Opening Day: Guns, Peace, and Cabela’s

Thursday, April 3, 2014. Opening Day of Cabela’s in Greenville, SC, right on Woodruff Rd., where the traffic gods decided we needed a bit more traffic. Apparently, there’s been an expansion effort on the part of Cabela’s and there are cities all over the country that are celebrating their own opening days like we are today, mostly by standing in long lines and fantasizing about the whole world of outdoor adventures being opened to us.

A friend of mine went to the soft opening of the store a few nights back and said the gun section was packed to the brim, as if no one else was selling these things. But I know the people in my community can’t get enough everything sportsmen, specifically guns. It’s a sobering thing to see the sportsmen file into the gun section the day after 3 people were shot to death at Fort Hood in Texas. And it seems like, once again, the gun control debate will reach a fever pitch and my friends who love everything sportsmen will be up in arms, and my friends who are hippies and pacifists will be up in arms too. And I wonder what this means for the church to speak up for Jesus and tell the culture the way he would see it.

Strange as it might seem, this is where I landed:

At the prospect of taking a 15 hour road trip with me, one of my friends said plainly, “You’d kill me.” I think that was just meant to be funny. But maybe she really thinks I’d kill her. Maybe I am a killer.

I had a friend in middle school tell me that, when he sat in church, he fantasized about gunmen coming into the sanctuary, and he would devise strategies for dispatching them. Come to think of it, I had the same fantasies. I had Columbine on the brain, which turned into the Amish school shooting in PA, which turned into Virginia Tech, which turned into Fort Hood, which turned into Norway, and, finally yesterday turned back into Fort Hood again. And that’s only mentioning a few.

When I was child growing up in West Africa I would hunt lizards with a BB gun. At one point a seasoned missionary asked me why I was doing that. I told him because it was fun. He said that lizards were helpful because they ate the bugs and that you should only kill things if you were going to eat them. I did not eat the lizards I killed, but I commenced with hunting them anyway. I remember trying to avoid that same missionary if I was ever strolling around with my friend and his gun, looking for a lizard crawling on a wall. When I think about it now, I know I just wanted to kill something. I’m a killer, you know? Strange to say it, but it’s something I have to admit.

Nobody in their right mind would ever say that guns are the primary problem with the violence we see grabbing the headlines. Everyone on the gun debate spectrum would say that the real key to non-violence is keeping weapons away from violent people. Some people think they can do that by getting rid of guns. Some people think they can do that by shooting the violent people who have guns. In the end, the concern is about bad people, not bad weapons. That doesn’t present any kind of solution or resolution; it’s just true.

What else is true is that I’m a killer. And you, Reader, are a killer too. I demonstrated that when I shot lizards “just to watch them die.” Christians demonstrate that when they take Communion and feel the sobering weight of being the sinners that put Jesus on the cross. Maybe it’s those who realize they are killers who can understand how to use a gun safely and with the necessary precaution, not because guns are dangerous, but because their users are. Maybe it’s those who realize they are killers who can say they will never purchase a gun because they know what they’re capable of. I can’t really judge between them. But I do think that, whether or not you’re stoked about Cabela’s coming to town, and whether you are for or against gun control, Christians have a chance to start a conversation. And they have the chance to start that conversation with, “I’m a killer. I put Jesus on the cross. But there’s hope for me because Jesus turned my death into life. And there’s hope for all the Columbines and Fort Hoods of the past, present and future because on the Last Day, inexplicably, that death will be turned into life as well.”

–Jonathan Allston


*Much of the conceptual flavor of this post, including its title, has been shaped by “Guns & Peace: on an American Icon,” an essay by Larry Woiwode included in Words Made Fresh: Essays on Literature and Culture.