A Review of
Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence
Shane Claiborne and
Reviewed by Fred Redekop.
Today (May 7, 2019) there has been another shooting at a high school in the United States. One student is dead, and about 10 injured. The student body and parents are terrified. There were two shooters taken into custody. One CNN reporter states that this shooting will change the conversation. After thousands and thousands of gun deaths, this one “minor” tragedy will not change the debate.
“More Americans have died in the US in the last fifty years than in all the wars in American history”
“Though the people of the United States total five percent of the world’s population, they own almost half of the world’s guns . With well over 300 million guns in the US, there are more guns than people.”
“America also has the world’s most gun deaths – including homicide, suicide and accidental gun deaths – at 105 per day or about 38,000 per year.”
These are three quotes that come from Shane Claiborne and Michael Martin’s new book, Beating Guns: Hope for People who are Weary of Violence. The book is full of this kind of shocking and horrifying statistics of gun violence in the United States. I have been numbed by the data that comes out after each of these shootings. Martin and Claiborne’s book does a great job in outlining the statistics, but their book will mostly be read by the gun control choir, and is not likely to change the mind of legislators and other gun rights advocates.
Throughout the book, the authors include documentation of mass shootings, which they call the Memorial to the Lost, and these memorials tell the reader the names of the people who were killed at that specific site. The shooters, however, are not named. There is a starkness in seeing the names of victims that are written down.
I work for and have supported the Mennonite Central Committee for all of my life. It is the relief, development, and peace organization for Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches (also known in Canada as Be-In-Christ churches). I also support the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams, a human rights organization that walks alongside groups who are threatened with violence. Our daughter was a member of CPT for six years in Colombia. So, I am a pacifist, and am a believer in nonviolence. Both of these organizations are mentioned in the acknowledgements at the back of the book. So, I am biased toward the arguments of nonviolence and gun control that are stated in the book. I am part of the four-part harmony choir against guns.
Michael Martin is a former pastor in the Mennonite Church. He is the founder and executive director of RAWtools Inc. The organization turns guns into garden tools. It is an example of resourcing communities with “nonviolent confrontation skills in an effort to turn stories of violence into stories of creation.” Michael’s organization is a hands-on group that holds workshops to help people make these garden tools. In chapter 18, there is a practical guide to what Martin does, as he makes the swords ( guns ) into ploughshares ( garden tools ).
Claiborne is the activist and theologian of the two writers. He lives in Philadelphia, and works on the ground to makes his neighborhood a safer place. In chapter ten, he writes about the Sermon on the Mount, and the way it has shaped his orientation to nonviolence. It is a good biblically-rooted chapter showing where Claiborne is situated in the spectrum of Christians who speak about guns.
Claiborne writes, “We believe in a God that would rather die than kill. We believe in a God whose last words are grace and forgiveness for the people who are killing him. We believe in a God who interacts with evil without becoming evil, who exposes our violence to heal our violence , who endures death to save us from death. We are atheists to the god of war, and believers in the Prince of Peace” (176). I believe this is a fundamental statement of the authors’ faith.
So, how do you change the point of view of a Christian who thinks it is fine to own a gun, and be willing to shoot it at a person to save their own life or the life of a loved one. And why is it okay to advocate through the NRA to have people own guns who should not have them? The debate is so polarized. I agree with Shane’s biblical ideals, but I am aware that other Christians want to own a gun, and have the right to shoot it, especially in very stressful circumstances. A relative of mine has nine children, and he has a gun, just in case someone enters his house or yard unannounced. There is no way to convince him (or his wife) otherwise because it is so much a part of the society in the United States. And why is the American society so fearful? What are they afraid of in 2019?
“ We’d celebrate a community that no longer trains for war but that plots for peace, a community that doesn’t let fear dictate how neighbors interact with one another and whether they welcome a stranger . These celebrations can be built with tools that have been transformed from a past we are ready to leave behind. We can recognize the past through the ritual transformation of swords into plowshares.“ (258)
This is the vision and hope for the writers/activists/artists, to have a world without guns. I am left with a question about American society. Why do Americans feel the need to resolve conflict, both large and small, by shooting one another? The Swiss have guns in every home, but they have fewer killings. Is it inherent in Americans that they resolve conflict in this way? The American nation was forged out of a revolution from the British. With that conflict so much part of the American mystique, is violent conflict in their DNA? Does the policy of Manifest Destiny, of acquiring land through force, part of this DNA as well?
All the while the shootings continue.
May 31.. Another shooting. “ At least 12 people killed in Virginia Beach Mass Shooting; suspect dead “ — The Globe and Mail .
Fred Redekop works as a storyteller for Mennonite Central Committee in Ontario Canada. He has never owned or shot a gun.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com