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From the Executive Director: An Easter Plea for Ending Gun Idolatry

By April 7, 2023May 5th, 2023No Comments

David Inoue

On Monday, March 27, we once again as a nation mourned another mass shooting event that took the lives of three young children and three teachers. There was once again near-universal agreement that the deaths were unnecessary and senseless. But that is where the agreement quickly ends.

The pro-death and killing side believes the answer is to promote gun ownership — the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. It is our God given and constitutional right to own guns. We can protect our children with more armed security in the schools and by sending them to school with bulletproof backpacks.

And damn any dissent from this orthodoxy of guns as we have seen in the Tennessee legislature, the state still raw from the pain of this most recent killing, where two Black men were ejected from that body for their participation in a mass protest of gun violence.

Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, both Black men and Jones also of mixed Filipino heritage, were expelled on a first-of-its-kind-purely-partisan vote in the Tennessee legislature.

All past expulsions in the modern era had been largely bipartisan and in response to egregious behavior by the expelled legislator such as bribery and sexual misconduct. Ironically, the first six times people were expelled was in the wake of the Civil War for legislators unwilling to recognize the citizenship of Black people.

And this is where we see the reality of the pro-gun lobby, the core of the basis of our nation’s love of guns as a means to oppress minorities, particularly Black people.

As the one person facing expulsion, but not being voted out, Rep. Gloria Jones responded to a question about why she was not voted out, “It might have to do with the color of our skin.”

Throughout history, gun rights have been applied unequally depending upon one’s race, just like citizenship and voting rights, which led to the expulsion of the post-Civil War Tennessee legislators.

Even though rights may have been given through the law, the application of the law meant that gun rights were only for white people. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was famously denied a permit to protect himself after his home had been firebombed.

From more recent news, NBA basketball player Ja Morant was publicly and rightfully so ridiculed for brandishing a gun in a social media post. And yet, if we consider that in contrast to Kyle Rittenhouse, who has been glorified for walking through the streets of Milwaukee and even using his gun on protesters, the double standard is clear.

It is good for white people to have guns and even to use them against those whom they disagree with, whereas it is reckless and dangerous for Black men, even if a famous basketball player, to carry a weapon.

Now, increased Black ownership of guns can be used to sell more guns to those who harbor racist beliefs that Blacks are the source of gun violence, despite the facts that state otherwise in most high-profile mass shootings.

The answer is not increased access to guns by Black people, but recognizing that we as a country have been promoting gun ownership by one segment of our population out of fear of others, and the media and news have been complicit in promoting this imagery of good gun ownership with white people and frightening gun ownership by Black people.

It is this fear that is actually used to promote further uptake in purchasing of more deadly and ridiculously unnecessary firepower.

The actions of the Tennessee House of Representatives are all about silencing and disempowering those they disagree with. They have used the power of the legislature rules to apply unequally to the Black representatives, Jones and Pearson.

Even more frighteningly, the alternative when these white supremacist legislators are unable to achieve their means through the misapplication of laws and policy, they will resort to violence. That is the result we had Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol. The message we are being given is that we must submit to an autocratic rule or face the consequences.

These past few weeks have been in the midst of the holiest of times for Christianity, Judaism and Islam. As a Christian, when we think of the proliferation of violence, and the central role that guns have played in that expansion of acceptability of violence as a solution, we do need to turn to the teachings of Christ, who taught nonviolence. Ironically, there is a growing theology on the right that teaches a Jesus that was ambivalent about the use of violence.

If we claim to be a Christian nation, gun violence is the one area where we truly need to start living to the ideal of our Christian faith and put an end to the escalation of violence and false idolatry of gun ownership.

David Inoue is executive director of the JACL. He is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.