On Tuesday Jan. 5th, 2016, 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 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.
I think that response seems very expected and appropriate from a political point of view. What I want to address in the rest of this blog is, what should we think about the President’s executive actions about gun control? I can’t speak for you, but I will give you a few of my thoughts.
First I want to start with a couple of disclaimers. I have never owned and probably will never own a gun. It is not that I am against guns per say, but I have never felt the need to own one of my own. I do not hunt and I rely on the two guns I have attached to my shoulders if trouble ever comes up (see what I did there)? I also want to say that I respect the Second Amendment, but I also understand that no right, including this one, is absolute. Russell Moore wrote an excellent reflection on the gun debate, “We rightly do not allow private citizens to own surface-to-air missiles, for example.” I also want to make an assumption that we all agree that no sane person wants to make it easy for people to shoot innocent people.
I do have two major concerns with this decision. The first is that I believe 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 overstepped his authority as the chief executive. Congress’s refusal to enact gun-control laws that the President wants does not give him the legal or moral authority to legislate. All of this legal overstepping that we are seeing going on later should be a great concern to us all.
Secondly, 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. So what are these underlying causes of gun violence? I’m so glad you asked.
What we’ve witnessed for decades in America is the deterioration of civil society. The result of this deterioration is increased crime. 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 parent’s footsteps into prison.”
I would add this to that statement: 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, etc.) have less and less influence on our communities.
Russell Moore puts it this way: “If one lives in a community where people know one another, trust one another, and can call a neighbor to help when needed, crime rates tend to be lower.” In other words, more community means less crime.
I want to be very clear that more government policy does not create community. The secularist impulse is to attempt to create a more perfect world through just the right policies and legislation, but it can’t. It is an illusion, a political illusion.
The gun-rights/gun-control debate will certainly continue. In the meantime, we should be getting to the heart of the problem: the human heart, and the need for strong communities. As our communities continue to deteriorate, crime rates will continue to rise. At least that is how I see it.
I would love for you to give me your take on this?