Three reasons I might be wrong about gun control

This is my last post about gun control. I promise. However, I read an interesting piece on Read it here.


The post got me re-thinking the vigor of my earlier posts arguing in favor of what many Americans would consider draconian regulation of gun ownership:

Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment and point out three reasons why I could be wrong about wanting more stringent gun control laws.

  • The United States Constitution appears to guarantee the right to own a firearm.
  • Most Americans do not want great regulation of firearms.
  • Gun control works for the world we wished we lived in rather than the real world.

Let me unpack these for a moment.

The Constitutional argument. I’m no expert in Constitutional law, but it in 2008 and 2010 the Supreme Court of the United States issued two landmark decisions regarding gun ownership. In District of Columbia v. Heller 554 US 570 (2008) the court ruled that the guarantee of the right to bear arms is not connected with the establishment of a militia. In McDonald v. Chicago 561 US 5031 (2010) the Court ruled that state and local governments are affected the same way by the Second Amendment is Federal government (i.e., local governments must not infringe on the right to bear arms). Together these decisions mean that the law of the land is that each American does have the right to bear arms and that right is not connected with forming or serving in a militia and cannot be infringed on my non-Federal authorities.

The democratic argument. Most Americans do not wish there to be more regulation of firearms. This has to be given more authority that I previously gave it credit for. They may be wrong, but in a democracy the majority governs and the majority clearly wishes to at least have the option to own firearms.

The real world argument. Is it practical to make owning a firearm illegal when there are already hundreds of thousands of guns already owned by private individuals? In a world with guns, many will think it safer or more prudent to themselves have a firearm to protect them.

One thing that I can say with certainty is that there is no “Christian” position on gun ownership. Some Christians will not wish to own them for theological reasons and others, for equally theological reasons, will wish to own them. In the end, our positions probably have more to say about how we read and understand the Constitution and the darkness of the human soul.

What do you think?

“The shepherd i…

“The shepherd is not without authority, but it is of a different sort. The shepherd’s authority is based on competence grounded in mutuality, yet this authority requires accurate empathy to be properly empowered. Pastoral authority is not primarily a coercive authority, but rather an authority based on covenant fidelity, caring, mutuality, and the expectation of empathic understanding.”

Thomas C. Oden, Pastoral Theology, 53.

Christmas — not the way it’s supposed to be

The Gissing household is buzzing with the joy (and stress) of late Advent anticipation. Tomorrow is the big day–Christmas Day–which will usher in twelve days of celebration and present opening. The plan is to open one to two presents per day through the twelve days of Christmas. We’d like to do our small part to rescue Christmas from its cultural bondage and return it to what it is supposed to be: a feast of the Christian church.

Since we our eldest was born four years ago, Anna and I have started to think more intentionally about how we celebrate Advent and Christmastide. Our hope is to move further along the path to making Advent what it’s supposed to be: a period of waiting for the birth of the Christ child. Then Christmastide–all twelve days of it–will be time to party.


My father recalls the Christmases of his youth in Second World War and Post-war England. As a child, he would go to bed on Christmas Eve, no Christmas tree to be seen. On waking, he would emerge from his room (shared with the other four children) to see a decorated tree with presents around it. Christmas started on Christmas Day, not November 1.

Today, Christmas has become not a celebration of the Nativity of our Lord, but an opportunity to be manipulated by merchants wishing to enlarge their profits. Now, I’m no puritan. I have no wish to cancel or outlaw Christmas. I do, however, have the desire to make it a peaceful and grace-filled Christian celebration, something it has long since ceased to be for many.

So, in looking to 2013 we have made some plans about how we will change our celebration:

  • We will not decorate our tree until Gaudete at the earliest or Christmas Eve at the latest.
  • We will not take our tree down until the twelfth night, the eve of Epiphany.
  • We will place 1-2 presents per day under the tree for our children to open during Christmastide.
  • We will do our best to attend church on December 25.
  • We will place a greater emphasis on our Advent calendar and wreath during, well, Advent.

We need a simpler celebration and it seems that in order to do this we have to break the unwritten rules that hold a beautiful Christian holiday captive to our culture. I think this will better both for our own souls and those of our children.

Is gun ownership detrimental to civil society?

Alan Jacobs at The American Conservative has a thoughtful piece on his opposition to the idea of teachers being armed in case of the next Sandy Hook incident. It’s worth reading.

