Liberty, Gun Laws, and Violence in the Media

A few days ago, I went to a local gun range with my brother to celebrate his birthday. We’d been shooting before, but hadn’t been in awhile. An experience entirely for sport, we fired a pistol, a rifle, and a shotgun. We had a blast, pun fully intended. But when we got driving home, we got talking a little about gun laws, and my brother asked me what I thought.

My response? Well, it’s tricky.

You see, I’m relatively conservative, as you’re probably aware, and so tend to support liberty over regulation wherever I can. But I also stand as a firmly committed Christian, tending towards non-violence wherever possible (though I’m not a pacifist), and it seems clear to me that some weapons were only designed for situations most of us will never be in, whether that be war or revolution. I told my brother that I absolutely support some regulations–mental health checks, background checks, that sort of thing–in regards to gun control, but it is harder to restrict certain guns outright, in my mind. We had proven that day that some shoot for fun or sport, and that a bigger, more powerful gun may bring more fun, even outside of the lethal nature of the weapon. We could have also shot paintball guns, or pellet guns, but the experience of firing an actual weapon is far more exhilarating.

Guns have been in the media lately, but that’s no surprise. Horrors occur, and tragedy strikes in such a way that I hesitate to even speak on it, lest I unintentionally make what is grave trite.

 Yesterday, President Obama proposed background checks on all gun sales, increased support for schools and safety therein, and called on Congress to reinstate the ban on assault rifles. This response to tragedy is understandable, and regardless of your thoughts on the actions of the President, it is right to respect his desire to keep our children safe. I am thankful for a President who cares about our children enough to say that if his laws save but one child’s life, then they were worthwhile laws. Agree or disagree with the President on the regulations, I am glad that his concern for children is substantial.

I haven’t read the full plan, but if the reports are accurate and President Obama simply wants to force background checks on all who purchase weapons, I’m not opposed. The ban on assault rifles I’m still abstaining from judging, at this point.

The President also called for research to be done into how violent media influences our actions. As one who plays video games, even ones that are violent, I fully support this as a future scientific effort. Gamers usually immediately speak out against anyone who says violent video games cause violent actions (“But I play Halo, Call of Duty, and Battlefield, and I’ve never shot anyone!”), but we’d be fools to ignore the possibility. In fact, some in the industry have suggested that video games can provide space to explore how violence enters into us and how we react to it. When we are placed into a linear moment in a game where we know shooting enemies is the goal, it is natural for us to shoot. But given space to make decisions, we can learn a lot about what we do: if you could play a video game through without killing someone, would you? Even if the game offered many ways to spill blood throughout? It’s worth examining ourselves, something video games are starting to figure out (Dishonored is one that does this, but Spec Ops: The Line is designed specifically to tackle the question of violence in video games: how far is too far?).

Over at the Washington Post, John Mark Reynolds has much to say about this balance between liberty and regulation. For his conclusion, he offers only this:

If the federal government decides further to limit magazine sizes in an act of therapeutic regulation, however, I think the Republic will no more be in imminent peril, then if it decided to ban certain kinds of violent video games. We were free before Grand Theft Auto and could be free without it.

I hope we do neither, but only because I believe too much liberty and privacy have been lost.

He stands in a place where he hopes to allow others to choose differently, but firmly believes that more regulation will solve nothing. I tend to agree with him on both his conclusion and his method: ideally no one should need a gun, but we live in a fallen world. Man will commit heinous crimes, and we should retain the ability to prevent that.

I’d love to choose liberty over regulation, and probably still will. But God help us if we still need guns.

Published by

J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).

  • Jordan Miller

    I believe this guy elaborates on the assault weapons issue well, and how the legislation like the “ban” is misguided and misses the entire point of the debate. Well written.

  • Michael Kares

    Good post, but I stand by what I said in person the other day. I think we would be better served training everyone who is mentally capable of the use and respect of firearms a la Switzerland (explicit) and Israel (by product of having everyone serve in the IDF). In fact, I’d go the next step and say all young people should serve in the military. I think the country would be better off.