Claiborne, Shane and Martin, Michael. Beating Guns: Hope for People Who are Weary of Violence. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2019.

[An Installment of the “Read Me” Project.]

Why I wanted to read Beating Guns:

  • It said it was for people who are weary of violence. My demographic.
  • One of the authors, Michael Martin, is “a Mennonite pastor turned blacksmith” who founded an organization, RAWtools Inc., that “turns guns into garden tools (and other lovely things).”
  • It has endorsement blurbs from Philip Yancey, Michael Curry (presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church), Otis Moss III, Walter Brueggeman, Tony Campolo, and Richard Rohr, among others. That is—from all across the Christian theological-denominational spectrum. If the authors can appeal to a group as diverse as that, maybe they are on to something.
  • One of the first sentences in the book read “This is a book for people who believe—or want to believe—that things can be different than they are right now.” I’m one of them, and the kind of people who turn guns into garden tools might know something about what that will take.

Cover Beating Guns
What I found in Beating Guns:

  • An appeal to get beyond the false dichotomy of “gun owners” vs. “gun opponents,” pointing out that everyone involved in America’s problem with violence and the role of guns in that violence has common interests: in reducing the trauma of sudden, violent death, and in making the communities we live in safer for people.
  • Thought-provoking statistics indicating just how uniquely American the problem of gun violence and gun culture is. For instance, the United States, with about 5% of the world’s population, has 42% of the world’s privately owned guns (41); that is, 4 out of 10 of ALL the privately-owned guns in the WORLD are owned by Americans; or, another way to think of this, we own 8x our share of the world’s guns.
  • A massive amount of context to help readers understand the history and the social and cultural specifics of our American gun culture. For instance, this includes (not an exhaustive list of what’s in the book):
    • discussion of the history of gun-making and -marketing in the US that provides some insight into how things got to be this way. It took at least 50 years (following the Civil War) and millions of dollars to create the kind of peacetime domestic market for guns we have in the United States. It was not accidental or incidental, but intentional.
    • Statistics and stories that put the toll from various kinds of gun-related deaths into perspective. How many children die, most often from wounds inflicted by the guns in their own homes; how many women die, most often from wounds inflicted by the guns owned by their intimate partners; how many men die from successful suicide attempts – because most suicide attempts fail, unless they involve guns, in which case they mostly don’t; and on and on and on.
    • Discussion of the history and role of the NRA in the current climate, including its role in suppressing the collection of basic data on gun-related deaths and injuries, the mandated destruction of data collected in the course of law enforcement activities, the opposition to common sense, public health style restrictions on the ownership of some kinds of guns and so on and on and on.
    • Discussions of various social dimensions of the culture of guns in the contemporary United States, including the affection many Christians—between 30 and 40% of Christians, depending on denomination—have for guns, and for using them, even to settle disputes over the Bible or to take revenge on someone who beats you in a sword drill (alas, not “fake news,” apparently) (190).
    • Debunking popular or widely-publicized misconceptions and fallacies about guns, gun ownership, and gun use.
  • Lots of theological reflection, connecting lots of dots: faith and trust and love that casts out fear; worship and the object(s) of worship and what they do for us, and whether it is God or instead is something [like an idol] that promises to make us “like God”—for instance, strong, secure, in control, the way guns do; the spirit of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and how that relates to reliance on guns; the need for transformation of heart and soul to practice Jesus’s “third way” of creative, surprising, fearless love-your-enemies-style human life.
  • Practical suggestions for common sense restrictions on some guns and some gun-related practices—such as, among many others, a proposal to limit handgun purchases by the same individual to one per month (as in, 12 per year max).

    It makes a lot of sense to almost everyone we’ve talked to, even our NRA-card-carrying family members. No one is talking about taking away hunting rifles or the pistol under the bed. It would just put a sensible limit on the number of handguns a person can buy. If you are buying more than a dozen a year, you may not be making the world a safer place … (250).

  • A lot of encouragement to work with other people who are working for change in the world, to make it a less violent place, in particular, in the US, by working on our addiction to violence and our determination to protect guns rather than people. Along with a passionate, and surprising, reflection on the

    … need to think through what an authentic political imagination looks like for Christians, who are citizens of heaven (Phil. 3.20) and who are in the world but not of the world” (246)

    because “[p]olitics affect people, and so one part of loving our neighbor is thinking about and advocating for policies that help them flourish” (246).

Beating Guns is persuasive, thoughtful, faithful, compassionate, and—as announced—hopeful. No coincidence, it’s also deeply Christian.

What I urge you to do:

  • Read this book.

UN Isaiah wall with inscription