In April, just a month after the tragic shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville claimed six lives, Republican Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee proposed a new law to slightly tighten gun-buying regulations in the state.
Surprisingly, a group of influential Southern Baptist pastors from Tennessee penned a letter in support of Gov. Lee’s proposed gun reform law. However, their endorsement faced immediate backlash from members of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
The pastors expressed their support for the law as a means to “strengthen our state’s order of protection laws to protect the broader population from those who are a danger to themselves or others.” They commended Gov. Lee’s approach, stating that it safeguards citizens’ constitutional rights while also offering protection to potential victims of dangerous individuals. To bolster their stance, the pastors cited scripture and resolutions from the SBC.
However, the letter sparked controversy among many Baptists, particularly those who staunchly support Second Amendment rights. The issue of gun control in the United States has long been a fiercely debated topic, exacerbated by the frequent occurrence of tragic shooting incidents. Nearly halfway through 2023, gun violence has claimed the lives of 19,532 individuals, with an additional 16,500 people injured. So far, 2023 has had the highest number of mass shootings in American history.
In light of the statistics, it is evident that change is urgently needed. However, amidst the prevailing rhetoric about gun reform, is there a third conversation that should be taking place? One that seeks to find common ground and practical solutions? Is it possible for Americans to engage in a peaceful and productive dialogue about gun reform?
The existing debate on gun control in the United States has become polarized, presenting a false dichotomy between staunch support for the unrestricted right to bear arms and advocating for an absolute ban on firearms. But does this binary approach truly represent the more nuanced views held by many Americans?
Author Brené Brown captures the plight of those who find themselves in the middle ground, stating, “I exist in that lonely space between all guns and no guns — a space that [feels] defined by criticism and judgment.”
There are individuals who grew up in households with firearms, appreciating the rich history of sportsmanship and personal freedom, while also recognizing the need for responsible gun policy reform. They believe that the conversation on gun control should transcend simplistic slogans and encompass a comprehensive and thoughtful evaluation of existing policies.
The conversation on gun control in the United States must transcend the current divisive rhetoric.
A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that 53 percent of Americans are receptive to stricter gun laws, even among gun owners. This demonstrates a recognition within this group of the necessity for sensible regulations, such as universal background checks and higher age requirements.
Taylor Schumann, a survivor of the April 2013 shooting at a college in Christiansburg, Virginia and author of When Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enough: A Shooting Survivor’s Journey into the Realities of Gun Violence, suggests that a third conversation on gun reform is already underway.
“A third conversation is already happening, we’re just not hearing about it,” she said. “I talk to people all the time about the conversations they’re having with family members and friends where they realize they’re not actually that far apart on the issue, or they find some unexpected common ground — maybe on Red Flag Laws or expanded background checks or closing a loophole.”
On an individual level, people seem willing to engage in nuanced conversations about reform. However, when the media enters the picture, these discussions often crumble.
“Unfortunately, we don’t hear about these conversations, and we’re not encouraged to have them, by the voices we listen to in the news or in politics,” Schumann laments. “We are largely told by the news media how extreme the other side is, how far apart we are on issues, how we can never find common ground. This serves ratings and keeps our politicians in office. But it also keeps us firmly in our political camp and believing the worst about those on the other side.”
Moving the conversation forward on gun control is no easy task, but it is crucial to acknowledge the emotionally charged nature of the discussion and approach it with a genuine interest in understanding everyone’s perspectives. Active listening should be prioritized, ensuring that the conversation remains focused on identifying common ground and achieving the shared goal of saving lives.
When engaging in conversations about gun control, it is essential to begin from a place of agreement. Recognize that both parties share the desire to reduce the loss of life due to gun violence. This common objective can serve as a foundation for exploring potential solutions and finding common ground.
Schumann points out that research indicates Americans are open to change. She highlights a poll conducted by Fox News in April, which found that 87 percent of voters favored requiring criminal background checks for all gun buyers, while 81 percent supported raising the legal age to purchase firearms to 21. Additionally, 80 percent of voters supported allowing the police to disarm individuals deemed a danger to themselves or others, and 77 percent supported a 30-day waiting period for all gun purchases.
It is worth acknowledging that changing someone’s stance on gun control may not occur in a single conversation. However, by challenging extreme views and sowing seeds of alternative perspectives, individuals can contribute to a positive shift over time.
Christians have a unique role to play in the conversation surrounding gun reform. The Church should be at the forefront, providing wisdom, clarity and solace to those impacted by gun violence. Unfortunately, the Church has often remained silent or failed to address this contentious issue adequately.
Schumann hopes that the Church will champion the value and dignity of individuals within the gun control debate and recognize the opportunity for personal sacrifice.
“Too often, this conversation sends people to the furthest ends of the political arena, which is understandable since politics is largely how we accomplish things in the United States and how we act on our beliefs,” she says. “But if anyone should be advocating for protecting lives and limiting human suffering, it’s the Church.”
Schumann envisions churches and community organizations sponsoring gun buyback programs or facilitating safe opportunities for people to relinquish their firearms voluntarily. She envisions individuals deciding that preserving lives and reducing gun violence outweigh personal attachment to guns, even without legal compulsion. While legislation is desirable, she firmly believes that meaningful work can still be accomplished even without its immediate enactment.
“If anyone should be advocating for protecting lives and limiting human suffering, it’s the Church.” – Taylor Schumann
Though the issue of gun control reform may appear overwhelming, there is reason for hope. Progress has already been achieved in some areas, with states implementing red flag laws, extending background check periods and enacting assault weapons bans. Grassroots initiatives and community-led efforts, such as gun buyback programs, also have the potential to make a substantial impact.
Schumann’s hope lies in the ongoing commitment of individuals, not just institutions, to advocate for change.
“My hope really is that we wouldn’t have to rely so heavily on legislative action but that we would see more action at individual and community levels,” she asserts. “I would love to see more people decide the safety of their neighbor is worth more than their guns.”
The conversation on gun control in the United States must transcend the current divisive rhetoric. While the path to change may be challenging, individuals and institutions, including the Church, have a critical role to play in bringing about constructive reform. By engaging in conversations with wisdom, compassion, and a focus on preserving lives, Americans can move toward a future that combines peace and productive gun reform.