Should Christians shun gun owners? No.

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Dear Rebecca:

I’m going to do something I don’t do very often, or lightly: I’m going to disagree with you.

You raise the idea of “handing gun owners over to Satan” — shunning, essentially — and I deeply understand why: Friday saw another mass school shooting, about which our gun-besotted leaders continue to do nothing. As David Frum points out in The Atlantic, “Americans of high-school age are 82 times more likely to die from a gun homicide than 15- to 19-year-olds in the rest of the developed world.” That’s a startling statistic, one that suggests we Americans are doing something deeply wrong when it comes to our gun culture.

Certainly, if you choose to preserve your own safety by saying “No, I won’t come to your home for a meal or play on your team or sit in your classroom, because your choices endanger me and others, and I love life too much to risk mine and others’ by bringing them close to you,”I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise. Only you can determine how best to preserve your safety and that of your family.

But you suggest that’s the approach Christians more broadly should take to all gun owners, and I can’t quite follow you there.

For one thing, there’s the practical matter: Shunning is used pretty rarely in the church — as you point out, it’s often been used against LGBT members, but not against serial sex abusers. That suggests to me the church has sufficiently bad judgement about when to employ the practice that it is, on the whole, best left in the toolkit rather than used.

And then there’s the question: Is gun ownership a sin?

We’ve discussed this before. My quick take: There are commandments against murder, but not against possessing weapons. Yes, those “who live by the sword shall die by the sword,” but I’m not sure how much clarity that offers. But we also know that Jesus healed the son of the Roman centurion, and apparently did so without ordering that centurion to give up his tools of violence — or his power to command others to commit violence.

Heck: One of the Bible’s most famous stories is that of David, a small man, using a small weapon to even the odds against a giant.

Let’s face it: The Bible is not exactly uncomplicated for us pacifism-loving Mennonites.

Don’t misunderstand: I think it’s clear that a lot more people think they are “good guys with a gun” than are actually “responsible, smart guys with a gun.” And I think your suggestions that gun owners bear more of the cost of gun violence “through insurance and through harsh punishments for crimes committed with their guns” is right and essential.

But while I think gun ownership is, on the whole, a bad choice for a great many people, I don’t know that you’ve established that it’s mortal sin that requires separation from the entire Christian community.

I don’t own guns. I’m not at risk of being cast out under your rules. But I’m having a hard time seeing that church schisms over gun ownership would be a useful thing.

With respect,


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