What About Shooting for Fun?
by The Rev. Daniel P Strandlund | March 15, 2018Hi friends, I’ve been writing about guns over the past few weeks and have tried to cover a lot of ground: what we mean when we say “guns,” what guns actually are in light of their purpose, and how Christian people might understand guns used for hunting, military and law enforcement, and personal self-defense. I’ve tried to frame our understanding of guns within God’s purposes for humanity as stated in scripture—ruling over and keeping creation, loving neighbor, and loving God. My main hope is that, as people of faith, however it is we choose to engage civically with issues like gun rights and gun control, all of us will start with the Gospel and nowhere else. Jesus first. Everything else follows after—voting, protesting, advocacy, any number of other actions we might take as American citizens. That’s my hope for and expectation of us: “whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). My goal is simply to encourage Christian people away from worshipping anything or anyone that isn’t the Risen Lord, be it the Constitution, safety, rights, being right, or anything else. I do not know what that means for public policy. In that regard, what follows will be no different.
Thus far I’ve focused on guns through the lens of the purpose for which humanity invented them: ending the lives of creatures (be they animals or human beings). However, while this is the purpose which brought guns into existence, it’s simply not the only thing we do with guns. What about shooting for fun? Specifically, shooting that is not for self-defense, not in war, not damaging somebody else’s property, not disturbing the peace, not trophy hunting, and not even necessarily hunting for meat—but just because shooting skeet out at your ranch or some place is a fun thing to do with your friends. What about that?
I want to be clear: I’m not talking about professional military training or target practice for self-defense. If the inanimate object I’m shooting is a paper target with the silhouette of a person on it, then this is practice for ending a life before it’s anything else. I’m talking about responsible fun for fun’s sake, or fun which might also happen to make us better at dove hunting. I’m not talking about preparing for the potential situation in which we might shoot at a person even though that ‘practice’ itself would be shooting inanimate objects.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. A few weeks ago our youth group was working on an outreach project in the Mission Hall. We were assembling care packages for our homeless brothers and sisters, ones church members can keep in their cars and give out as they encounter folks. A father and son from one of our youth group families were there, stuffing bags together and talking with a young man in high school who is fairly new to St. Liz. The conversation turned to everyone’s weekend plans. The dad said to this young man, “We’re going target shooting out at the ranch this Saturday. Would you like to join us?”
Despite everything I’ve said about guns’ being symptomatic of human rebellion against God, it would be asinine to understand this invitation to go shooting as anything other than an offer of Christian hospitality and friendship. That is exactly what it is, particularly since the kid invited is pretty new. (By the way, they went and everyone had a good time!)
Moments like this are evidence of God’s redemption in and through human beings, despite the horrible mess we’ve made of things generally. The reason is simply that even though guns are not a divine institution, people are. Of all the things God made, it’s not until God makes human beings that the whole of creation becomes “very good” (Genesis 1:31). The world is broken because we human beings chose to betray God and follow our own desires. But God’s primal judgment that the world is very good with us in it is even more original than human sin. Thus, we see guns become objects bent away from their lethal purpose and towards new life: “We’re going target shooting at the ranch this Saturday. Would you like to join us?” Even in a violent world, the Holy Spirit will always be correcting us back towards community, play, and affection.
You have heard it said, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4). We are not quite there yet, but perhaps we are closer than we think. Before the first sword gets beaten into a plowshare, there is probably a wonderful moment when the wielder of the sword realizes that it can be used for things other than fighting. Maybe he goes with it into a field, scratches in the dirt with its point to plot the rows where crops will go. It’s still very much a sword, but bent to a new end. Perhaps when we see a group of friends go shooting targets together, we see evidence that humanity is in that moment. Perhaps the plow is not so far away.
One final image. My parents used to live out in Cullman County, a place called Welti, away from the middle of town. It’s old farm country. Through the woods behind their house was an old section of barbed wire fence marking the edge of what was once used as pasture land for cattle. The fence was rusted and bent down in places, most of the posts rotted or at least knocked over. I remember one section where the fence was still upright because two trees about fifteen feet apart had absorbed it, their trunks having slowly grown around the metal over the years. At some point in the history of that place the barbed wire was introduced, long strands of sharp metal cutting across the landscape. But the trees, filled with the stubborn sap and strength of God’s goodness, just kept living and growing, fence or no fence.
I think guns are a bit like that stretch of barbed wire. They’re not native to God’s ecology and are therefore foreign to the deepest nature of humanity. But the soul’s sap is the Spirit of God, stubborn and strong, and humanity has continued to grow and thrive. Despite the guns and other slivers of metal lodged in our heartwood, we continue to yearn upwards and seek the sun. We grow a little crooked, but we grow nonetheless. We eat the light and breathe the wind and drink the living waters under the earth.
Laughter, friendship, hospitality, the simple welcoming of the new kid in town by members of his new church family—these graces will always absorb and overwhelm what is broken in us because these are God’s graces in us. Guns are not a divine institution, but we are. Try as we might, we can never entirely erase God’s image. This gives me hope. Perhaps the last word on guns and everything else will be God’s Word after all, the Word beyond us and within us, the sun and sap provoking our better angels into bloom.
Thank you for reading.