Why is Congress a Gun-Free Zone but your Area High School isn’t?

Hi Joel,

Remember way back to last Friday, when I wrote

There’s an angry young white man at your area elementary and junior high and high school this morning and he has access to a gun.

Well, it looks like it happened in your town just today. A local high school there announced that a young man had been making “indirect threats” to kill people on Snapchat. Police are investigating, but, if it weren’t for the snow and ice that canceled school, they’d be asking parents there to go ahead and send their kids to school.

Now, we don’t know yet if he had access to a gun, but he very likely does. Kansas has some of the loosest gun laws in the nation. It has no minimum age for the possession of a firearm with a barrel under 12 inches. On February 1, the Kansas House approved a bill that would allow anyone over age 18–about half of high school seniors by this point in the year–to conceal and carry a weapon. Between 18 and 21, they would be required to have a permit.

But a student doesn’t even need to bring his gun to school. In Kansas, teachers can bring it for him. All he has to do is take it away from the teacher. If one boy couldn’t, then two easily could, especially if, like most mass shooters, they don’t care about dying themselves. In the last ten years, 3.5 million guns were stolen from law-abiding people who just can’t seem to keep their guns secured. No reason to think that this couldn’t happen to a teacher at school.


You might be tempted to think that our lawmakers simply don’t understand the danger or ways to prevent it. But of course they do. We know this because

  • Republican leaders and the NRA (A difference without a distinction?) choose venues for their national conventions that don’t permit guns. Surely, if guns keep us safe, they would choose convention centers that permit concealed or open carry in states that do likewise?
  • The Secret Service can–and does–ban the presence of guns when the president is near, even if the state and local laws permit them. Why don’t more good guys with guns increase the safety of the president?
  • Congress has tighter security even as the rest of us have less of it. For most of our history, most of Congress was accessible to everyday people. Not until the 1980s did we start to see metal detectors installed, ID tags for employees, and tickets for citizen-visitors. Even in 1954, when Puerto Rican nationalists opened fire on the House floor, critically wounding Michigan Republican Alvin Bentley, Congress didn’t add new security measures, nor was there a dramatic revisioning of security after the 1971 Weatherman bombing in the Senate. Not until 1983, when a bomb went off near Senate Minority Leader Robert Byrd’s office, did we begin the process familiar to us now: X-ray machines, manual checks of purses and bags, metal detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs, and overall less access for journalists, those seeking contact with their representatives, and visitors.

Image result for house of representatives floor

Above, the floor of the House, where lawmakers were sitting ducks during the 1954 shooting. Kind of like how our students are now. 

In their defense, Kansas state lawmakers do allow concealed guns into the Capitol. They’re fools, but at least they’re not hypocrites. I’m glad that they are putting their own bodies in the same position they’re asking of their high schoolers.

All together, in constant danger.







Can we Make our Culture Inhospitable to Hate?

Hi Joel,

You asked recently about if we should (and if so, how we can) love our enemies. For Christians, this is an order from Jesus: We must. This is just another variation on his theme: Love God, love thy neighbor as thyself, and love your enemies. Jesus is clear about who are neighbors are: everyone. And he’s clear about who our enemies are: those who would persecute us. He also gives us many examples of loving our neighbors and our enemies: He feeds them. He suffers with them. He heals them. He doesn’t use violence against them. In fact, he treats his friends and his enemies pretty much the same—perhaps most clearly illustrated in his treatment of Judas.

But how? How now? How interpersonally? How collectively? For what reasons? And how, when these people are espousing terrible, even genocidal, ideas?

These are big questions, and I hope we keep coming back to them. (I’ll be coming back to them, anyway, and I hope our readers join us.) But, first, a caveat: what I suggest here isn’t for everyone. First, non-Christians are under no mandate to love their enemies. Second, loving your enemies is not a code word for accepting abuse or ignoring injustice.  Mennonites in particular have used the concepts of “forgiveness” and “community” to protect abusers (which is to say, to a very great extent). A millstone around every neck that has abused Jesus’ words this way. (Is hoping that people drown unloving? Shoot! You see how complicated it gets when we start quoting Jesus?)


