Church shooting raises questions of suffering, gun control

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On Sunday morning, a man clad in tactical gear and armed with an AR-15 variant assault rifle opened fire in a small Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 people and injuring 20 more. This is the fifth deadliest mass shooting in American history, trailed by the first deadliest which occurred just weeks ago in Las Vegas.

Professor David Hoekema of the philosophy department has a few thoughts concerning how philosophy and theology can help us think this tragedy and suffering in general. According to Hoekema, it is erroneous to contend that people are basically and intrinsically good, however popular of an opinion that may be. He cites the teachings of Augustine to claim that people often do the wrong thing just for the sake of doing it. Being made in the image of God, according to Hoekema, means that people are capable of doing good, but our humanity also allows for the capacity of great evil.

Because we cannot stop people from being evil, “the question,” said Hoekema, “is how can we organize society to minimize the damage that people can do?” According to Hoekema, we have set up all kinds of restrictions to protect people; however, “American gun policies are a glaring exception to that.” The United States doesn’t allow free drugstore sales of cyanide gas; why should it be possible for people to acquire weapons designed to kill people as quickly and efficiently as possible?

“There is no purpose for ordinary citizens to own these kinds of firearms,” Hoekema claimed.

Whether the Second Amendment is referring to individual citizens or a state militia can be argued back and forth. According to Hoekema, there is no excessive government intrusion in the ordinary lives of citizens that would warrant the ownership and operation of military-style assault weapons. Professor Hoekema claims that our responsibility as citizens of both the kingdom of God and our respective homelands is “creating the highest barriers possible” to stop evil from being committed.

Students of Calvin College can bring firearms to school, so long as they are for hunting purposes and are checked in and stored with Campus Safety until the time of use, where they can be checked out with a receipt that was acquired upon arrival. Many members of the Calvin community have expressed concern about this policy, especially after the increase in mass shootings in recent years. Ideally, according to Hoekema, this is how guns could be owned and used in America—stored under the supervision of local law enforcement until the time of use. This is improbable, however, as many gun owners would see this as an infringement of their right to maintain a weapon in their home.

Hoekema goes on to suggest a potential solution to the problem of mass-shootings — better mental health treatment. He claims that if we could work harder on getting disturbed people the help that they need, we could eliminate much of the danger associated with homicidal behavior. Recent studies have shown that mental illnesses are some of the most under-diagnosed, under-treated, and yet most common medical disorders in the world. Most insurance plans do not cover mental health care, and many common treatments, including psychotherapy and medication, are too expensive for those who would have to pay out-of-pocket.

President Trump has recognized the Sutherland Springs shooting as a mental health issue, but declined to comment on the gun control element, stating, “we could go into it, but it’s a little bit soon to go into it.” Many prominent Christian thinkers have contended that if we, as Christians, are called to protect human life as bearing the divine image of God, increased gun control is something we need to be pushing for immediately. Others, however, claim that stricter gun policies would not prevent tragedies like this one.