The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: What If There Were No Second Amendment

If there were no second amendment and your religious tradition was in charge of the country, what laws, if any, would you pass restricting gun ownership?

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

For more resources on interfaith dialogue and understanding, see the Kaufman Interfaith Institute page and their weekly Interfaith Insight column at InterfaithUnderstanding.org.

[Note: This panelists submitted their responses over a month before the tragic murder of 19 fourth graders and two teachers. The murderer legally bought two AR15-style rifles for his 18th birthday. Perhaps legal gun ownership should begin at age 21. Perhaps it will turn out that adequate mental health care could have averted this tragedy. Perhaps deeper background checks, including looks at juvenile offenses, ought to be required before every sale of a weapon. If Russia invades the United States, we can put the 400,000,000 guns in this country to good use. Until then, the US will continue to lead the world in gun-related deaths unless we do more than hold memorial services for the dead. ~Rabbi Krishef] 

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“Unitarian Universalists have been speaking out against gun violence and advocating for stricter gun control laws for the past 50 years. We support federal and state legislators to make it a crime for civilians to knowingly import, sell, manufacture, retrofit or transfer a semiautomatic assault weapon or large capacity ammunition feeding device. We support the implementation of comprehensive, universal background checks.”

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“It would be an astonishing change in the order of things if the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church were put in charge of our nation and commonwealth. But if so, it is hardly likely that the heirs of the Scottish Covenanters would move to deny the right of the people to keep and bear arms. I would propose, however, that every citizen who wished to exercise that right were required to learn both the mechanics and the ethics of gun ownership, and be taught to respect the fearful power that firearms possess and represent. I would also move to limit if not abolish the power of gun lobbies to influence the laws and policies of our government. And I would insist on full disclosure: who owns these guns, and how do they count in the record of crimes committed every day in our country? I am also inclined to have inscribed on every gun stock these words of warning: ‘All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword’ (Matthew 26:52).”

The Rev. Steven W. Manskar, a retired United Methodist pastor, responds:

“The first part of the second amendment would be given as much importance as the second. Citizens would be permitted to own guns. But with gun ownership would come enlistment into a “well regulated militia.” The gun owner would be required to participate in regular training in proper use and storage of firearms. They would also be required to participate in training with their militia unit in protecting public safety directed by the local police.”

Linda Knieriemen, Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Holland, responds:

“In his commentary on the commandment ‘do not kill’ John Calvin wrote that ‘the safety of all is entrusted to each.’ He goes on to say that all violence and every kind of harm from which our neighbors body suffers is prohibited and that we should do everything possible to defend the life of our neighbor, promote what tends to their tranquility, warding off harm and when danger comes, assist in removing it.  

“The governing body (General Assembly) of my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has, since the 1960’s, supported gun control legislation, initially calling for the ‘control of the sale and possession of fire arms of all kinds.’ A subsequent statement amended this statement, specifying the exclusion of shotguns and rifles used legitimately by sportsmen. More recent statements urged closing the gun show loophole, requiring licensing, registration and waiting periods for all guns sold, banning sales of assault and semi assault weapons that have no redeemable social purpose, and the support of new technologies which provide law enforcement greater ability to trace guns.”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“This is purely speculative, as there is no country that has a Hindu government. Nepal was a Hindu kingdom for centuries, but opted for a democratic form of governance several decades ago. I do know that India, which is secular with a Hindu majority, does make it challenging to own guns. I have not heard of a movement afoot to change this dynamic. Now, if I were in charge I would draw on the wisdom of my faith to construct common sense laws surrounding gun ownership. This would consider hunting culture, urban violence, gun fetishists, fire power and many other sociological and behavioral elements that are based in volumes of peer reviewed research.”

My response:

The Torah warns us to build a parapet around our (flat) rooftops lest someone fall off and we become responsible for their injury or death (Deuteronomy 22:8). This verse became the foundation for the principle that we are responsible for safeguarding objects in our possession that are potentially dangerous. So based on this, gun ownership would be unrestricted for mentally stable adults, but if the gun was not properly secured and was stolen and used in a crime or if a child accessed and misused the gun, the gun owner would be liable. If a person was deemed not to be mentally stable and potentially pose a danger to themselves or others, they would not be allowed to own a gun. If a person threatened others with harm, their right to own a gun could be revoked.

 

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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