For more than a dozen years now, I have worked in the field of hate studies, which means that I think a lot about this kind of question—what can/should/do we do with/to people we deem hateful—a lot . As an area of study, hate studies includes a lot of criminologists and sociologists interested in deviance. They do important work tracking hate groups and examining hate crimes. In general, they frame hate activity as deviance, the breaking of a norm. It is seen as exceptional to the human experience. Those who hate are labeled as deviant, unworthy, sometimes criminal. When they hurt someone, they are called outsiders, drifters, not “like” those in the communities from which they come. “This,” the community says, pointing fingers at the reviled hater, “isn’t us.” (See Clara S. Lewis’ fantastic book Tough on Hate? The Cultural Politics of Hate Crime for more on this.)

I argue against this framework, which says that hate is felt and hateful acts committed by certain “kinds of people” (bad guys) and opposed by others (good guys). Hateful acts aren’t merely the aberrant act of a morally deficient social outcast. Hate is deeply embedded in our culture, including our institutions and structures. Rather than asking “What kind of person hates and how do we neutralize them?” I am interested in the questions like “What fertilizes the ground that hate falls on? Who ignores its growth? Who benefits from it? Why does hate so easily align with our American values? Why is it such a comfortable fit in our culture? And how do we change our culture so that hate becomes not just unthinkable but impossible?”

One way we can love our enemies is by changing the ground. We can change our culture so that it is not a fertile place for hate to grow. We can’t necessarily prevent someone else from sowing seeds of hate, but we can prevent the culture in which they fall from nurturing them.

This is true in a heart-to-heart way. It’s why we adopt anti-racist, feminist parenting strategies, for example. It’s why I teach, and I’m guessing it’s part of why you write. It’s why when they go low, we go high (or, at least, we’re supposed to).

But we can also structure our culture differently so that hate just isn’t appealing. We can make it nonsensical, silly, archaic, or just unthinkable.

So, how do we do that?

Image result for trump hate

It didn’t have to be this way, and it doesn’t have to be this way. 

I don’t have a great answer for that yet, but we know it can be done because we’ve seen the reverse done: Trumpism has recalibrated the scale of what we are willing to tolerate as “hateful.” Trump didn’t just reveal or tap into the deep misogyny, ableism, racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia of our culture. He and the culture he promotes are also persuasive in making people into haters. Indeed, there are people who are new to this culture who wouldn’t have been part of it before. Trumpism normalizes this behavior—and then works to codify it, as the current attacks on the Americans with Disabilities Act show.

We don’t have to wait for the culture to change to make it difficult for hate to grow here. We can be strategic about making that happen. In fact, I think we have to and I think that this is part of loving our enemies.  I don’t think it means taking away their freedom to hate but instead making it as hard as we can make it to do so.


Why do gun owners shy away from actual “personal responsibility”?

Hi Joel,

A couple months ago, I wrote a post saying that there was no such thing as a responsible gun owner. Some folks thought I was overwrought (a term that gets almost exclusively applied to women). Some folks probably tried to dismiss my claim on the grounds that I live with trauma from gun threats on my own campus.

But I really mean it. Of all the gun owners I know (and if I’ve been in your home, I know you are a gun owner because I asked), only one of them keeps his guns secured to the safety standard of the NRA. One. This means my children don’t visit my own grandparents in their homes. It’s sad.

But don’t feel bad for me. My kids are alive.


Video games.  Those are the problems, we’ve heard this week. Our young people have too much screen time. Call of Duty desensitizes them to violence. Politicians like Kentucky’s Matt Blevins argued this week–while the school shooting in Kentucky should be still fresh in our minds–that

As much as I hate violent games and films, the link between violent media consumption and mass violence isn’t strong. It is also often an attempt to pass the responsibility for normalizing guns and valuing violence from parents to games.

But parents are the strongest forces of socialization, even during those hard teen years. We matter more than video games. We’re far more influential. That’s why our romanticization of guns and our refusal to secure them (because we need them at the ready!) matters so much.

