No! We did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the LORD, the God of Israel? 25 For the LORD has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you Reubenites and Gadites; you have no portion in the LORD.’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the LORD. 26 Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, 27 but to be a witness between us and you, and between the generations after us, that we do perform the service of the LORD in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and offerings of well-being; so that your children may never say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the LORD.”’ 28 And we thought, If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we could say, ‘Look at this copy of the altar of the LORD, which our ancestors made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.’ (Joshua 22:24-28, NRSV)
All of us are horrified at events of this past week that took place in Aurora, Colorado. The violence that was perpetrated in a crowded movie theatre on the occasion of the premiere summer blockbuster movie. Allegedly James Holmes, a graduate student and possibly mentally disturbed gunman burst into the crowded theatre opened fire killing many and wounded many more. His actions have fractured a community and upended the sense of normalcy that should be indicative of a movie showing in a theatre in any American town.
Sadly, we in America are not foreign to mass shootings and public violence. The typical statistics of gun violence in the US orders somewhere around 10,000+ murders and/or injuries. Killing sprees and mass shooting though are always subject to media sensationalism and political navel gazing because it exposes the obvious conundrum of American social life. At our core, this nation holds to poles in tension: the importance and value of individual freedom and rights; and the basic protections and cohesion that is the hallmark of a nation-state. In other words, we as Americans elevate an individual’s freedom to chose a life of their own and posses what they wish and do what they desire. However, that freedom has to be balanced with the basic function of a government and society to hold a nation-state together as unified or even United.
These poles pull and tug at our fabric as a nation come to fine points of clarity in moments such as abortion, civil rights, religious freedom and peculiar enough, the Aurora shooting. Mental disturbance or not, Mr. Holmes’s act was perpetrated through his readily accessible access to weaponry and ammunition. According to reports, he purchased all of his weapons legally and arouse little or no suspicion with his actions. The fact is that guns are too easy to obtain (either legally or illegally), and gun violence is a problem of epic proportions in the United States. Gun violence is not unique to the US relative to other nations, but it is endemic to being in the US.
I could cite all the statistics and other data that confirms this truth, but why? The real issue has to do with what I said earlier; the values of individual choice over/and against our collective life together. The above passage from Joshua highlights the concern of some of the lesser tribes of Israel about their future in the life of unified nation. These tribes were cut off from the others by the river Jordan and while all who were living at that time understood their connection to the nation, these three tribes were concerned about future generations. What would happen to their small collective in years to come when their people on the other side of the river had forgotten about Rebuen, Gad and Manessah?
Their solution was to build an altar of remembrance to show their allegiance to the same God of Israel as their kinsmen. They could have simply expanded their territory east of the Jordan and united together as a new nation apart from Israel. They could have each explored their own ways of allegiance to God and not concerned themselves with unity. What they decide is to risk war over a misunderstanding about motives, just to build an altar to the God of Israel. It would stand as a reminder to all Israelites about the importance and significance of the unity of the nation regardless of the boundaries of geography (or later ideology).
We have an individual right to carry guns, and that is undisputed. That individual right does not mean we have to carry a gun. Further, in light of the scripture, it means that we have to be willing to occasionally revisit the importance of our individual right to carry over and against our willingness to be a unified nation. If the result of that right means we are divided by ideology, victimization and death through gun violence, then we should be willing as a nation to frankly talk about guns and so-called gun’s rights on the same constitutional plane as victim’s rights. Not calling for a repeal of the second amendment, just an uninfluenced and frank conversation about guns in the country.
The most bogus saying in American politics to day is “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The point of the saying is to highlight the role the individual plays in making a decision to kill. Anyone who wants to kill someone will do so whether they have a gun or baseball bat; so then why restrict gun access, it is not the gun’s fault? This statement is bogus because guns have always killed people. Guns make it easy to kill people. Guns make it easy for people to kill themselves accidentally or otherwise. Guns contribute to a devaluing of life because people get a immediate result to the anger they carry. A gun in someone’s hand guarantees a death or serious injury. A baseball bat guarantees a fight. Arming people insures that people will kill people…
At this moment, more than anything else, we should be focused on a unity of spirit and solidarity with the victims of this heinous act (and all acts of gun violence). The unity of spirit involves a real and frank conversation about the role of guns in our life together. The vision of truth this week is that we finally learn from Mr. Holmes and the Aurora victims the lesson of living together in a violent nation.