He writes:

But what troubles me most about this suggestion — and the general More Guns approach to social ills — is the absolute abandonment of civil society it represents. It gives up on the rule of law in favor of a Hobbesian “war of every man against every man” in which we no longer have genuine neighbors, only potential enemies. You may trust your neighbor for now — but you have high-powered recourse if he ever acts wrongly.


And in so writing, he captures the essence of my own objection to the owning and use of firearms: it is detrimental to a civilized society. It undermines any sense of neighbor by presupposing that at any moment what peace exists will be broken by an armed intruder intent on stealing your possessions or worse. He continues,

Whatever lack of open violence may be procured by this method is not peace or civil order, but rather a standoff, a Cold War maintained by the threat of mutually assured destruction. Moreover, the person who wishes to live this way, to maintain order at universal gunpoint, has an absolute trust in his own ability to use weapons wisely and well: he never for a moment asks whether he can be trusted with a gun. Of course he can! (But in literature we call this hubris.)

The understanding of many is framed by a romantic notion of an America where government is not needed because government by the people takes the form of an armed populace. In this sense of American, I am profoundly un-American and that part of me raised and formed in Great Britain takes over. I understand that I have given to the police the right to use lethal force to protect me. I wil, of course, l protect my family to the best of my ability. What I won’t do is arm myself for the minute chance that I will need to. Should I need to protect my family, I believe that there’s more to be said for deescalation, escape, and evasion than for the use of a firearm.

Why are we scared of the government, but not big business?

As our nation collectively processes the tragedy of the Sandy Hook shootings, we’ve collectively turned our attention–both positive and negative–to the issue of what type of guns ought to be available to the general public and who ought to be able own them. I’ve explained my own opposition to gun ownership and proposed a solution that would allow individuals to own weapons while also requiring significant limitation on the what and how of their ownership and use.

A number of readers communicated their disagreement with my proposals. What each of these correspondents have in common is their understanding of the nature of civil government. To a man (no women wrote), each argued that civil government is a necessary evil and understood the power that the government wields to be a negative and oppressive thing in that it limits individual freedoms. The government is, in other words, to be frightened of because of its coercive power–it is Leviathan, a power stronger than other powers (cf. Hobbes, Leviathan).

Leviathan – see Job 41

For the sake of argument, let’s agree to this understanding of the role and nature of civil government.

What continues to perplex me is that most individuals–not necessarily my correspondents–seem to be deeply concerned about the ability of government to vitiate their individual freedom (defined as the ability to choose between two or more options rather than the ability to choose the good, a modern understanding to be sure) while simultaneously unconcerned about the power of large corporations to do precisely the same thing. In a sense, it seems, these individuals are still living in the 18th century–a time when corporations where in their infancy.

If there’s a leviathan today, it’s as likely to be a major global corporation like Google or Wal-Mart as it is to be a government.

Is it not the case that both the government and corporations have a significant amount of control on your life? I would answer this question in the affirmative. However, the type of control exerted is different. The government’s control is overt and backed by the potential for the use of force–“hard power.” That being said, in my 37 years I have never been coerced by the governments of either the United States or the United Kingdom to do something against my will. I could, of course, happen one day.

Corporations coerce in a different way. Corporations use “soft power” like advertising and sales to attempt to manipulate the buying behaviors of the public. Consider the ways in which we purchase food in the United States. The means of food production are so thoroughly “owned” by corporations that it is incredibly difficult opt out of the system. The system is rigged to award purchasing unhealthy, genetically-modified food.

The evidence would even suggest that some corporations use illegal activities like bribery to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. In my view, that the power of a corporation is subtle makes it rather more dangerous than the overt power of the government.

Why are we, as a nation, so enamored with the narrative of fear of government tyranny and ambivalent to a similar degree of control by corporations?

Could it be that we have allowed ourselves to be captured by the consumerist vision that posits the government as something that extracts money from us and thereby limits our ability to consume?

Could it be that we are unaware of the degree of power businesses have over us because we’re too busy working or being entertained to seriously consider it?

Is there an alternative vision that we could pursue? A vision that limits government and business, scaling them down to a local, personal, and knowable level? 

To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, capitalism is too few capitalists rather than too many.

