This has been a horribly violent month. We have all witnessed horrific shootings and abuses of power. And as the gun debate rages on into November I wanted to share my story of why I decided to stop carrying my gun – and how liberating it’s been.
I grew up with guns. Growing up in rural Midwest farm country, everyone I knew had a gun – or ten. They were used to either slaughter delicious wild animals or wield major damage to cans, milk jugs, and fence posts at the shooting range, a.k.a. my backyard. Guns were for fun.
In my 20’s I moved to a Minneapolis neighborhood. Where I would all too often hear a pop pop pop in the middle of the night.
I had a friend who was robbed at gunpoint walking to their apartment one evening.
I got a job in security. I saw break-ins, petty vandalisms such as graffiti tagging and windows busted. I grew afraid of what was “out there,” of people I did not know.
Between my job, the entertainment I was consuming, and the ratings driven cable news I decided to start carrying a handgun.
I was afraid of what “could happen.” The what ifs? What if these horrible scenarios happened to me? I decided traveling around the city with a handgun on my hip was the way to protect myself.
My first gun range and carry instructor was a worthy teacher. I applaud his style because he tried to talk us out of carrying at all. I never forget his steady mantra, “only draw [your weapon] if you plan to kill what you are pointing at.” He wanted the class to understand that not only is the person getting shot at possibly losing their life, but the person doing the shooting will emerge with a saddened, ruined life as well.
I wish some of our public safety officers had my first carry teacher.
The lesson was I should only point a gun at someone whose life I am comfortable ending, and only if I am ready to bear the burden and guilt of being their killer. Could any training really prepare me for that?
I got my license and carried a .40 caliber semi-auto handgun, but I never lost the gravity of the instruction.
Somewhere around 5 years of concealed carrying it was time to retrain and renew my license. I went to a shooting range north of the cities for this training. Had a stereotypical ex-marine for an instructor. His mantra ate at me, “if someone tries to take your shit you have to take them down!”
What? This was a far different attitude toward gun use than I had been taught in my first training. If someone tries to take a thing I own, I am supposed to end their life?
I never really got over the implication of the statement. Don’t we all learn in pre-school people are more important than things?
I passed and renewed my license, to complete the course I guess, but stopped carrying my handgun when I went out. Did I really want some boy’s life to be over, to carry that guilt forever because he wanted my crappy stereo?
At the time I remember reading christian thinkers on the topic of the Kingdom of God. N.T. Wright Surprised by Hope explores a here and now heaven,
“salvation, then, is not ‘going to heaven’ but ‘being raised to life in God’s new heaven and new earth.’ But as soon as we put it like this we realize that the New Testament is full of hints, indications, and downright assertions that this salvation isn’t just something we have to wait for in the long-distance future.”
I took that to mean what I do now, today, directly impacts the presence of heaven in my life and in my community.
Many themes resonate in the speeches and writing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that wore at my acceptance of violence. He taught we should try to understand the “enemy.” We should look for the systemic causes present in the specific trouble. His non-violent approach was a declaration of peace gained by putting “arms” down, not taking them up, and when we do that first, others will follow our lead.
It was perhaps Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You that forced my hand the hardest. Pining for non-violent action he noted “Ever since Christianity has been outwardly professed, this question [of taking up arms or not] is like the question which presents itself to a traveler when the road on which he has been journeying divides into two branches…There was one road, now there are two, and he must make his choice.”
I wanted to believe this idea that violence to repay violence could not make things right. The only thing I could do to keep that belief alive while living in our sometimes violent american communities was to decide to take the branch in the road away from “shooting back.” So I gave up my guns.
I could never shoot another person just because they wanted my stuff.
Hell, I could never shoot another person who was shooting at me! I had no good reason to carry a gun because I had no good reason to ever use it.
What if my life is in danger? What if my family…what if, what if, what if? There is always a what if. For me, a statement of peace did not mean keep my gun and try not to use it. Peace means I’m not going to shoot someone, out of fear or not.
So when it comes to the what ifs, I am looking for a greater miracle than self-preservation, or being a superhero with a gun. I have hope that the human being across from me wants the same things I want. We want to love and be loved. We want to be at peace and not live in fear. We want to have a home in a community where we are treated fairly, where law and grace apply equally to each of us.
Thank you for taking a moment to think about this with me, to hear my story. I hope we continue this conversation about the hope of living in communities where all human lives are valued, communities where snuffing out the life of another person is an incomprehensible consideration in our pursuit of peace, happiness, and love.