While amendments and policies related to gun control dominate the airwaves, the North Carolina Council of Churches is pointing to a different directive to guide the conversation about guns and safety in our country—The Second Commandment. Right after God commands God’s people not to follow other gods, God commands the people not to have any idols. “Idols can assume a lot of guises in our world that we don’t immediately understand as idolatry,” said Jennifer Copeland, Executive Director of the North Carolina Council of Churches. “For many of us, guns have become the symbol of safety, the idol we turn to because we ‘believe in them’ to keep us safe.”
Meanwhile, statistics show exactly the opposite, with the presence of guns actually making us less safe. An average of 96 people are killed by guns every day in this country, but less than 4% are killed in mass shootings. While mass shootings are horrific and should always lead the news cycle, the more insidious statistics about gun deaths rarely make the news. For example:
States with more guns have more deaths.
For each time a gun is used in self-defense in the home, there are 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving guns in a home.
62% of gun deaths are suicides.
43% of homes with guns and children have at least one unlocked firearm, resulting in 62 children who are accidentally shot and killed each year.
Domestic violence situations involving a gun increase a woman’s chance of death fivefold.
The firearm death rate in the U.S. for children 14 and younger is nearly 12 times higher than the combined rate in 14 other modern industrialized nations.
The juxtaposition of The Second Commandment with the The Second Amendment is by design, according to Copeland. “Nearly 70% of the people who carry a gun claim they do so for safety, while the statistics clearly show guns make us less safe. This makes guns a false idol,” she asserts. To this end, the Council is trying to reframe some of the contentious issues in the public discourse by reminding people of faith of the guiding principles found in our scriptures and our creeds. As people of faith, we should always guard against those things that become more important to us than the God who calls us to abundant life. How much more so, should we call out the idols that hold out false promises.
No one in the gun violence prevention collaborative wants to repeal the 2nd Amendment, but even many gun rights advocates support laws that include reasonable restrictions. The argument that criminals can always get a gun may be true, but we should make it very hard and very expensive for them to do so. Good gun laws will never prevent good gun owners from having their weapons. In short, Copeland says, “Guns are not the solution to our safety.” She suggests our communities could become safer by feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned. “But that’s a message for another billboard.”
This billboard is only the first of a series of messages planned by the NC Council of Churches over the coming months. They plan to erect a new billboard in a different part of the state, regularly reminding people there is a different way of framing the conversation.