I’m not saying it’s wrong from a political perspective to allow gun rights in some form or another but these are assumptions that should be considered when seeking a Jesus-like Christian ethical perspective.
On the other hand, those like Martin Luther King Jr. and most Anabaptists believe(d) that violence can never be solved by violence. At best violence can minimize other violence. Usually it just relocates it from the one side of a conflict to another until the losing party becomes strong enough to fight back again. If we are assuming that our side is inherently worth more than the other, this short-term redirection of violence is considered victory. We would argue, then, that for the Christian, peace cannot be a goal to be achieved through violent means but instead it must be the means toward that peace. That was the difference between MLK and Malcolm X and I think the reason we celebrate MLK more is because he created genuine change by modelling love of enemy even while challenging their oppression.
We could also look at it as a difference between retributive justice and restorative justice, although I find that it is surprisingly rare that gun proponents argue this way so I won’t spend long on this idea. Retributive justice assumes that the goal is to punish the good guys and reward the bad guys. Many think God operates this way, too. With regards to gun control, when challenged with the idea that maybe the gunman is worth just as much to God as the person he (or occasionally she) is shooting at, gun proponents will likely say that the difference is that the shooter deserves to die for being violent toward innocents. This is again the assumption that we can judge who is wholly good and who is wholly evil and I think the reality is that we are all some of each but all have unsurpassable worth to God regardless. Restorative justice, then, strives to restore the world, remembering that all humans including those holding a gun at our loved ones are the image-bearers of God and are the loved ones of God.