A concrete proposal for curbing gun ownership

A report (link) from the BBC outlines how Australia made significant progress in curtailing the use and availability of guns after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996. Sweeping reform implemented (within thirteen days of the attack) both by the Australian federal and state governments included outlawing automatic and semi-automatic rifles, requiring registration of each firearm, and a comprehensive buy-back program.


The buy-back program, it is reported, was key to the success of Australia’s effort to reduce gun crime. Under the program, the government would pay market price for each firearm surrendered. Some 700,000 firearms were surrendered costing the government $300 million.

It certainly remains to be seen whether the issue of gun control will gain any traction in the United States. We’re a gun-loving people after all. It also remains to be seen whether a program like the Australian one would “scale up” for the American context–we own way more guns than Australians.

I think that the Australian approach has much to commend it. Here’s what I would like to see in terms of gun restrictions in the United States, at least in general terms:

  • The requirement for a license to own, maintain, and use a firearm with endorsements required for each individual weapon owned renewable every five years.
  • A registry of gun owners and weapons that could be shared across law enforcement agencies.
  • The requirement that any rifle/assault rifle (or rifle at or above a certain calibre) be housed and used only in a registered gun club with the exception of a range of rifles reasonably used for sporting purposes (i.e., hunting).
  • That any weapon kept in a private home be kept in a secured gun safe and that ammunition for the same be stored in a separate, secure location.
  • An excise duty on the sale of weapons for the purpose of funding compliance with these provisions and supplementing public mental health spending.

I’m certainly not an expert on this issue, but it seems to me that there is a compelling public interest in significantly restricting the availability of firearms.

Vomit, The Goonies, and the puke-mattress Gospel

Sometimes I try to think of all the things I’ve learned since becoming a father. How to triple-wash and strip cloth diapers. How to take rectal temperature (not that hard really, but who has occasion–mercifully–to do this before having an infant). How to make baby food from squash. The names of the characters on Yo Gabba Gabba (the humanity!).

The list is endless.

But perhaps the thing I am most grateful for is learning to use vinegar to get rid of the smell of vomit. Let’s just be honest here, there is no smell quite as nauseating as vomit. If you’ve seen The Goonies then you know this.

I had occasion to use this skill once again after our eldest was sick early this morning. 

With the puke mattress

As we’re moving through Advent in anticipation of the Nativity next week, the puke mattress is pungent reminder of the purpose of the Incarnation and it’s connection with God’s redemptive work in Christ.

We often focus, and rightly so, on Easter as we contemplate the way in which it pleased God to purchase a people for His name. At the same time, we often overlook the way in which Christmas is the beginning of that crucial episode in redemption history.

In order to redeem his people, it was necessary for God Himself to enter into the mess–the puke-smeared mattress–of our fallen condition.The project of redemption was not a distant, abstract, theoretical sort of thing. Instead it was a messy, painful, paradoxical, tragicomical–bringing good out of bad–sort of thing.

We’re prone to gloss over our messes. We live in an image-saturated culture where a quick look at Facebook can provide endless icons of perfect family life, burgeoning careers, and the like. Posted there less often is the deep pain, the searing loss, the bondage to sin, that marks so many lives.

As sentimental as Christmas is–and there’s some good in it–our preparation for (in Advent) and our celebration of it (in Christmastide) is an invitation to consider the sorry condition of our race of humanity that caused the incarnation to be necessary in the first place.

God hath called…

God hath called you to Christ’s side, and the wind is now in Christ’s face in this land; and seeing ye are with him, ye cannot expect the lee-side or the sunny side of the brae [hill]

Samuel Rutherford, The Loveliness of Christ

How to pick a school for your child

Our son will turn five in April, which means that we have entered into a parallel universe of school tours and informational sessions in preparation for choosing his kindergarten. To be honest, it’s sort of overwhelming.

There is a sort of collective neurosis amongst American parents when it comes to the issue of schooling and academic performance. Generally, I think this preoccupation is misguided and probably counter-productive.

On the other hand, like most parents with graduate degrees we’re also interested in education–it plays(ed) a significant in our own lives–and so we’re interested in learning about our schooling options and doing our due diligence to find a school for our son that will be a good fit.

As we’ve been researching, visiting, and discussing various schools we’ve realized that we’re going to have to make some difficult choices.


As you’re choosing a school for your child in the end there are really only two factors to consider, maybe three.

