Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence

By Shane Claiborne and Michael Martin. Brazos Press, 2019. 288 pages. $19.99/paperback or eBook.

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When two Christian gun owners decided that the Bible tells them to beat swords into plows and pruning tools, they did it in a blacksmith shop. Guns became garden equipment and works of art: fun, interesting stuff that might make an article for Friends Journal.

Then they started thinking about gun culture. Both had grown up in families and communities where having guns for hunting was common. They amassed what statistical evidence they could find about gun ownership. (Much research has been denied funding through the efforts of the National Rifle Association [NRA].) Also they gathered anecdotal evidence to paint a clearer picture of the horrendous toll that gun violence is taking on American society. Not only that, they explored the history of gun making and how the armaments business has promoted gun sales and wars around the world. This has been happening since Eli Whitney lost money on the cotton gin and then made it back through the first mass production of guns.

Following chapter 5, “Do Black Guns Matter?,” is a “Gallery of the Absurd” with a simple goal: “to expose how tragic, obscene, and totally avoidable many gun deaths are.” Here are two examples:

Exhibit 3: There are numerous shootings at weddings. I’m sure some are from romantic feuds, but many are unintentional. Apparently it’s a thing to pose with a gun on your wedding day. One couple accidentally shot their photographer. Another bride gave her husband a handgun, and he accidentally shot both of them.

Exhibit 15: In the United States, we register births, marriages, divorces, and deaths. We register houses, land, trucks, boats, animals—everything but guns.

In chapter 6, “Mythbusting,” the authors debunk myths surrounding gun ownership. Statistics show that having a gun in a home puts the family and children at a much greater risk than would having no gun in the home. The third leading cause of death among children in the United States is gunshot wounds, many recorded as accidental.

Scattered among the chapters are 18 “Memorial to the Lost” pages for victims of mass shootings: from the massacre of a Native American village in 1864 to the poignant stories of the last 20 years.

The authors identify as “Mike” or “Shane,” according to which one is writing when opinions are expressed or personal stories are told. But they are unified in calling for a massive disarmament of the United States. They even take on the Second Amendment. They cite surveys of gun owners who by a significant majority want stricter gun laws that are evenly enforced. The NRA is shown to be out of step with the majority of gun owners on this.

The authors readily acknowledge that removing all guns would not end violence. No matter how thorough our gun laws become, no law can change the human heart. For Shane and Mike, this is not just a political battle; it is about living their faith. They remind us that for the first 300 years of Christianity, there is no record of a Christian justifying violence or even making a case for self-defense. Instead, history records the opposite. Early Christians insisted that “for Christ we can die, but we cannot kill.”

These guys are thorough! Every argument in defense of owning a gun—military style assault weapon to pistol—is refuted factually and empathetically in this comprehensive book. They call attention to the violent metaphors in our language, and other ways that our culture is deeply violent. They call for language de-escalation and the selection of less violent forms of entertainment. (These reviewers have to admit that we enjoy mystery stories and even act in them, though we tend to focus on the sleuthing, or problem-solving aspect; still, violent death is there.)

If you want to work on violence issues, especially gun violence, you need this book. If you want to sensitize yourself to the ways we enable violence and find the motivation to change, you need this book. If you want to talk about this with gun owners who are disproportionately White evangelical Christians, you need this book. Quite likely, your congressional representative also needs this book.

“It is not the kings and presidents and politicians who lead the way to peace. It is the people who rise up, refuse to kill, and begin beating their weapons into garden tools. We are the people we are waiting for.”

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