Guns, Mental Illness, and Jesus

Guns, Mental Illness, and Jesus

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Matthew 26:52

On Tuesday, May 24, 2022, an 18-year-old gunman walked into two adjoining Uvalde, Texas classrooms of fourth graders and murdered 19 students and two teachers with an assault rifle. He died in a shootout with police. Prior to entering the school he shot his grandmother in the face. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, there were three overly-simplified, predicable, and repeating themes identified by various talking heads in response to this all-too-common tragedy: guns, mental illness, and Jesus. One side of the gun issue claims there is too little regulation over access to guns, the other side claims there is too much. Untreated mental illness, while a problem in all segments of society, is certainly a factor in these acts of violence. And finally Jesus – we need more of Jesus.

Regarding gun regulation, the argument that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, is dismissive. Likewise for the related platitude that our problem is not guns but people. While true on the surface, these types of reasoning ignore the fact that disturbed people with a chip on their shoulder and access to lethal weapons can take a life with a gun that they might otherwise harm less seriously, if at all. Further, I tire of the justifications of Second Amendment rights, responsible gun ownership, and self-defense needs. I personally believe we should begin gun control discussions with the proposal to make unlawful the selling, carrying, or owning of all guns, all gun parts, and all ammunition by civilians, except perhaps for non-military-grade rifles for hunters who eat what they kill (excluding cannibals). It would likely require several generations of continued ugliness to substantially cleanse our nation of guns in hands guns should not be in, but it is a long-term solution that deserves consideration. That position is unlikely to get beyond the words on this page, but I believe it is the correct place to begin. Whatever individual liberties we are granted must be assessed and regulated based on their likelihood to infringe on the liberties of another, along with the seriousness of those infringements. We cannot, however, solve our lethal violence problem with gun control alone.

I find it rich that the politicians and other officials pointing fingers at mental illness are the same people, along with their like-minded predecessors, who consistently gut funding from mental health services. Mental health is an issue wherever mass violence erupts, but to think we can write off these events by saying the perpetrator was mentally ill, as if it cannot be helped, without doing anything to improve the availability, accessibility, and affordability of comprehensive mental health services is irresponsible and a tactic to divert attention away from gun regulation. We cannot, however, solve our lethal violence problem with improved mental health services alone.

What irks me the most in these all-too-common, post-tragic-gun-violence pontifications, however, is the platitude that we need more of Jesus in our world. Yes we do, but is there any doubt that most of those throwing the Jesus solution out there are simply trying to distract from the need for gun control or improved mental health services? I suspect they have no accurate idea of what more of Jesus in our lives would mean. Do they really believe Jesus would support anyone carrying guns? To believe that means they are following a different Jesus or reading a different gospel. Are they referring to the Jesus that wouldn’t allow violent resistance to save his own life?[1] The Jesus that told us to turn the other cheek when struck by another?[2] The Jesus that sent his closest friends out into the world (unarmed) like “sheep into the midst of wolves”?[3] Is that the Jesus these voices are calling for more of? Because that is the Jesus of the Bible, not some gun-toting, bad-guy killing, Constitutional-originalist Jesus. I do not know how anyone can read “…those who take the sword will perish by the sword”[4], or “…love your enemies”[5], or “…do not resist an evildoer”[6] and still believe more of Jesus would ever justify gun ownership or violent responses to violence.

It is tragic that a nation professed by many to be a Christian nation, implying that it follows the unquestionably nonviolent practices of Jesus of Nazareth, has become the most gun-toting, Second-Amendment loving, violence-against-our-neighbors nation in the history of humankind. To become a safer nation of people that love God and love others will require non-violent approaches and commitments from many directions. Sensible gun control, comprehensive mental health services, and a better understanding of what following Jesus requires would be a good start.

Note: The thoughts expressed above are solely those of the author and not those of any other organization, church, or individual. I welcome feedback to what I have written and will consider publishing excerpts from other well-reasoned views in my follow-ups to this essay, at my discretion. Please direct feedback to me: Greg Hildenbrand,

[1] Matthew 26:53.

[2] Matthew 5:39.

[3] Matthew 10:16.

[4] Matthew 26:52.

[5] Matthew 6:44.

[6] Matthew 5:39.

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