Scapegoat the AR-15

Yesterday I signed and shared on Facebook an online petition to ban the AR-15 semi automatic weapon, used to kill so many Saturday night in Orlando. Others signed and shared as well, and of course it garnered discussion between folk who disagree on the issue of gun control. Those who oppose limiting access to weapons like the AR-15 seem to come down to this: banning this particular weapon will not curb mass violence. One friend offered that actually other weapons are used more frequently in mass shootings; another shared a chart showing the assault weapons ban of the 90s had minimal impact, because weapons not included in the ban were used. Those arguments are fair enough, but they actually argue in favor of broadening a ban on guns. I'm focusing on the AR-15.

Just a couple of weeks ago the HBO series REAL SPORTS aired a discussion of the AR-15, the assault rifle used by the military in war (known as the M16 in military parlance). Over the last decade or two it has been heavily marketed to consumers, even youth, as a hobby, such as competitive shooting events. This civilian access has also resulted in the AR-15 being used in mass shootings like Sandy Hook, San Bernadino, and Sunday in Orlando. Here's a link to a portion of that segment, an extended interview with a lobbyist from one of the primary gun advocacy groups:

The entire segment also included a discussion with one of the original designers of the M16. He spoke about how the weapon and its ammunition are designed for maximum destruction of its targets- again it's been the primary weapon of choice for the military since the Vietnam War. There was also an interview with a mother of a child murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary. If you can find the entire segment it's worth watching, though obviously emotional.

It is absolutely true that banning the AR-15 will not solve society's evils, and that folk determined to do mass harm to innocents will still find ways to do so. I also concede that the government cannot, and should not, be the only way to mitigate violent behavior. But neither should government do nothing to protect its citizens. Somebody must do something. The AR-15 must go.

In the Bible there is a way for the community to deal with its collective sin and guilt. Leviticus 16 describes the events for the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. The High Priest, Aaron, the brother of Moses, brings two goats into the Tabernacle. One goat is sacrificed on the altar on behalf of the people's sin. The other goat is left alive:

"Then Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness" (16:21-22).

That living goat, carrying the sin of the people and sent into the wilderness, is called the scapegoat.

It's time to scapegoat the AR-15. In many ways this is a symbolic gesture- the gun and the goat. There is a reason Yom Kippur is an annual observance. People are sinful. Sin destroys our collective, and individual, relationship with God. We sin again and again. Neither the sacrificed nor the released goat inoculate the people from future sin. But it was important enough to make things right with God. Banning the AR-15 will not solve our gun violence problems. But it is a necessary start.

Tomorrow my family is going to Chicago on holiday for several days. I will be thinking of gun violence during that trip as well, as Chicago is one of America's most violent cities. Here's a great NEW YORK TIMES article chronicling the recent Memorial Day weekend in the Windy City, when 60+ were shot and six killed:

Gun violence has to be addressed- and not just with prayers and blogposts. We have to act. I once heard Dr John Ed Mathison, then the lead pastor at Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery, AL, say this:

"Prayer doesn't change things. Prayer changes people, and people change things."

I'm not sure how, or why, that stuck with me, but it did, and if we are going to do anything about gun violence we must act. So pray. Not just for comfort for the victims and families of tragedies like The Pulse in Orlando or Sandy Hook or Virginia Tech or the streets of Chicago, but for people to be changed. That our leaders will have the will to do what is right. That they will be so changed that they will change things. Starting with the AR-15.

It has to go.