  • Does the schools’ educational philosophy reflect your own?
  • Is the culture of the school compatible with your own?
  • Does it seem like your child will be a good fit for the philosophy and culture of the school

A secondary, and very real, issue is that of cost:

  • Is it within your means to send your child to that school (if it is private)?

It’s important that your child’s school has an understanding of education that is compatible with your own. In other words: what is education for? How should it be carried out? What is the role of the school in education? What is the role of the parents?

In short, Anna and I want our children to go to a school that inspires them to love learning as much as we do.

We want them to be educated in a place that values creativity and expression more than memorization and performance.

We want our children to love to read as much as we and to be in a community of kids who encourage one another to read.

If an education is to meet its full potential, I think it should take place in a diverse and multi-cultural/multi-ethnic context. We hope that our kids will be educated in a place that is more diverse that our own schools.

We also hope that we’ll be able to find a place where community is more important than social status. We don’t want them to (mis)learn that fashion and affluence are markers of worth. We’ve already fielded the “why don’t you have a minivan or a Suburban?” question (more in terms of having lots of friends on board than as a marker of affluence).

We want them to value the arts as a value means of self-expression and as a carrier (or conduit) of culture) and to grow up believing that a vocation in the arts is just as valid as a vocation in the law or medicine.

Our world is now thoroughly post-Christendom and we think, as a result, that is probably a good thing for our kids to be a religiously pluralistic environment as early as possible. Of course, this requires that we be serious in our faithfully fulfilling our baptismal vows. Nathan and Eliza will need age-appropriate discipleship as well as a catechesis. As a side note: I’m working on an age-appropriate catechism for our family. It will likely blend elements from my favorite confessional documents: the Westminster Standards, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the possibly the Thirty-Nine Articles (Anglican).

As we’re making our decisions we’re also considering Nathan’s intelligence and temperament. We’re considering how he likes to learn and what has, thus far, caused him to enjoy learning and flourish as a little boy. We know, at the very least, that he requires a degree of freedom and room for creativity. He needs boundaries, but they have to be somewhat elastic. We’ve kept that in mind as we’ve looked.

A by-product of our research is an acute awareness of the income and educational inequality that exists in our city, state, and nation. The elementary school we’re zoned for–which we haven’t ruled out, by the way–is considered an under-performing school. 70% of the students are on some form of government aid (mostly reduced or free lunches). It’s predominantly non-white. Of those students not on aid the vast majority are performing at or above national standards (which I’m not entirely sure measure the right things).

So how do we choose between the private Christian school, the local magnet school, a local charter school, or the school we’re zoned for? I think, in the end, it’s a matter of evaluating values and philosophy–and of prayer.

Some brief reflection on suffering in light of today’s killings

I’m working on a book with the working title Hope in the Ruins: Christian Spirituality for those who are Suffering, so I’ve been reading, thinking, and praying about evil and suffering a great deal of late.

I hesitate to refer to this as “the problem of suffering” as though suffering is something we contemplate in the abstract or from a position of absolutely objectivity. We don’t. We cannot. Instead, suffering is an experience that has to be interpreted and understood in light of the revelation of God in the Christ presented to us in the Bible.

This is not an easy task and, as Michael Horton has pointed out in his book A Place for Weakness, it is wise to invest in developing a deep spirituality and an equally-robust theology prior to periods of intense suffering (which means now since we can’t predict suffering).


So as we think about the great evil that has befallen at the hands of an evil man, where are we to turn for answers or for consolation?

In the moment (and even afterwards) our deepest and richest consolation is in the person of our Lord who according to the letter to the Hebrews suffered and was tempted even as we suffer and are tempted. As a result he can help us in our suffering and in our temptation (the two are often close related–I’m often tempted to disbelief when experiencing suffering). And its in the context of a covenantal relationship with this suffering, emptying God-man that we can both affirm and take comfort in God’s sovereignty.

Today (and earlier this week as well) many people’s lives have changed in ways they never imagined. They are experiencing a depth of sorrow previously inconceivable. At this moment, let’s pause and lament to great pain and evil that precipitates such an act of malice. Let’s also pray for those who are suffering, and strive to exhibit the peace of the Gospel to the world of which we’re a part.

At a time like this, I don’t want to hear from the President or the Governor of Connecticut. They will try to interpret this event in light of the story of America. Instead we need to place this in the context of the story of God. So…even now, I long to be in church.