Beating Guns is the recent book by social justice advocate Shane Claiborne and Mennonite blacksmith Michael Martin. In it, they argue that gun violence in America is not likely to be reduced without two key catalysts: the transforming love of Christ and “common-sense legislative reform.”
In that vein, they exhort readers to look anew at the Second Amendment: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
Of course as Claiborne and Martin point out, the gun envisaged by 18th century framers of the Constitution doth not equal the gun Americans bear today. That is, a sporadically reliable frontier musket that could fire at most two rounds per minute, and then only at a relatively short distance, is not the same as a modern AR-15 assault rifle which can shoot one hundred rounds per minute at distances of up to one-third mile.
The Second Amendment also speaks of “a well-regulated” use of guns. Unfortunately, advocates of the Amendment today miss this part and focus on the “necessity” and the “right” in the Amendment.
Throughout the book, Claiborne and Martin wonder what is to keep us from having both regulation and privilege in American ownership. Ironically, many American gun-owners are the first to push for this approach. The book tells of an organization of hunters whose premise is tighter gun control. That’s like Warren Buffet asking the President to tax the rich (which also happened, by the way, but that’s for another day).1
Exhibit one for Claiborne and Martin’s recommended common-sense gun reforms is the seemingly non-controversial proposal of limiting individuals to buying one assault rifle per month. So far, however, even that particular legislation—not to mention many like it—has not passed in America. Even in such basic proposals, powerful lobbies like the NRA (National Rifle Association) still manage to outgun the legislators. And for a reason:
From the history of how guns became mass produced (Chapter 3), to the disturbing symbiosis between guns and the video game industry (Chapter 14), to the list of common gun metaphors that circulate in common American English (page 200 lists well over a hundred), one can no longer dispute the facts: guns shaped, and are shaping, America. Of course gun reformers will draw fire.
An early chapter reiterates the folly of saying, as do many gun-rights diehards, that “guns don’t kill people, people do.” The problem, the authors argue, lies with both people and guns. Statistics prove that tighter laws can deal with many gun problems, certainly as a way to get a handle on rampant violence. Chapter 8 reports on how recent laws activated in other countries caused homicides and suicides to plummet.
Not all laws are futile. Just as some basic regulations make driving far safer—penalties for DUIs, tests for acquiring a license, and roadworthiness of vehicles, to name a few—so also a few basic gun laws have the potential to greatly improve American society by curbing the most extreme depravity of human violence.
The authors make a devastatingly strong case that gun control is needed in America. However, as Christians they also had to deal with a lingering conundrum: the finest gun laws in the world will not change the human heart. The part of the problem that lies with people must also be addressed; gun laws cannot eradicate violent and vengeful behavior from our hearts; we cannot “look to the government to solve all our problems (pg. 246).”
As for that which cannot be transformed by laws, here also the authors propose viable solutions. Their trademark idea, and the one from which the book’s title is derived, is that of “beating guns,” especially assault rifles, into garden tools (as well as other works of art such as musical instruments and candlestick holders). No matter the resulting tools, they all symbolize creativity, productivity, and cooperation—the antithesis of violence.
The term “beating guns” is a parody of the prophet Isaiah’s vision of a time when people would beat their swords into plowshares. The modern-day prophetic act has given Claiborne and Martin no shortage of interesting experiences. In one Beating Guns event, the duo were joined by “Republicans and Democrats, war vets and pacifists, old people and young kids, homeless folks and survivors of genocide,” all cooperating to work their “holy mischief.”
Also covered in the book is the redemptive story of Terri Roberts, mother of the shooter in the Nickel Mines tragedy. We learn that Mrs. Roberts has taken Rosanna, a survivor of the shooting who must eat through a feeding tube the rest of her life, under her wing. In turn, the local Amish ladies keep up a friendship with Mrs. Roberts and invite her to social functions.
Followers of Christ, whether or not they are interested in guns, will find much to ponder in the book’s overriding themes: the transforming nature of Christ-like love; creative ways to reclaim and redeem domain under the control of violence and Satan; increased awareness of a serious problem in American politics and society; and the reminder that except for hunting purposes, those who follow the “Prince of Peace” should not be associated with the gun culture.
Gideon Yutzy believes Christians should live as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it: “counter, original, spare, strange.” He is addicted to the thrill of encountering new people, new ideas, new skills, new words, and new levels of personal growth. Gideon lives with his wife Esther and their three daughters, Olivia, Charlotte, and Honor, in an Anabaptist community in Ireland.