On Tuesday (Jan. 5), an emotional President Obama announced a series of executive actions to, in his words, “do something to try to prevent the next” mass shooting. “We can,” the President told a cheering White House audience, “reduce gun violence a whole lot more” through “common-sense gun control measures.”
Among the measures outlined by the President are increased background checks for gun purchasers, additional licensing requirements for certain gun sellers, gun safety research, and funding for mental health care.
The President took specific aim at Republicans, urging Americans to “demand a Congress brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby’s lies.”
The political response was, pardon the pun, fast and furious. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said “the President has never respected the right to safe and legal gun ownership” and that the President “does not trump the Second Amendment.”
Other critics pointed out that the President’s actions would do little if anything to reduce gun violence or prevent another San Bernardino or Sandy Hook.
So there’s the expected political responses. But my question is how should we, as Christians, think about the President’s executive actions about gun control?
First, a disclaimer. I am a gun owner and I respect the Second Amendment. And yes, I also understand that no right, including this one, is absolute. As my friend Russell Moore wrote in an excellent reflection on the gun debate, “We rightly do not allow private citizens to own surface-to-air missiles, for example.”
And let’s all agree that no sane person wants to make it easy for folks to shoot innocent people.
But here are my concerns. First, I believe, along with Chuck Colson, that the role of government is to promote justice and preserve order, which it can only do according to the rule of law. The President’s actions on Tuesday overstep his authority as the chief executive, just as the SCOTUS decision last summer on same-sex marriage overstepped their authority. Congress’s refusal to enact gun-control laws that the President wants does not give him legal or moral authority to legislate. All of this legal overstepping that we’re seeing should concern everyone.
Second, the President’s actions, with the one exception of increased funding for mental health care, do nothing to address the underlying causes of gun violence.
What we’ve witnessed for decades in America is the deterioration of civil society. The result? Increased crime. And all the way back in the 1990’s, Chuck Colson explained why the prison population was exploding:
“The surging moral relativism in our culture was eroding our value system. The family was breaking down. Sleazy television, movies, and music poisoned the minds of young people, dulling their consciences . . . And the schools no longer taught right from wrong—only tolerance. Young people had no moral compass, and many of them followed their parents’ footsteps into prison.”
And to that I would add this: as families have broken down, government has grown in size and power, and those “intermediate institutions” so critical to a healthy society–churches, civic associations, philanthropic organizations—have less and less influence on our communities.
Russell Moore put it this way: “If one lives in a community where people know one another, trust one another, and can call a neighbor (armed, if necessary) to help where needed, crime rates tend to be lower.” In other words, “more community, less crime.”
And folks, more government policy cannot create community. The secularist technocratic impulse to attempt to create a perfect world through just the right policies and legislation is an illusion–a political illusion.
The gun-rights/gun-control debate will certainly continue. In the meantime, Christians should be about getting to the heart of the problem: the human heart, and the need for strong communities.
— by John Stonestreet
Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint. Copyright© 2016 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.