I posted an article the other day about a young man who died when he accidentally shot himself while taking a selfie with a handgun. I commented when I posted it that this was “perhaps a fitting picture of much that is wrong in America today.” I was really surprised when every comment in reply to that post has referenced the politically charged issues of gun ownership and gun control. Friends, I didn’t go there! That’s not at all what I was thinking when I made that comment, and to me those responses say something. I’m not sure what, but they say something.
I have a much different perspective than many of my friends on guns, but I honestly was not thinking about gun control when I posted that article.
I’ll come back to what I think about the issues related to gun control that commenters brought up. For now, let me take up what I meant when I said that this article might shed a light on much of what is wrong in America today. I see two aspects in this story that are sort of a microcosm of two HUGE issues in our culture: the glorification of self and the glorification of violence.
First, this young man wouldn’t have died if he hadn’t been taking a selfie. Now that I’ve used the word, I’ll mention that “selfie” did not exist as a word until a couple years ago. Now it is everywhere, and if I had a dollar for every person who took a selfie today, I’d be set for life. It’s incredible. Not only did that terminology not exist when I was growing up, but people just didn’t take photos of themselves, period. Once in a long while you’d see someone trying to snap a picture with a loved one, or their family, by pointing a camera at themselves, but it was rare. Remember the days when people used to ask other people to take photos of them? Remember when selfie sticks weren’t an option??
On its face this isn’t that big of a deal, but it shows something insidious going on in our culture: so many of us are absolutely obsessed with ourselves. I have friends who submit a new selfie on facebook every other day! Of course it’s always the most flattering picture possible, which only reinforces this glorification of self, and makes others go through self-doubt and even self-hatred because they can’t look like that. So many of us care passionately about how we look, about how we come across, about how people view us, and about our reputations – to the point that our brains become completely filled up with thoughts about ourselves!! If there is one thing that will lead to our downfall – the end of marriages, the end of friendships, the end of family relationships, and general relational brokenness in all areas of our lives – it is an intense focus on ourselves.
We simply cannot consider others, put others first, care for others effectively, and truly love any other person while our minds and hearts are full of ourselves. Obviously self-focus is the problem, not selfies. But I believe this is absolutely a symptom showing that many of us have absolutely no concept of what it means to empty ourselves or put others first. We seem to simply be drowning in a sea of self, and that is the most miserable place I can even imagine in which to drown. I have found that the more I think about myself, the sicker I feel. That sick feeling makes me long to invest in others and love others and serve others. It’s what we were made for, and I think our culture is really sick with self-love…
Second, our culture glorifies violence. This kid was taking a selfie showing himself with a gun, because he was presumably trying to look cool and hard and tough. Why does holding a handgun make one look cool and hard and tough?? Because our culture has decided it does; we have glorified violence, or the ability to be violent, equating it with power.
I am not talking about owning guns. Generations before us have owned guns and yet have not glorified violence. They had guns for a reason – whether for hunting, protection, or military defense – and they never seem to have given a thought to glorifying the power those guns provided. Things have changed.
Violence is glorified everywhere we turn: in our music, our movies, our television shows. There is more gratuitous violence in today’s video games than used to be allowed in R rated movies! Boxing has been around for a long time, and that certainly has always glorified violence. But now many watch mixed martial arts matches, where folks truly beat each other to a pulp with their hands and feet and elbows and knees until one is unconscious. It’s like we tired of the fake, scripted wrestling matches that used to be on, and we wanted to actually see people beat each other to a pulp!
I believe the glorification of self and the glorification of violence are two of the most crucial ailments that are making our culture sick, and I pray that God would help us to love ourselves way less and to hate violence and all that goes along with it…
Now, let’s move on to discuss some of the things the commenters wanted to discuss. 🙂
I have studied the early church, and I am aware that early Christians were publically burned at the stake or fed to lions. Some of the violence that used to be allowed in public is even more revolting than what we see today. I know this glorification of violence is nothing new, but it is certainly contributing to the current day America being one of the most violent cultures in the history of the world, with more murders than virtually any other before us. These murders occur through shootings, stabbings, stranglings, and a variety of other awful means. Saying that if there were no more guns, there would be no more murders is foolish and naïve.
And yet, what would happen if none of our “rights” were stripped away, and we could own guns if we wanted to (for whatever valid purposes we might have), but fewer guns were manufactured? Without taking away our rights, what would happen if it was more difficult to find guns being sold, and more difficult to purchase them once we did (as in fewer gun shops and a longer process to purchase a gun)? What would happen if buying a gun required just as much training and test-passing as driving a car? Like a gun education class and a gun safety test you must pass in order to purchase guns? (Many of my friends have told me in the past that I shouldn’t blame guns for murder unless I’m ready to blame cars for car accident deaths – I understand the logic, though I think it breaks down when you consider that car accidents are accidents, while gun deaths often occur with someone pointing a gun at another person and pulling the trigger, which seems quite different to me). But the point is that we are in agreement that they are both technologies that have the ability to take a life, so shouldn’t it be equally as difficult to purchase a gun as it is to get a driver’s license (if not more)?
I guess I just don’t understand the vehement hatred of gun control measures by those who are pro-gun ownership! I have never heard anyone say gun ownership should be outlawed. I don’t have any desire to see all guns rounded up and taken away. Gun control, the way I understand it at least, is all about protecting innocent people by requiring extra steps to be taken before buying a gun, hopefully preventing crazy people bent on murder from being able to do what they have in mind. In what sense is this bad? It adds protection for all of us from the improper use of guns, whether we own guns or not! Right?!?
Two more asides related to the rights afforded us by our constitution.
First, I understand that according to our constitution, Americans have the right to bear arms. I get that. And I am not in favor of stripping that right away. But I would ask whether we as Christians ought to be willing to sacrifice some of our rights (like instant access to as many guns as we want) for the good of others? Are our rights more important, or is the good of others more important? If gun control measures lead to helping innocent people, we ought to say “bring them all on,” no matter how much we like to buy guns for ourselves. Because we are about putting others first.
Second, I have heard many people defend gun ownership (which, like I said, I don’t have a problem with) by saying that it is our only protection against a corrupt government. We can stand against them and fight, they say. Excuse me while I choke down hilarious laughter! That is the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard. Since this is the only time I plan on dealing with this issue, let me address this silly notion now. If every American had an arsenal of guns, our government has enough firepower to wipe every one of us out anyway, without batting an eye. No amount of guns will protect us from a corrupt government. They have nuclear weapons, drones, sophisticated GPS tracking systems with satellites all over the globe. They have more bombs than we could ever counteract. So the notion that having guns is going to keep us safe from a tyrant no longer applies. In 1776, yes. Today, no. Guns today are purely for law enforcement, home protection, sport, and entertainment, in my view.
The sad truth is that because many are not properly trained on how to own and handle guns before they buy them, many lives have been lost in the same way as this young man’s life was lost: through tragic accidents. One of my classmates when I was in middle school was accidentally shot and killed by her sister when they were pretending with their dad’s rifle. Their parents needed classes on how to own guns, and then they might have been locked up and unloaded. And perhaps that tragedy never would have happened.
More than anything, our culture needs to glorify violence less so that guns are viewed as powerful tools that must be treated with caution and respect – not as a means to power and strength. I believe that starts with us…