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Guns, God and the American way

Guns, God and the American way
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There are perhaps no two themes that signal the political division among Americans more saliently than guns and religion. Those themes have resonated deeply in the recent elections of both President Obama and President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE

Obama’s carefully crafted folksy image was tarnished by an out-of-touch moment on the campaign trail in 2008, in which he managed to link guns, religion, free trade and anti-immigration sentiment in one fell swoop, stating about working-class white Americans, “They get bitter; they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment, as a way to explain their frustrations.” President Trump, perhaps sensing that Obama was on to something, constantly harps on the themes of guns, religious freedom, strong immigration laws and trade wars.

In response to leading evangelical magazine Christianity Today’s editorial arguing that Trump should be removed from office because of his failure of moral leadership, the president lashed out on Twitter, calling the publication a “far left” or “very ‘progressive’” magazine that would prefer “a Radical Left nonbeliever, who wants to take your religion & your guns, than Donald Trump as your President.” In this tweet, Trump laid down the gauntlet, reviving his base’s deathly loathing of presidents past, or rather, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama: Republican Party members believe 'white males are victims' Texas warehouse where migrants housed in 'cages' closed for humane renovation North Carolina — still purple but up for grabs MORE. But to call the leading evangelical magazine “far left” and one that wants to take away guns and religion seems a bit of a stretch — but perhaps not so for those of us whose primary news source is a social media feed.

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Whichever side of the divide Americans fall on, most do believe in the sanctity of life and believe that people should be safe in their places of worship. Churches, synagogues and mosques — like schools and playgrounds — are considered sacrosanct, places where we should be able to seek respite from violence and politics. But places of worship have become another battleground in the culture wars. After the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in 2017, in which 26 worshipers were killed by an enraged gunman with an assault rifle, the Texas legislature passed a law that explicitly permitted licensed concealed-carry owners to bring their guns into places of worship. 

The wisdom of the law seemed to be borne out when this past Sunday, church security volunteers shot and killed a gunman who entered West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, a suburb of Fort Worth, and opened fire on parishioners, killing two of them. Politicians far and wide, including President Trump, lauded the Texas law that permitted concealed firearms in places of worship and credited the “good guys with a gun” factor as the pivotal reason why more than 200 West Freeway Church members escaped the incident unscathed.

That is one side of the divide — the side in which a “good guy with a gun” in a church wins the day for Christians. But there is another side. It’s the side in which a gunman in Pittsburgh, who had espoused violent anti-Semitism and racism on the social media website Gab, entered a synagogue in October 2018 and killed 11 worshippers, many of them elderly.

For every case in which a good guy with a gun has managed to intervene in time to save lives, there have been myriad others in which gun-wielding maniacs — bearing licensed and unlicensed firearms — have been able to unleash terror and carnage upon the public. And so, one wonders, on which side does common sense actually fall? Does it make more sense to loosen restrictions on gun ownership so that people can defend themselves amidst mass shootings? Or does it make more sense to restrict gun ownership with the hope that bad people can’t get access to weapons?

Perhaps the tragic case of Emantic “E.J.” Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. could offer some further insight. E.J. was a 21-year-old man who had hopes of joining the Army. He was a licensed firearm owner. When a shooting broke out in a mall in 2018 in Birmingham, Ala., E.J. and other mall-goers dove for cover. When officers arrived on the scene, they noticed E.J.s’ firearm attached to his pants and, apparently believing he was the shooter, opened fire on him, shooting him three times in the back and killing him. Was this a case of one good guy with a gun shooting another good guy with a gun amidst a state of mass panic and chaos? In this case, it seems that being armed put the victim in the way of further harm and did not prevent the actual crime.

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But more to the point, how can we effectively govern ourselves when almost all of our arguments for sensible laws around guns and religious freedom confront the extremes of party politics? It seems as if, amidst the cacophony of voices, we only hear what the media and the indignant politicians and pundits scream out at us — disparaging our good natures in the process. The vast majority of Americans do not hate immigrants or cling to guns and religion like opiates. Nor are we a nation in which good, Christian people who object to our political leadership on moral grounds automatically want to end American’s Second Amendment and religious freedoms.  

We should be able to enjoy good moral leadership while honoring our constitutional rights.  That’s the American way.

Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) is the owner and manager of Howard Stirk Holdings I & II Broadcast Television Stations and the 2016 Multicultural Media Broadcast Owner of the Year. He is the author of “Reawakening Virtues.”