NOTE: Every now and then, every author discovers that an editor has so changed one of his articles as to be an entirely different article, an article in which his voice is barely recognizable. Such was the case recently on another site. That is the nature of the publishing business. They pay you for your work, they get to edit it as seems good for their purposes. I don’t begrudge them that.
This particular article is an example. Perhaps you’ll enjoy it in its original form, as I intended.
In Charleston, and in every American town, there are several buildings of note. Among them, the courthouse, and a church–any church. In the courthouse, lawyers and judges ply their trade, and the rule of law is worshiped, and sometimes, vindicated. In the church, men, women and children of all races come together to worship God in faith and fellowship. The inhabitants of both buildings acknowledge the existence of evil, and its unceasing work among us, but they have very different ways of dealing with that recognition.
Both, virtually everywhere, are gun-free zones, places where the honest, law-abiding citizen, people with malice toward none, are not allowed to defend their lives and the lives of those they love. These are places where the only fundamental inalienable right that truly matters is denied them. After all, if one has no right to defend their life, what does any other right matter?
At the courthouse, there are metal detectors at the entrances, and armed security–usually law enforcement officers–not only posted at the doors, but patrolling the halls and usually in the courtrooms. The lawyers and judges working in that building have a very clear understanding of the ever present danger evil presents, and a very great appreciation for the value of their own lives, and so they have taken steps, at public expense, to protect their lives. They have the power and authority to take those steps, and the truth be told, many of them carry concealed weapons. Who, after all, will arrest them for violating a law that common citizens must obey on threat of imprisonment?
At the church, there are no metal detectors. There are seldom, if ever, armed security personnel present. This is in part because few churches have the money to pay them, even if they are inclined to recognize the need. No public funds for churches. In some states where churches are gun free zones, worshipers may carry concealed weapons with the express permission of the minister, but few are inclined to give such permission. Are the lives of the men, women and children attending the church of less value than the lives of lawyers and judges? The laws preventing them from preserving their lives would seem to suggest they are.
As most Americans now know, on the evening of June 17, 2015, a 21 year-old man entered a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina and at 2106, shot and killed six women and three men, including the pastor, state Senator Clementa Pinckney. As this article is written, the killer, who would want his name mentioned here, has already been apprehended. We will, no doubt, learn more about his motivation in the near future. Early news reports, which have a tendency to be wrong, suggest the killer used a .45 caliber handgun received from his father in April as a birthday gift. He apparently has a minor arrest record and was arrested in March on a drug charge of some kind. Some reports suggest he reloaded five times, which if true, might suggest he used a 1911 pattern handgun, which has a standard magazine capacity of only seven rounds. [It was apparently a Glock .45, which the killer bought himself]
President Obama immediately held a press conference where he said that at “some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.” As with much else, he is entirely wrong. Some of the worst mass shootings in history, distant and recent, have happened in Beslan, North Ossetia, Paris, Norway, and elsewhere. President Obama has an unfortunate tendency to blame America first, last and always, and there will be many who join him in claiming this attack happened because America has a Second Amendment. Their “solutions” will, as always, require the surrender of essential liberties.
Because the killer is white and the victims were black, members of a primarily black church, many have labeled this a hate crime. Perhaps, under the law, it will qualify. It is certainly, a hateful crime, a manifestation of raw, vicious evil. While prosecuting the killer for a hate crime may help fill the coffers of some, may help some make political points, and may make some feel better, it will mean little in the face of nine counts of premeditated murder.
Now we ask the usual questions: why did he do it? How can such cruelty be prevented?
According to some reports, the killer said he wanted to kill black people. He may stick to that script, but the horror is he may have done it for no reason more compelling than he wanted to do it. Perhaps he wanted a sort of twisted fame. Perhaps he is nothing more than one of the innumerable sociopaths walking among us every day and June 18 was the day he chose to seek infamy. Perhaps he did it merely because he wanted to see what it was like to kill people. It may, regardless of what he says, and what motivations others wish to ascribe to him for personal or political reasons, have been no more complex than that: he wanted to do it, and he liked it.
If so, that will be upsetting to many, for we want to believe that there are concrete reasons for such things, reasons that should allow us to anticipate such apparent madness and to stop it before anyone is hurt. If that is his true motivation, many will have to deny it. They’ll have to impose their beliefs, for if they don’t, their favored policies–particularly those involving gun control, the taking of liberty–can’t be forced on an unwilling populace.
What more will have to deny is the very existence of evil. The killer may simply have been evil. Whether one believes Satan to be the author of evil, or merely believes evil to be a moral choice made by human beings absent supernatural influence is essentially irrelevant. Far too many have to deny its existence at all costs because if it exists, there is nothing we can do to prevent such attacks, even in churches, perhaps particularly in churches. What greater deranged victory for the forces of evil than killing those worshiping God in his house? For those pushing the disarmament of the law-abiding, acknowledging the existence of evil renders all of their policies useless.
Magazine capacity limits? Irrelevant always. Mandatory background checks between father and son? From what is known in this case, such a check would have made no difference at all. The killer had no record that would have stopped a transfer. He could have borrowed or stolen a gun, and was old enough to have bought one [contemporary accounts suggest this is what he did]. Double or triple secret gun free zones? Single zones haven’t been so hot.
The lawyers and judges in courthouses, by their actions designed to allow them to protect their lives, clearly acknowledge the existence of evil, at least intellectually. The legislators of the several states, in their state houses, do the same. An understanding of Christian theology reveals that Christians acknowledge the existence of evil, yet that acknowledgement too seems to be only intellectual. Unlike lawyers, judges and legislators, they do not, for the most part, act on it.
Why should innocents be denied the ability to protect their lives in a church? Are their lives of greater value on the sidewalk in front of the building than inside it? But it’s God’s house! It’s holy ground! Instruments of violence have no place therein! Weapons will disturb the very atmosphere of the church! Not nearly as much as the blood of innocents.
Firearms have no moral agency. They formulate no intent, good or evil. And they do save lives, as in the case of an attack on a Colorado Springs, CO church in 2007. The killer, who would like to be mentioned here, attacked a missionary center, killing two and wounding two. He traveled 80 miles and attacked the New Life Church where Jeanne Assam was one of the members of the church allowed to carry a concealed weapon. The killer murdered two teenaged sisters and wounded their father in the parking lot. When he entered the church, Assam engaged and killed him. No one else was injured. If Assam had not been present, if no one was armed, countless more innocents would have died. Unquestionably, Assam used her handgun to stop evil.
In the coming weeks, there will be the usual calls for more and more draconian gun control measures, despite their failure everywhere. People of faith must realize that evil is more than parable, more than metaphor, that it is among us and waiting its chance to wound, maim and kill the innocent, anywhere and at any time. Victim disarmament zones encourage evil, making even greater destruction and suffering not only possible, but likely. As the parables of the Bible are intended to move the Christian to action, so too must the realization of the existence of evil.
The members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church probably believed, intellectually, that such horror was possible, but also believed it was unlikely to occur among them. They now know better.
In courthouses, schools, and in churches, the only thing that can and will stop an evil man with a gun, is a good man with a gun, a man who recognizes that evil can enter the sanctuary at any time. Being ready or helpless is the ultimate moral choice.