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FIRST-PERSON: Looking for a fix

NASHVILLE (BP) — In the wake of the Connecticut school shootings, New York Mayor Bloomberg said the country needs President Obama “to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem.” Maybe that statement reflects a quintessential American attitude, a can-do spirit (though I hope we’ve not concluded that the prime fixers are the president and Congress).

We all want to see something done, within reason and the Constitution, to lessen the chance of such horrors. But we need to be careful in our rush to “fix” things that we don’t presume to be smarter or more able than reality would warrant.

Take the case of childhood death at the hands of drunk drivers, who, of course, kill many people of all ages. The DUI-based killing of kids averages between 200 to 300 a year, a slaughter of thousands of innocents over the past 15 years. In that same period, about a hundred students have been shot to death on campuses, grade school through college, from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Sandy Hook.

What’s the fix? Perhaps we should look to Sweden, whose blood alcohol standard is .02, as opposed to the common .08 in the U.S. — the same Sweden which links fines to income, charging some drivers tens of thousands of dollars for a single DUI episode. And in Norway, first offenders are assigned three weeks of hard labor.

Does the Bible give guidance on these issues? Certainly we’re not to murder or get drunk or put our neighbors in danger because of our negligence. But it’s hard to find specifics on these issues for personal behavior and public policy. The apostle Paul told Timothy that some wine might be good for stomach problems; Jesus told His disciples that they should keep a couple of swords handy when they hit the road. But Scripture says nothing particular about pistols, which didn’t appear until the 15th century in Europe, or distilled spirits, which surfaced in Italy in the 13th century. Both are clearly dangerous, but good people can differ on what exactly we should do with them.

Most Christians think it is acceptable to employ deadly force in the defense of one’s family, and even oneself. This is what the Founders, who were familiar with tyranny and frontier dangers, had in mind when they put a right to bear arms in the Constitution. There is always the threat, however remote, that government will go rogue (as on Kristallnacht in 1938 Germany), will indulge outlaws (as in Klan-ridden Neshoba County, Miss., in 1964) or will show itself helpless to protect the citizenry (as in the “Bleeding Kansas” slavery strife of the 1850s). So it is fair to ask what sort of equipment would you need to make thugs think twice about coming after you, your household and your neighbors (presumably something between a derringer and an RPG).

But if you only want to defend, why do you need an “assault” rifle? For one thing, the name is hypberbolic, as those familiar with real assault weapons (e.g., the M-16 and AK-47) well know. But couldn’t this help? Maybe. Still, one has to wonder why Switzerland has less than a third our gun-death rate when around a million households have military-type weapons, many with fully-automatic, machine gun-like fire. There must be something else in play here.

Charles Krauthammer points to our lame response to warning signs in such menacing souls as Jared Loughner (Tucson) and Seung-Hui Cho (Virginia Tech). Mike Huckabee suggests a link to the ban on public prayer in schools. Or perhaps it’s a confluence of factors, as in Adam Lanza, who was the product of a broken home, a person whose mental health was impaired, a player of violent video games and a Goth enthusiast, as were Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of Columbine. So shall we fix things by closing down Goth-supply stores and websites, forbidding kids to play “Assassin’s Creed,” repealing no-fault divorce, lowering the threshold for commitment to asylums, and renewing the practice of Bible reading over school intercoms? It’s hard to say.

Of course, for some, the answer is simple — more gun control (though Connecticut had relatively tight laws). Determined to “not let a crisis go to waste,” they’ve picked up the old agitprop (agitation and propaganda) technique of “waving the bloody shirt,” stirring crowds to “charge the barricades.” Of course, some barricades need charging, and there’s a time to “Remember the Alamo,” but it’s fair to ask whether things are being blown out of proportion; whether relative rarities are cast as grievous generalities; and whether their indignation is irresponsibly selective (the sort of thing you saw when NBC and HBO magnified the death of the 22-year-old gay Matthew Shepard, killed by straights, but ignored the death of 13-year-old Jesse Dirkhising, killed by gays). For those whose gods are politics and power, it matters not at all. The point is to leverage every tragedy, cashing in legislatively, codificationally and juridically — rational discourse be hanged.

It would be nice if the government could “fix” the problem of relatively rare schoolhouse shootings, whether through reducing or multiplying the number of gun bearers, but it can’t repeal the Fall of Man as told in Scripture. Nothing is foolproof since fools are so ingenious.

If the pursuit of utopia is your cup of tea, or if you count original sin as bothersome fiction, then have at it with your fixes. Better, though, to despair of true fixes, and work, instead, on managing a bad situation. Perhaps the Lord will send an antiseptic-like awakening to our land, and we’ll enjoy a season of decline in slaughter — on the school grounds, in the streets, at the clinics, in the homes and on the roads. Perhaps more will simply come to their natural Romans 1 and 2 senses. Either way, the comprehensive fix won’t arrive till Jesus returns.

In the meantime, we do what we can, neither paralyzed by pessimism nor addled by optimism — biblically realistic. Salt and light. Our brother’s keeper. Good Samaritan. Playing Barnabas and Jeremiah, Jonathan and John the Baptist, Apollos and Dorcas, Deborah and Job, according to our wiring, calling and circumstances.
Mark Coppenger is director of the Nashville extension center for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Mark Coppenger