Imagine that you are visiting an Iowa town new to you and looking for a home near your new job. You go into a market hoping to find one or two workers there to chat with about desirable areas for family living in this town. You immediately notice a man in the market with a holstered pistol on his belt. Then you see another and another, and a woman also armed as she pushes a baby stroller through the aisles.
Is this the lawless 19th-century Wild West? Not at all. It’s the new vision of contemporary America held by advocates of almost unlimited gun rights. Such visionaries would have children growing up in an environment of defensive fear, where life really is the adolescent male nightmare of violent challenge around every corner. We must all arm ourselves against ever-present threat.
In this vision, fear has banished trust, and anarchy is a creeping weed that threatens the garden of community.
The scenario outlined here may be extreme, but it is not far from what the more aggressive gun rights advocates say they want.
The Supreme Court is considering a case brought by a Chicago man who wants an end to local laws that prevent him from keeping a handgun handy, presumably for shooting in “self-defense” at people he sees as a threat. It will not be a surprise if the court says the Second Amendment right to “bear arms” does not allow states and cities to prohibit the possession and carrying of handguns.
With more of an opening to claim a need for pistols on the hip, we will be closer to a well-armed mob than a civil community. The mischief inherent in the Second Amendment will continue doing its work as the trajectory of decisions interpreting that amendment continues its path away from the federalism of “a well-armed militia” toward the libertarian/anarchist “right to keep and bear arms.”
Presumably, there will be some way to keep guns out of churches, but even that may well be challenged, such is the determination of gun lovers to resist any limits.
It may become necessary for the church to take a stand, not against guns as such, but against fear as a basis for judgment. Do not fear, Jesus says a number of times in the Gospel. God has created a world intended for love, which banishes fear and the violence that justifies itself in fear.
The church might even lead in calling for better policing and other civic services that help keep communities healthy and peaceful. Citizens should not feel that they have no recourse but self-directed violence in order to feel safe. Self-chosen governments like ours should have a monopoly on the use of force and violence to ensure lawful life in the community. But that monopoly loses persuasive force as it fails to maintain a safe environment.
The Catholic Church especially is notable as an advocate for the common good. Part of such an aim is a shared sense of security. Where there is well-grounded fear in a community there is an injustice to individuals and parts of the community. There is no reason for the church to not be a leader in identifying such problems and helping with solutions – especially if the alternative is an expanding regime of fear and guns.
This has nothing to do with long guns for hunting. They are not the tools and symbols of interpersonal violence that handguns are. It is those latter implements — secular sacraments for many people — that are so problematic. They stand for a false sense of security, one unknown to the Good News of Jesus.