Most teen mass shooters get their guns from their parents. They practice with their parents at shooting ranges. They learn from their parents that gun violence is sometimes justifiable.

In video games, they learn that guns are fun and should be used to kill bad guys. From their parents, they learn that guns are fun and should be used to kill bad guys. The message from their parents matters more.

Call of Duty doesn’t teach our children to ready, aim, or fire, and it doesn’t arm them to do so. Parents do that when they decide to keep guns in their homes.

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 4.08.07 PM

Above, just two of thousands of images of “gun rooms” you can find on Pinterest and elsewhere. If you want to see how valued these rooms are, ask your realtor how the cost of a home increases when the current owner maintains a gun room. What do rooms like these tell our children about the value of owning dozens or hundreds of guns? About how guns and status are linked? 


Gun fetishists fall back on the language of “personal responsibility” a lot: We should hold the shooter and no one else responsible for the deaths he causes. But we can’t really make a shooter accountable. We can only punish him retributively–and most of the time, we can’t do that because he’s dead at the end of the shooting. We can’t make the situation fair. You can be responsible for repairing things you break. You can’t be responsible for bringing the dead back to life.

And there are all kinds of responsibility that gun fetishists reject:

We can’t require parents to secure weapons. We can’t require gun safes. We can’t require biometric locks that would only allow the dedicated user to fire a shot.

We can’t limit who can buy guns. We can’t track who owns them. States have attacked pediatricians’ right to ask about guns in the home in the same way that they ask about smoke detectors and car seats.

We can’t sue gun manufacturers or gun sellers except in rare cases. We have a federal law that deliberately makes it hard to sue these people. We protect the gun industry like we protect no other.

We can’t require insurance that would force the recognition that guns often cause accidental and malicious wounding and death. We can’t make gun owners pay for the risks they take.

We can’t make them report lost or stolen weapons. Most states do not require people who have had their guns stolen to report this information to the police. Who steals guns except for people plan to use them to commit more crime? These are the very people that gun fetishists are always invoking as their reason to own a gun in the first place, yet they don’t think that the rest of us have a right to know that they’ve just irresponsibly allowed themselves to be robbed of their own guns by these people.

We can’t hold parents responsible for shooting their children “by accident” or for the “accidental” shooting deaths their children cause. We call failing to secure a gun an “accident” when it is really a failure of personal responsibility. And it happens all the time. Today, more toddlers than police officers are killed by guns. We’ve made childhood more dangerous than fighting crime.


All of these ways that gun owners could be responsible but refuse to… they make me think that “personal responsibility” is just a code for “arm yourself”–that the goal isn’t a more responsible society but one that simply has more guns in it.


Is there actual grace for this moment?

Hi Joel,

I admit to feeling lost in my anger this week. Is it the Mennonite thing to do? On the one hand, I’m a Mennonite and I’m doing it (a descriptive approach to faith), so, yeah. On the other, it’s not what this faith teaches (a prescriptive approach), so no. And it’s certainly not admirable.

But God knows it’s honest.

That’s a public confession (the kind we used to do before communion, if you were a certain kind of Mennonite), not a point of pride.

And the worst of this feeling isn’t that it’s directed at the NRA or do-nothing members of Congress but at people I love, like my grandmother and my great-aunt, who together lovingly finished a set of quilts for our family this past year, ones that my great-grandmother had begun before she died a few years ago. I tuck my children into bed each night under them, a new generation of my family enveloped in the labor and love of generations. And I’m furious, because I know that either of these two women would, in fact, take a bullet for my children–but their support of a gun culture is actually what puts my children in danger. They aren’t villains, but I can’t visit my grandmother in her home because she won’t lock up her guns.

So, how do we forbear when our people who are loving and sometimes even heroic also support practices and policies that risk our lives?

You quote the Confession of Faith:

Led by the Spirit, and beginning in the church, we witness to all people that violence is not the will of God. We witness against all forms of violence, including war among nations, hostility among races and classes, abuse of children and women, violence between men and women, abortion, and capital punishment.

