Why would I, an anti-gun pastor and mom, choose to spend a Saturday morning learning about guns, and even shooting a few herself? Read on!
On my very first Sunday at my current congregation last summer, someone approached me just a few minutes before I got up to lead worship, to let me know that he had put a “glock” in my office. Misunderstanding him at first, I finally realized what he had said. Someone had left a gun on the trunk of their car, and seeing it as a potential hazard, someone else brought it into the church and placed it for “safe-keeping” in MY office.
Fear was my initial response because 1) my toddler and mom were playing in my office and 2) I am terrified of guns and think they should be nowhere near a church building, let alone inside. One of our members, who happens to be our media/tech guy, was standing next to me when this came to my attention, and as we were running down the hall, he said to me, “I’m an NRA gun safety instructor. Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it.” And he did.
The end of the story was that one of our members had meant to place his gun in the trunk of the car, but forgot. Soon after this whole incident, it was back into the hands of the owner. I don’t think I need to know anything else about what happened to it after that.
But this got me thinking about several things.
One, of course, is that in the wake of mass shootings, gun violence in our communities, and global attention on the United States for our “addiction to guns” and the “gun problem,” I realized that my perspective is very one-sided.
Two, is that I am terrified of guns and know nothing about them. What kinds are out there, what do people use them for, why do people feel they need to own one (or several), and how to use one?
Three, I am in a season of my life where I feel the need to “step out of my box” and attempt to truly understand people with perspectives different than my own. Maybe this stems from my frustration with the divides over homosexuality in the United Methodist Church and how I struggle with those who disagree with my position. I try to hold fast to love for the other person first and foremost. But I confess that I sometimes I become angry, resentful, and bitter- not just with individuals, but with a denomination/institution that just can’t seem to get it together and go in a direction that I think we should go.
I confess that my personality is such that I have a really hard time accepting that my position could be wrong. I don’t think that it is, but someone else (many someones!) does. And that person is just as worthy to hold their opinion and position as I am. That is sometimes a hard and humbling realization, don’t you think?
I realized that it was the same way with me and gun control/gun rights. I have people in my congregation who own guns and feel strongly about their right to own them, and this is a topic that is widely discussed amongst my colleagues, friends, and in the national spotlight all the time. We hear about it the most, unfortunately, in the midst of a tragic situation.
So in the interest of expanding myself as a pastor and a person, I thought, what better way to immerse myself than to spend a day learning about guns and even shooting one?
And I could think of no better person than our tech guy at church- the one who saved me from myself that first morning at my new congregation, remember? His name is Alan, and I have very high respect for this man. I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to do this with anyone else! So, thank you, Alan, for your time and patience with me.
Corey came along for education and “moral support.” We spent the first part of our morning learning about different kinds of rifles, pistols, and firearms. We got to see and hold a variety of (unloaded) firearms, including the AR-15. We learned about gun safety, how guns work, and what to expect at a shooting range. I asked questions on legislation and different opinions on who can purchase guns, how, and why. And then we were off to the firing range to see some of the them in action.
I lasted about 25 minutes in the range. I never would have imagined I would be in a place like it. I recalled a time last year when I listened to a podcast sermon where a pastor visited a gun range and interviewed a person who worked there. 5 minutes into this portion of the sermon, I had to turn it off. The sounds of guns going off repeatedly was just too much for me. So it took me a good 5 minutes of standing in there (with ear protection) to not jump every time a gun went off.
Then it was my turn to shoot. The first 2 guns I shot were lighter and easier to shoot. One time I shot off one of the clips that hold the target. Corey about doubled over in laughter at that one. Good to know, however, that “it happens all the time…” especially with newbies such as myself 🙂
The 3rd one I shot was very powerful. In fact, I can still recall the feeling of shooting it even now as I’m typing. I’m a small person, and shooting that gun seemed like it sent a shockwave through my entire body. Some might say that they enjoy the powerful sensation of shooting a gun like that. I did not. I found it scary and disturbing. But at least I know now what it actually feels like. Ironically, the last gun I shot was the only time I got 3 holes onto the target paper! I’m not sure what that says about me!
I’m grateful for the experience. I’m grateful that I could take the time to learn about such a hot button topic in a safe, educated, and even loving manner. I’m thankful that I have trustworthy and respectful people to bounce ideas off of, to answer my questions, and to help me understand.
My positions have not changed- I feel strongly that we should have stricter gun laws and legislation, screening, and rules in place that keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them. I am one who believes that it is a gun problem AND a people problem. It is not just one or the other. But I feel that I have been changed by this experience in several ways, and that yet another wall has been broken down for me. At the end of the day, it’s good to remember it’s about people and their stories, and connecting on a personal level- trying to understand, taking time to educate yourself on what all is out there, and at the end of the day, loving one another, whether we agree with a position on something or not.
In this world of one-sided media and our personal “echo chambers,” we all need immersion experiences that remind us to get out of our boxes, break down our walls, and spend some time out there in the real world.
I wonder what wall I can begin to chip away at next.