SUMMARY: Some say it’s a gun problem. Some say it’s a heart problem. Authors Shane Claiborne and Michael Martin say it’s both. Each day in the United States, 105 people die from gun violence. Once every 30 minutes, a person commits suicide with a gun. Eighty percent of all firearm deaths in developed countries occur in the United States, and eighty-seven percent of all child related gun deaths in the world’s developed countries occur in the US. Despite the alarming statistics, Beating Guns was not penned to shock or shame. It’s a call for Christians to prophetically stand against violence and lead the way toward gun reform.
“Not many people get argued into thinking differently, but experiences and stories move us,” the authors write, “especially when we have the humility to listen and view the world from a different lens, from someone else’s eyes.”
So, where do we begin?
“The right place to begin seems to be deep lament. All is not well in the world, and we need to allow the blood that God hears crying out from the ground to affect us. We need to listen to that pain.”
Part of lamenting involves admitting there is a problem with guns in America and that many in the church, and outside of the church, have made guns an idol.
“Idols are things we put our trust in. They are not God, but we treat them like they are,” Claiborne and Martin write. “They take on a transcendent, magical character. We hold them with a sacred reverence that should only be given to God. We are willing to die for them and kill for them and sacrifice our children for them.”
The first half of the book details the history of guns in the United States and the history and impact of the National Rifle Association (NRA) on American policies. It also details the effects of guns on kids, veterans, minorities, and women. Simply put – the more guns there are, the more deaths there are. Claiborne and Martin do not belittle or antagonize gun owners, but invite them to be part of a pro-life movement.
“This book is not about demonizing gun owners,” the duo writes. “It is about saving lives and working with everyone who is committed to that…Stopping gun violence is a pro-life issue…Pro-life does not mean just anti-abortion. It means standing against death in all its ugly forms and becoming a champion of life consistently, across the board.”
Part of Claiborne and Martin’s pro-life strategy is literally beating guns into tools, instruments, and art through their company RAWTools. Throughout the book, the process of refining, hammering, and reshaping metal is used as a metaphor for reshaping our hearts and minds towards guns and gun violence. It is a prophetic call for a third way – a call to hope and use our imaginations to save lives.
This alternative view of gun and gun violence comprises the second half of the book. Suggestions range from cutting funds of gun manufacturers to using technology to make safer guns. But the main focus is on common sense gun laws, which, despite popular assumption, most people agree on:
- Eighty-nine percent of Americans favor preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns.
- Eighty-four percent support background checks for private sales at guns shows.
- Seventy-one percent support creating a federal database to track gun sales.
- Sixty-eight percent favor banning assault style weapons.
- Sixty-five percent would like to ban high-capacity magazines.
These regulations are a start, and Christians can lead the way on reforms by advocating for these laws through who they vote for in local and national elections in addition to advocating for policy changes.
“It is not politicians who lead the way to peace; it is the people of God, who lead the politicians to peace. Peace begins with the people of God, who refuse to kill and who insist on beating their weapons into farm tools.”
“The gun and the cross offer use two very different versions of what power looks like. One is willing to kill. And one is willing to die.”
KEY QUOTE: “Our fundamental starting point, with guns and everything else, is this: What policies help us live well together? What’s best for the most? What’s good for the common good? What policies are vital for humans to thrive? We are not just thinking individualistically but as “polis,” as a people — less about “I” and “me” and more about “we” and “us.” There is something that unites us that is deeper and more profound than all the stuff that divides us. Something unites us across party lines and blows all the labels and categories out of the water: our shared humanity.”
BONUS: If you want to hear what Beating Guns is all about, listen to Claiborne’s interview on The Deconstructionist podcast.
DID YOU KNOW? Sunday to Saturday has a Goodreads page where we post all of the books we have read – even the ones that didn’t make the cut.
DIG DEEPER: We curated four guided learning paths on guns and gun violence to help you learn about the subject through a distinct Christian lens.
More curated books on guns/gun violence:
Few Christian books can integrate and appeal to Scripture without sounding preachy, pretentious, or perfunctory. Even more so when an author takes on a polarizing subject such as guns. And yet this is what Michael W. Austin’s God and Guns in America excels at. Biblically rooted as well logically sound Austin’s approachable writing style is like sitting with a friend telling you how and why they arrived at a conclusion – in this case his view on guns/gun violence through a Christian lens.
Pastor James Atwood, who passed away in 2020, called gun violence the most important theological issue for the American church. His conviction is rooted in Mark 12:28-34 where Jesus says the most important commandment is to love God and love your neighbor. Atwood says you cannot love God and not love your neighbor, they are fundamentally connected. Collateral Damage is a prophetic call for the church to get involved and not remain silent when 40,000 fellow image bearers are being killed each year while hundreds of thousands more are psychologically and emotionally damaged from the effects of gun violence.
As humans, most of the time we want complex issues to be solved easily. For instance, if individuals with guns are targeting churches, then members of churches should carry guns to counteract the threat. While on the surface that may seem like the logical thing to do, and certainly a good portion of Americans would agree, as Christians we must consider what the Bible has to say. In Whom Shall I Fear? author and pastor Rosalind C. Hughes doesn’t say whether a church should hire armed security or not, but invites the reader to take a step back and answer the question, “What is the church and what is its mission” before deciding how to deal with the violent culture we live in.