August 7, 2019

Praying Away the Gun Violence


In the wake of the recent round of mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton (or Toledo, depending on who you ask), we have seen several Christian extremists (e.g., Mike Huckabee) using their platforms to proclaim that prayer is the only solution to gun violence. At this point, I'm just glad to hear that they have finally found a solution. I'm puzzled that they haven't already been praying to keep us safe, but I assume they will do so now that they have acknowledged the problem and claimed to have found the solution.

In the unlikely event that there is another mass shooting in the U.S., I assume that Mike Huckabee and his fellow Christian extremists will be held criminally liable for the resulting deaths and injuries. Why? If they have the power to stop these tragic events through prayer and refuse to do so, holding them at least partially responsible seems appropriate.

To all the Christians who have been using the recent shootings to promote prayer, I'd like to suggest that they take this opportunity to show the rest of us how wrong we have been. Instead of merely claiming that their prayers can keep us safe, it is time to prove it. If they can pray away the sort of hatred that leads civilians to murder one another, what are they waiting for? If prayer is the answer to all social ills, show us that it works by using it to prevent any more mass shootings. If it works, we won't need to do anything else.

For the rest of us, I think it is time to confront some difficult questions. I know we like guns. Are our love of gun-related hobbies (e.g., hunting, target shooting) and lack of confidence in the police worth the price? It seems like they are as long as we don't know any of the victims, but I suspect this changes quickly when it is our friends or family members being murdered. Gun-related hobbies can easily be replaced with those that do not involve guns. The perceived need for guns for self-defense is admittedly a much more difficult problem to solve, but I do not think it is necessarily unsolvable.

Maybe we'll get lucky and the Christians will successfully pray away the gun violence. But if that doesn't happen, I think it is time to demand that our elected officials pass the laws we know they need to pass and that a majority of us already support. We can start with universal background checks, closing gun-show loopholes, and "red flag" laws. We can also adopt measures that have widespread public support like banning bump stocks and high capacity magazines. At the same time, we can improve access to mental health care. It is likely that these measures will reduce gun violence, and we may decide that we do not have to go beyond them. If they do not reduce it enough, we can consider other options that may be less popular. Reinstating the assault weapons ban makes a great deal of sense but would be a harder sell.

I think the key here is to start by doing all of the things for which there is already widespread public support. That should be much easier politically and would put us in a better place to determine what else, if anything, might be needed. We may have to get more restrictive, but I'd steer clear of that unless we were certain that less restrictive measures had not done enough. Most of all, we have to stop viewing gun control as an all-or-none enterprise at which we only get one chance.