How do we “witness against all forms of violence” when it seems that the only thing that proponents of guns understand or respect is violence?

Let me turn to a Catholic concept: grace for the present moment. The 18th century Jesuit priest Jean-Pierre de Caussade writes in Abandonment to Divine Providence: “If we have abandoned ourselves to God, there is only one rule for us: the duty of the present moment.” That is, in whatever moment we are in–even if it’s a very hostile one, with enemies all around us and confusion about our place here–we can rely on God to help us  adhere to our faith. In Catholic terms, God provides actual grace, the extra help or encouragement we need in that moment, to do what might in a different moment be impossible, like the shot of adrenaline that propels you forward into danger to save someone’s life in an act of bravery you couldn’t do in any other moment. It doesn’t just happen, though–it is something that God blesses you with when you “abandon” yourself.

Image result for Jean-Pierre de Caussade

I see your Menno Simons and raise you a Jean-Pierre de Caussade, pictured above. 

That’s the hard thing, though. The abandoning yourself. And it’s especially hard when the reason you are holding on to yourself is because you are afraid for the lives of your children. If there is a harder “present moment,” I don’t want to imagine it.





Toward a (mostly) Mennonite politics

Good ol’ Menno Simons.

Dear Rebecca:

The slogan of this blog is that we write from a “(mostly) Mennonite” perspective. It’s a recognition that we both have long ties to the church, while also acknowledging there are areas where we part with church orthodoxy.

And let’s face it: There are days when our minds are Mennonite, but our hearts aren’t. In our anger over the Florida school shooting of recent days, I think it’s fair to say we’ve both approached that state of being.

There’s nothing more Mennonite than pacifism, right? Here’s part of what the confession of faith has to say about that:

As followers of Jesus, we participate in his ministry of peace and justice. He has called us to find our blessing in making peace and seeking justice. We do so in a spirit of gentleness, willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake. As disciples of Christ, we do not prepare for war, or participate in war or military service. The same Spirit that empowered Jesus also empowers us to love enemies, to forgive rather than to seek revenge, to practice right relationships, to rely on the community of faith to settle disputes, and to resist evil without violence.

Led by the Spirit, and beginning in the church, we witness to all people that violence is not the will of God. We witness against all forms of violence, including war among nations, hostility among races and classes, abuse of children and women, violence between men and women, abortion, and capital punishment.

As I say: I don’t think either of us are 100 percent on board with this. But I think we both largely are.

I wonder how the confession of faith would be written in today’s American political climate?

Our political debates are not usually violent, per se, but there’s no denying that — these days, at least — they’re extremely hostile. Mennonites used to sit politics out. Not so much anymore. But should we be witnessing against that hostility in our politics and political speech?

There are practical reasons to think so. For one, it’s clear that outside forces are using that hostility against us.

Moreover: One of my core beliefs is that almost nobody in life sees themself a villain. There are rare exceptions. But treating people like villains hardens hearts and makes progress more difficult in 97 percent of cases. So it seems incumbent on me to treat people like they believe what they say, even if I can spot what should be cognitive dissonance a mile away, even if what they say seems like transparent bullshit. Screaming and name-calling rarely produce solutions or consensus. Hostility only breeds more hostility. It almost never breeds justice. That’s true even if the hostility is utterly deserved.

And justice is the aim, right? Or, depending on where you’re at on the Menno spectrum, one of the aims, right?

I don’t just think this stuff because I’m a nice guy who can’t take his own side, though I know some folks think that about me. I also happen to think it’s true, and because true, the best path toward lasting justness and rightness.

I have fallen short of this standard, frequently, in thinking about our politics. All we can do is stumble, dust ourselves off, and resume the journey. And pray that we’re doing it right.

We fall short sometimes. But this is my statement of purpose.


How I, Joel Mathis, accidentally helped Russians get Donald Trump elected

laptop computer, laptop keyword, Alex Knight

Dear Rebecca:

We’ve been so busy being angry about the Florida school massacre — rightly — that we’ve not taken notice of Friday’s indictment of 13 Russians accused of using American social media to campaign for Donald Trump.

