America Held Hostage by Gun Violence

America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose
by James E. Atwood

Purchase from Cascade Books: Wipf & Stock Publishers

america and its guns by james atwoodAmerica leads the industrialized world in gun deaths. Children in the U.S. are 12 times more likely to die from firearms than children in 25 other industrialized nations combined. In American and Its Guns, James Atwood contends that the 30,000 gun deaths our country suffers every year should be understood, not as a political issue, but as a spiritual issue. If the U.S. respected both the constitutional right to keep and bear arms and the right of its citizens to live on safe streets, these figures would drop precipitously.

Atwood, an avid hunter, cautions that an absolute trust in guns and violence morphs easily into idolatry. Having spent 36 years as a Presbyterian pastor fighting against the easy access to firearms, one of which took the life of a friend, he uses his unique experience and his biblical and theological understanding to portray graphically the impact guns have on our society. He documents how Americans have been deceived into believing that the tools of violence, whether they are in the form of advanced military technology or a handgun in the bedside stand, will provide security. He closes with a wake-up call to the faith community, which he says is America’s best hope to unmask the extremism of the Gun Empire.

Those with concerns and questions about gun violence in America as well as pastors and religious leaders, students and professors of ethics, social justice, and sociology will find America and Its Guns to be an indispensable resource.

Christian Iosso, Coordinator of Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy and General Editor of Unbound, writes, “Atwood knows that guns are not just weapons, but symbols, and not only symbols, but idols that demand enormous sacrifice in American lives. This book gets at both the depth and meaning of this on-going tragedy. As a gifted organizer and thinker, Atwood then unveils the inspiring theological bases of an awakening to gun violence [prevention] that has already begun in some cities and congregations.”

James E. Atwood is Pastor Emeritus of the Trinity Presbyterian Church of Arlington, Virginia, from which he retired in 1999. He lives in Springfield, Virginia. He is presently the Chairperson of Heeding God’s Call of Greater Washington, a faith-based ecumenical movement that encourages gun shops to adopt a code of conduct that deters illegal purchasing and the trafficking of handguns.

james atwood
James E. Atwood

Question and Answer with author James Atwood

1. Isn’t gun violence a political issue? Why should
people of faith get involved?

Gun violence is no more a political issue than arson, drunk driving, or selling cocaine. 84 people die every day at the barrel of a gun, 10 of whom are children and youth. Over 30,000 Americans die by guns every year. No other developed nation in the world permits such carnage. Yes, there are political implications to gun violence, but the spiritual implications far outweigh them. Each person is a child of god. If we love them, as God commands, we cannot ignore that which kills them.

2. Is America’s fascination with guns idolatrous?
In 1990 the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued a warning: “The religious community must take seriously the risk of idolatry that could result from an unwarranted fascination with guns that overlooks or ignores the social consequences of their misuse.” Twenty years later, 600,000 more American civilians have been killed and a million more injured.

No, all guns are not idols, but some are; I’d never say all gun owners are idolatrous, but some of them are. I don’t use the words “idol” and “idolatry” to be melodramatic. I listen to gun zealots like former NRA executive, Warren Cassidy, who boasted “You would get a far better understanding of the NRA if you were approaching us as one of the great religions of the world.” This belief system helps explain why any proposed restriction on guns immediately becomes “a crusade” for those whose guns have indeed become idols.

3. In your book you affirm two constitutional rights: The right to bear arms and the right to live in a safe society that is free of gun violence. What is the real purpose of the 2nd amendment?
“A well-regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

The 2nd Amendment is not only for gun owners; it is written for the benefit of all Americans. Before the amendment specifically addresses arms, it assumes that regulations will be required for the arms. It is a logical assumption because any arm is dangerous and has the potential to kill. This amendment is not only about gun rights, it’s about the rights of all our citizens to live in “domestic tranquility” (Preamble of the Constitution) where one’s “general welfare” includes the right to live in safety and enjoy the blessings of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Extremists in the gun empire claim that the real purpose of the amendment is for citizens to acquire the most effective arms of the day in order to fight the government should it become tyrannous.

4. What is the gun show loophole and why is it so problematic?
America hosts over 5,000 gun shows every year. Domestic abusers, the adjudicated mentally ill, felons, those on the FBI’s no-fly list, and all who are unable to pass a background check—which is required by licensed gun dealers—can go to a gun show and buy any kind of gun from an unlicensed seller with no questions asked. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms says gun shows are a leading source of crime guns, second only to corrupt licensed dealers. No IDs are required; no questions are asked. Just cash and carry.

5. What about violent movies, video games, sports, and T.V.? Aren’t they responsible for America’s violence as well as guns?
Any psychologist is aware that viewing violence has an adverse effect on people, especially the young. Most people are fascinated and influenced by what I call “violence lite,” but this objectionable obsession does not maim or kill.

People in every nation are as fascinated by violence as we are, but their citizens are not repeatedly killed and injured by the most effective tool of violence—guns. Why? The answer is quite simple: too many Americans can get hold of a gun within a few hours or a few minutes. Some carry them around like a wallet. Gun zealots call such easy access “freedom.” As a gun owner and a pastor who has ministered to gun victims and their families, I call such easy access a tragedy ready to happen.

6. How does claiming to be a Christian nation give birth to violence?
Our trust in violence can be traced to our founding fathers and our curious national myth that Almighty God ordained the United States to be “the trustees of the world’s progress,” “the guardian of its righteous peace,” and even “Christ’s light for the salvation of the world.”

It has been said biblical zeal offers an astounding mystique for violence, which makes it “believable” that redemptive violence could redeem others, demonstrate superiority over enemies, and even convert the world. This mystique has justified appalling atrocities and encouraged millions to be certain that violence can produce peace. Such self-understanding gives birth to a sense of privilege to use any means necessary to advance “righteous causes” in the name of democracy or to protect our homes and property. Such violence is not only justified; it is deemed a moral obligation.

7. You say in the book “fear gives birth to violence.” How?
There has never been a time in my life when our country’s power structures have not warned me of dangers posed by people of other races, religions, classes, or nations. Each of us has experienced this same fear, which has become the motivating factor behind the commissioning of more aircraft carriers and submarines, building more sophisticated jet fighters, refurbishing more nuclear bombs, selling billions of dollars of armaments to desperately poor countries, going to war, and marketing semi-automatic handguns and assault rifles to keep us safe. If we spend billions to acquire them, then why would we be reluctant to use them in the defense of our God-given homeland and households? Gun sales go right off the charts when citizens become afraid of “those people” whose cultures, colors, dress, foods, languages, and religions differ from our own.

8. How will stronger gun laws make a real difference in preventing gun violence?
We know strong gun laws save lives and weak gun laws cost lives. American and Its Guns documents that the five states with the weakest gun laws and highest gun ownership have the highest death rates by guns per 100,000 (between 45.6 to 62.8 percent). On the other hand, the five states with the strongest gun laws and lowest gun ownership have death rates that vary from 3.18 to 4.95 percent per 100,000. Strong gun laws work and save lives.

Purchase America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose

Previous Story

Endorse the Stolen Beauty Ahava Boycott

kathryn krastin
Next Story

Late At Night... Dear House