As the news unfolds of the latest mass killing in the USA, I would like to challenge America’s Christians to step up and help change a culture in which guns are too often seen as the answer and not the problem.
Tragic as the shooting of 26 people at the First Baptist Church in Sunderland Springs, Texas is, we know that the problem with gun deaths in America is not primarily about mass shootings. Of the 33,000 gun-related deaths a year in America (a truly shocking statistic) only 500 a year are from mass shootings, accounting for 1.5% of all gun deaths. While these horrific incidents are rightly the cause of public outcry, they deflect us from the much larger gun-related tragedy – suicide.
Two-thirds of gun-related deaths in America are suicides, a tragedy of almost unimaginable proportions. When someone takes their own life it can leave extremes of grief and lasting guilt for the families and friends of the person who has died. To multiply that by 22,000 people a year, from suicide by guns alone, is to imagine an epidemic of life-blighting grief.
Two-thirds of gun-related deaths in America are suicides
Over the past few decades there has been a lot of research into gun use, and abuse, in America. We now know that just the availability and presence of a gun in the home is a strong predictor of gun suicide. States with the most guns report the most suicides. Much more than any other method of suicide, guns allow people to kill themselves much more easily.
Jesus said that he came so that people may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10). Somehow the message of a loving God and the hope of salvation and new life in Jesus Christ has not been communicated effectively enough to many thousands of people in America.
One of my cousins killed himself with a gun when the weight of complicated personal problems became too great. Our family will never know whether he might have reached out and sought help, if he had not had easy access to a loaded gun.
If churches and other organisations were to make tackling suicide a high priority in their ministry and outreach, supporting and working in partnership with professionals already operating in this field, then we might see a change. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the national suicide rate began to drop, thanks to Christians helping to mobilise appropriate support for troubled people, but also by living lives of such trust, hopefulness and joy that those around them could see that life was worth living.
I would like to think that Christian gun owners would be willing to accept stricter gun controls if it meant fewer deaths
The second way Christians could help to lower the appalling rates of gun-related deaths is by supporting and promoting tighter gun control laws. The reality is that states with tighter gun control laws have fewer gun-related deaths.
I would like to think that responsible Christian gun owners would be willing to accept having stricter gun controls, if it meant that fewer of their fellow citizens would end up being killed by a gun. Wouldn’t it be a powerful witness if Christians could make their voices heard calling for the kinds of restrictions that have been found to save lives?
Paul never had to face the issue of guns in the early Church, but he did face a lot of other controversies. He admonished the Christians in Rome to "never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another." (Romans 14:13) He may have been writing about attitudes and practices about eating food that was considered 'unclean', but the principle is important. If I use my freedom to do something that harms or damages someone else, then I am abusing my freedom. Each of us is constrained not only by how we believe God is calling us to live, but also by the needs of others.
The situation of gun-related deaths in America is dire, but it can be changed. If Christians can demonstrate that life can have meaning, abundance and joy, and if those who own guns are willing to accept the restrictions that have been shown to save lives, then we can break through a culture accustomed to violence and fear, and help to usher in the Kingdom of God, led by the Prince of Peace.
Christina Rees CBE was born and raised in America, then moved to England when she met and married Chris. They have two daughters who are dual citizens. Christina is a writer, broadcaster, consultant and lay preacher. In 2015, she was made a Commander of the British Empire by the Queen for services to the Church of England.