God, Guns, and Feminist Theology

As it usually does in the days following a mass shooting, the gun debate in the US is raging. While mass shootings are spectacularly appalling, they are not the majority of incidents of gun violence in this country. Two-thirds of homicides and half of suicides are by gun. And research shows, the more guns people have, the greater the incidents of gun violence.

Christians are divided on the issue of guns. Some Christians want to take their guns to church, and several states allow them to do just that. Some Christians want us to put all of our guns down. A lot of Christians want to own their guns for hunting or target practice or protection.

As a feminist, however, I think that it's important that we think about how our social location--our place in the world and our various identities--affects how we think about guns. If I am a white man in the rural United States, I may think differently about guns than if I am a black or brown mother in an urban area. If I am a woman whose husband threatens me with a gun as he beats and berates me, I may think about guns differently than people who have never been subjected to violence in their own homes. If I am black or brown I may imagine the gun in the hand of a police officer very differently than white men and women. If I am gay, lesbian, or transgender--especially if I am a transgender woman of color--I may feel differently about guns than people who have not been threatened for their sexuality or gender identity. If I am a woman, I may likely have a very different relationship to guns than a man.

Gun violence is gendered. Most gun violence is perpetrated by boys and men. Men own most of the guns in the United States (women make up about 20% of gun owners). Women are significantly more likely to be the victims of gun violence at the hands of husbands and boyfriends and exes than strangers, and a woman is much more likely to be killed by her abuser if he has access to a gun than if he doesn't.

Our cultural fascination with guns is also gendered. Guns are closely tied with our culture's understandings of masculinity and power. Guns are power, guns affirm masculinity, and guns allow (mostly) men to feel and to exercise power and domination over others through violence or the threat of violence.

Gun violence is also racialized. Blacks are much more likely to die from gun violence than whites, although whites are much more likely to have guns in the home than blacks.

Our cultural acceptance of guns is also predicated on our fear of the imagined Other who is out to do us harm. Many gun owners explain their gun ownership by their need for protection, despite reams of research that clearly show that owning or carrying a gun does not make someone safer. In fact, more people are shot and killed in arguments than in attempting to stop a crime, and owning a gun has been linked to higher risks of homicide, suicide, and accidental death.

Perhaps instead of convincing ourselves we need guns to protect ourselves, we need to ask questions about the structures and ideologies that make us fearful or the pressures of masculinity that make so many men feel they need a gun to feel like a real man. We also need to challenge the myths of women as beings that need protection--by men or by guns. We need to examine the ways we have internalized oppression and dominance in how we think about, feel, and express power, danger, and violence.

For Christians, these are theological questions. Theologies of liberation envision the oppressed as a class of people for whom God has a preference. If we conceive of victims and potential victims of gun violence as an oppressed class, then we see them as people for whom God has a preference over their violent victimizers. For Christians, God's preferential option for the oppressed is a clarion call to join with God in action to end oppression, in this case, gun violence. And research is clear--guns will not end gun violence.

Rather, we need a prophetic cry for conversion of our gun culture. If we as Christians are called to be life-affirming participants in God's community, we must find another way.

Theologies of liberation ask us to imagine a preferred future in light of God's liberating action on behalf of the oppressed in the world. If we take seriously Christian values of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Galatians 5:22), then we must imagine a preferred future in which violence has no place, and we must work toward that future.

Certainly, gun owners can make a Second Amendment argument for their constitutional right to own guns. As Christians, though, perhaps we should listen rather to the arguments made by the Apostle Paul that sometimes we ought to give up things we have a right to for the sake of others. So as Americans we may have the right to own a gun, but perhaps as Christians we should not invoke that right for the sake of all of those who suffer from gun violence. In fact, perhaps as Christians we should work actively to move our world toward that imagined future with no threats, no violence, no murder, no guns--a world that is safer and healthier for all of us.

Sources for research on gun violence:

Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, "Statistics on the Dangers of Gun Use for Self-Defense," 2015.