There comes a time in life when you realize that if a small town you know makes it into the news headlines, it is likely tragic. So it was when I read this morning that a man in Mercer, Pennsylvania—just a few miles from where I grew up—shot and killed his 7 year-old son, by accident. I grew up in a part of the country that has a love affair with guns. This may have been understandable in the days when a stroll to the outhouse could mean chancing a bear or cougar encounter, but these days bear sightings are rare and cougars, well, almost unheard of. The man was trying to trade in a couple of guns at Twig’s Reloading Den. Climbing back into his truck, the handgun discharged, killing his son. This is very tragic, yet the officer making a statement said something chilling. The man thought the gun was unloaded but, “This happens all too often where people think the gun was empty.” All too often. All too often.
I grew up in western Pennsylvania, and if Facebook is anything to go by, it has become consistently more Evangelical since I left. And that is saying something. In my younger days I wore a large cross around my neck and took my fair share of ribbing for being religious. Now I see those with whom I attended school posting on all manner of conservative causes, including the contradictory anti-abortion and loosening of gun control. This is not a phenomenon restricted to western Pennsylvania. At Nashotah House it was alive and well. Several students kept guns in their dorms, protested against the violence done to the unborn, yet called killing heretics “retroactive abortion.” It was their smiles when they said such things that frightened me. Wait until they grow up to kill them.
Like any insecure person I sometimes think a gun for protection might be good. I especially think this when I’m in the grizzly bear habitat of the Pacific Northwest, miles from civilization. I picture myself shooting into the air with a rifle that out-Thors thunder itself, a mighty man. Yet the only time I actually saw a grizzly bear I immediately jumped out of the car to snap a picture or two. I dream of going back to the days before guns were invented, but this evil genie has been let out of the bottle. There’s no getting it back in. Are we vulnerable without guns to “protect” us? Yes. But my reading of the Bible my Evangelical friends so often cite insists that turning the other cheek is the way to show that you believe it. A seven-year-old is dead not far from my hometown. His father was trying to sell guns at a store that doesn’t even buy guns. The boy died in the gun store, and yet my fellow Americans feel safer knowing they’re armed. I hope your hometown stays out of the news.