For example, one ad innocuously instructed people to follow a Facebook page if they were a follower of Jesus, but the page later spread a meme of Hillary Clinton with devil horns.

The Internet Research Agency’s ads on Facebook also only made up a tiny portion of its overall strategy. Facebook estimates that 10 million people saw paid ads, whereas up to 150 million people saw other content from fake accounts.

But the Russians’ influence was even broader, because of how other Facebook users reacted to their posts. Posts on just six of the IRA’s most popular Facebook pages received 340 million shares and nearly 20 million interactions, including likes, comments, page shares, and emoji reactions, according to Albright’s analysis.

Now. I don’t believe I spread any of these memes. But I might’ve. That’s not really the point.

But here’s where I blame myself: I’ve spent the last decade, at least, arguing on the Internet. I helped fertilize the Facebook soil where Russian flowers bloomed.

And I did it a lot. It has been, frankly, my most-consuming activity: I’ve done it professionally, I’ve done it as an amateur, but whatever has happened, I’ve kept the argument going.

Listen to this testimony from a professional Russian troll:

Who really reads the comments under news articles, anyway? Especially when they were so obviously fake. People working there had no literary interest or abilities. These were mechanical texts. It was a colossal labor of monkeys, it was pointless. For Russian audiences, at least. But for Americans, it appears it did work. They aren’t used to this kind of trickery. They live in a society in which it’s accepted to answer for your words. And here — I was amazed how everyone was absolutely sure of their impunity, even as they wrote incredibly offensive comments. They were sure that with the anonymity of the Internet, no one would find them.


Democracy needs robust debate. But I’ve been part of creating an ugly tone. All too often, I’ve failed to treat my ideological rivals as my neighbor — failed to consider why they might believe what they believe and instead (lazily) attribute evil motivations to them. I have raised the temperature when I didn’t need to do it. Sometimes I did it for fun.

And now, it’s had consequences.

This isn’t just my fault, of course. But I don’t get to avoid the fact that I’m part of the problem,either.

The temptation is to go on strike, to declare silence as an act of rebellion, and simply to shut up after that. But … I’m not built that way. Maybe I should be. But I’m not.

So. How to resist? How to do better? The time to stop is now.


Children don’t stay little. They will hold us accountable.

Hi Joel,

Gun fetishists insist that dead children is just the cost we have to pay to protect the enumerated right of gun ownership. Freedom isn’t free, and children have to pay the price.

Children can’t fight that. They don’t vote. They have no lobby.

But I’m taking heart today in the words of Kyle Stephens in her testimony against child rapist Larry Nassar: “Little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”

The children we are training to run, hide, and fight–they are going to grow up and look at us and ask why we were so selfish with our guns and so careless with their lives. The dead ones won’t greet us in heaven, because people who defend guns deserve to go to hell. The ones who live with injuries will send off to die on the last of the icebergs. The ones who held their friends’ hands as they bled out will let us die alone. The ones who lived in fear every day will vote against us and our interests.

And when the mass shooters turn their guns toward nursing homes and senior centers, football stadiums and the Toby Keith farewell tour, bingo halls and the Silver Sneakers aerobics class, they’ll let our bodies rot where we fall.

Image result for bailey holt

Above, 15 year old Bailey Holt is one of 150,000 students who have experienced a school shooting. She was murdered by a classmate with a gun, parents who refuse to secure their weapons, a gun industry that preaches the fear that drives parents to leave guns always at the ready, and members of Congress who refuse to act.

We deserve no better.


UPDATED: In response to reader concern that a previous remark in this post suggests violence against member of Congress, I’ve removed a reference to imprecatory prayer (a rhetorical device in which a person prays for that God will destroy their enemies if he won’t change their hearts) so that it doesn’t distract from the key argument here. Members of Congress and their families also suffer from the threat of and reality of violence, and I should have been more kind in considering their experiences. –Rebecca