Something clicked within me recently while half-listening to a news report. The report concerned yet another police killing of a citizen and, as I recall, the reporter’s words went something like this: “Police chased the man on foot for two blocks, but when they saw he had a gun, posing a threat, they shot him.”
I have no details about this incident; all I have is this memory-recreated sentence. So, my comments are neither case-specific nor meant to accuse police of any wrongdoing. Rather, my purpose here is with the click that came when I heard the word “threat.”
Consider: For a two-block sprint, this now-dead man was simply a fleeing suspect, a human being on the run. But when police saw his gun, he instantaneously became a “threat.” Now he was perceived as someone who could cause serious harm or bring death to another person. The presence of a gun transformed a fellow human being into a threat — and within seconds, a suspect became a corpse.
Now here’s the click that went off within me. The United States of America is on a suicide course of weaponizing every citizen within its bounds who desires to “bear arms.” Forty million firearms were bought by Americans in 2020 and 2021; credible estimates indicate civilians own 20 million AR-15s. And a recent Supreme Court decision opened the gun-crazy floodgates even wider.
“The United States of America is on a suicide course of weaponizing every citizen within its bounds who desires to ‘bear arms.’”
Gun makers and lobbyists argue gun ownership is a right guaranteed by the Constitution and owning one (and being free to carry it wherever you desire) increases your personal safety, that it’s actually necessary for “self-defense.” But this astounding scenario actually tells a tragic story. It reveals the loss of something very sacred in America: the welfare of a safe, civil society is being sacrificed to the idol of individual rights.
When every citizen is weaponized, every citizen then becomes a potential “threat.” Any stranger on the street might be “packing heat” and possibly mentally unstable. The purchase of a gun, therefore, doesn’t grant anyone safety, nor does it answer the problem of “law and order.” It only compounds the problem, for every gun purchased means you now have one more neighbor to reclassify as a “threat.” Every grocery shopper becomes a possible lethal adversary, able to kill you if you pick up the squash they wanted. Don’t laugh; people are killed for less. If the shopper has a gun.
These little metal-and-powder death machines possess stunning transformative powers. They change identities, possibilities, probabilities — everything!
Don’t tell me the problem is with the shooter. No, the problem is this deadly “thing” in the shooter’s hand, this “thing” that transforms neighbors into “threats,” this “thing” America seems hell-bent to place in every pocket and purse, every glove compartment, home and hand in this country. Rather than E Pluribus Unum, perhaps our new national motto ought be, “Every American a Threat!”
If this be heated overstatement, here are some cooler questions that my aforementioned click raised for me. I pass them along for your serious consideration:
- What gain is there in weaponizing one’s own world?
- Is a “locked and loaded” society healthier than a neighborly one?
- How are we helped by letting one deadly gadget transform the man on the street, the Walmart shopper, the worshiper on the next pew, into a “threat”?
- Why are we silent when the great good of neighborliness is being replaced with legally endorsed fear and suspicion?
It is not just “the bad guy with a gun” we have to deal with. We must also confront the abundance of guns in our homes and our growing fear of one another.
J. Daniel Day is emeritus pastor of First Baptist Church (Salisbury St.) of Raleigh, N.C., and former senior professor of preaching and Christian worship at Campbell University Divinity School. His latest book is Lively Hope: A Taste of God’s Tomorrow.
Rights, responsibilities and the two-fold commandment of love: A reflection on gun violence in America | Opinion by Greg Garrett
Mass murder and the soundtrack of our lives | Opinion by Justin Cox
Yes, there is a way out of our national gun violence epidemic | Opinion by Paul Robertson