The USA has been reeling this week from another devastating mass shooting. At the time of writing, reports say that 59 people died and 527 were injured during the attack on the Harvest Festival in Las Vegas.
Of course, the shooting has reignited the perennial row about gun control, with most of the world looking on in bewilderment and asking why the US can’t see that the way to reduce gun crime is to reduce gun ownership.
I had the privilege of living in the US for a few years in the early 2000s, and through conversations with lovely, sane, normal people who also owned guns, I was able to get something of a handle on the question.
One reason some of my friends owned guns was that in a world where a criminal breaking into your house is likely to be armed with one, they felt safer being able to confront him with something more menacing than a kitchen knife.
But surely gun control laws would mean the guy breaking into your house wasn’t armed with a gun?
The criminals will get guns on the black market if they’re not available over the counter at WalMart. Gun control laws will only be followed by the law-abiding.
Fair enough. But still, we say, look at the statistics! Look how many mass shootings there have been in the US compared to the UK (where presumably criminals are just as likely to be able to buy guns illegally). So why the refusal to shift?
The core issue, as far as I can make out, is that Americans value their freedom so highly that they would prefer to keep their country as free as possible, even if it means there is a (considerably) higher risk of death. They are bitterly opposed to the idea of ‘the state’ telling them what they can and can’t do (and what they can and can’t own!).
It’s easy to criticise and to shake our heads in despair, but I think we all do exactly the same thing in our day to day lives. Substitute ‘the state’ for ‘God’, and you pretty much sum up our culture over the last century or so. We have worked hard to shrug off what we perceive as the moral ‘restrictions’ of Christianity in pursuit of freedom, even as we have seen how destructive many of those freedoms are: we continue to applaud and pursue free love (and free sex) without the bounds of marriage, even though that almost always results in heartbreak, family breakdown and even disease. We want to be free from the scrutiny of small communities that know us and are involved in our lives, yet we’re experiencing an epidemic of loneliness as we pursue our own pleasures, then wonder why we are unable to build and sustain close, lasting relationships with others.
We desire to go our own way, rather than follow God. But we pay a price for this. You may be familiar with the account in the Bible of Adam and Eve. How Eve chose to ignore the one restriction God had placed on her and Adam in the Garden of Eden, and ate fruit from the tree that God had forbidden. From this decision, the world was turned upside down and has not been the same since. Eve’s decision represents the problem at the heart of man: we want to go our own way even if it is bad for us.
But is this actually freedom? We are stuck in the same destructive cycles, unable to make the right decisions, living with the painful consequences of our actions and of those around us. Christianity is not about giving up your freedom; we still have a choice whether to follow or not. But the reason Christians choose to live the way the Bible teaches—the way Jesus taught—is because we trust that he has the best for us. We believe he sets boundaries for us, as a loving parent would for their child, to protect them from what might hurt them. Following his way is difficult at times, but, ultimately, it’s so much better.
We can continue to pursue what we think of as our freedom, accepting the consequences, or we can choose to surrender our right to live as we please and submit to our loving Father who has the best for us. The thing is, when we do so, we discover true freedom – the freedom from fear, and from having to protect ourselves. The freedom to live as we were meant to.