As lawmakers examine what to do about gun control, what should be our reaction to the debate? One answer is to examine the history of guns.
As a child, I lived in a TV fantasy world of cowboys. To own a six-shooter, a fancy holster, cowboy boots and a lever-action Winchester rifle was my cherished fantasy. Why this fascination? The movies glamorized Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger and other heroes of the West. They taught us the West was won in great part by guns.
World War II changed this. By then, I wanted to own an M-1 rifle and a German Luger. And those times, too, taught us the war was won by guns.
My guess is that many people today dream of owning the advanced rifles our soldiers are using in places such as Afghanistan. And my guess is that future generations will dream of possessing laser guns like those used in "Star Wars." The fascination for guns, however, goes beyond target practice. It’s about feeling like a cowboy or an infantry soldier; it is about killing, ultimately.
Whether one is a hunter, soldier or citizen defending himself or herself, guns kill. For many people, killing is just another part of life. To a large extent, they are correct in thinking this. In the Bible, we can only guess about the people King David killed. Although he didn’t have guns, his spears, swords and arrows killed. When Joshua captured Jericho, there was a slaughter. This also is true about Joan of Arc and other saints fighting holy wars.
If weapons that kill have always existed, what side of the debate should be taken on gun control in light of this fact?
If Scripture and church history are any criterion, owning a gun and using it must be considered legitimate. Before we assent to this, however, we need to realize there is more to this equation: Life is precious and when something is precious we will always have someone with a gun or weapon out to destroy it. This leads us back to original sin and instances such as Cain murdering Abel.
We cannot, however, become indifferent about the killing power of guns because today we not only possess advanced guns, but weapons of total destruction. Pope John Paul II realized this and it is one reason he said we live in a culture of death.
We must cultivate a culture that teaches the sanctity of life much better than is presently being done. Although people will continue to kill with guns, we can minimize this by not glamorizing their brutal use in our movies and media in which taking a life is matter-of-fact.
Father Hemrick is a columnist for Catholic News Service.