“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord.”
— Isaiah 1:18
Another school shooting. Another nine kids and a teacher dead. This time in Texas. This time with Ted Cruz imploring prayers of support and the governor talking about legislation he plans to introduce “next week” that he admits would not have done much good “this week.” Pompous politicians pontificating, but no one saying anything much about guns.
Because in America, there is no conversation about guns. A conversation requires at least two people willing to consider opposing points of view. And we can’t find that many.
We have plenty of people willing to tell us what they think about guns. We even have a federal School Security Commission with four people who will tell you what they think: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (who thinks we should give teachers guns, because everybody knows more guns result in less gun violence), Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who likely will be too busy digging up research proving marijuana is only a little less addictive than heroin), Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen (who will make certain no Islamists or Mexicans are permitted to bring guns to school) and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar (who, after the last school shooting in Florida, suggested research by the Centers for Disease Control).
Perfect. More research. Because everybody knows that people in politics who can do something, do it, and people who can’t do, research.
But no matter how much research we do or how much support we drum up to support our own prejudices about guns, we are likely just to go on shouting slogans at each other. Until we are able to permit one another’s views, we will continue to see only so far as the inside of our own heads — and reason only so far as defending our own axioms.
But even if we were able to agree on one another’s axioms, our fellow Americans and fellow Mormons are still likely to make their crazy faces when the conversation is about guns.
This is partly because of the tragedy of those nine kids and a teacher dead in Texas, and the desire many of us have to find a reason, a scapegoat, to bear our shame in a world so existentially dangerous and without moral certainty. And partly it’s because those committed to “the gun culture” consider any modification of law that may limit the omnipresence of guns to be an attack on life, liberty and the American way — not to mention God, Mormon history and tradition.
Which means that Paul’s words about charity being “a more excellent way” fall on deaf ears when it comes to policies and practices surrounding guns. Thus, last year, 30,000 Americans, including Utahns, died because of gun violence. This year is likely to produce about the same number, many of them children. And while not all children can be saved from gun violence through legislation, neither will we save any by not passing legislation.
We don’t quote Isaiah as much as we once did because there is too much evidence that on this, and many other subjects, we are beyond reasoning with one another. We have proven that with guns or many other essential conversations, we are beyond reasoning. We’re Democrats or Republicans, for or against Trump, pro or anti-gun.
But even those who still trust in the scripture usually fail to quote the last of it:
“But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword.”
Or with the gun.
Robert Rees teaches religion at Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif., where he is director of Mormon Studies.
Clifton Jolley is a writer and president of Advent Communications in Ogden.