Gun Empire exposedBy Daniel Hertzler
Several weeks after the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, Vice President Biden convened a meeting with interested groups in an effort to devise a political response. It was reported that representatives of the National Rifle Association were not happy with the conference. They did not perceive they had been heard, and they would go back to the Congress, where they are heard because they bring money.
In America and Its Guns, James E. Atwood builds his case inductively, beginning with the first gun he ever owned, bought in 1958 from a Sears Roebuck catalog. He also tells of how, as a missionary to Japan, he imported a gun into Japan — with a lot of red tape. He reports that in 1974, the year he left Japan, “Tokyo, which was then the largest city in the world, had one death by firearms, and the nation’s death toll from guns was infinitesimal. In contrast, America had 35,000 deaths by guns, and some cities were virtual shooting galleries.”
But what really got his attention was the 1975 death of Herb Hunter, a member of his congregation, who was killed by a boy with a borrowed gun when Herb tripped on a rug and surprised the robber after Herb had already handed over the money. Atwood learned “there were more gun dealers in the country than McDonald’s restaurants, more gun dealers than gas stations.”
Next Atwood considers the question of where the issue of guns may be discussed. Not in church, he was told, because guns are a political issue, not a spiritual one. Instead, in church, people said, “We should be praying for those who are thinking about doing such horrible things. We should pray that they have a change of heart.”
So he joined the Presbyterian effort to restrict guns through the political process. But they found this did not work, for guns really are a spiritual issue, and in the meantime the NRA was ahead of them. Yet he affirms that “because we are a country governed by laws, eventually Congress will write balanced laws. But, first, there must be a spiritual awakening from God’s people to find the necessary traction in our highest legislative bodies.”
Atwood points out that the NRA is a lobby for the gun industry and that devotion to guns can be an idolatry. Of his 19 chapters, five are used to describe the idolatry of gun worship. Walter Brueggemann, who wrote the introduction, has described the U.S. as an empire. Atwood says there is a Gun Empire.
One chapter is called “The Idol Requires Human Sacrifice.” Atwood observes that “when five persons are hospitalized in the Southwest with e coli found in spinach, the government immediately shuts down the entire spinach industry… . When more than 30,000 Americans die by gunfire, Congress reacts to protect guns, along with their institutions, factories, distribution systems and private sellers, which only guarantees that there will be more human sacrifice in the days to come.”
There is not much here that Mennonites should disagree with. I believe we would agree that the question of guns may be discussed wherever we gather. I think we would also recognize that the person who attempts to protect himself with a gun from an invader will probably be killed because the invader is already prepared.
Atwood has drawn on Walter Wink’s study of “the powers” and highlights Wink’s identification of the myth of “redemptive violence.” One chapter discusses “The Language of a Gun Culture,” where he lists more than two pages of words and phrases “which reference guns, explosions or killing.” The first example is “big shot.” Well, of course. I have used it myself. Others include “You call the shots,” “the smoking gun” and “go off half-cocked.” I never thought about how easily we can absorb this violent lingo.
He mentions the extensive use the NRA makes of the Second Amendment — but only, as he points out, the second half of the Amendment. The first half calls for “a well-regulated militia.” Regulation is what they are against.
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