Blues musician Anders Osborne, born in Sweden, but now resident in Louisiana, recorded the hard-hitting Five Bullets for his 2013 album Peace. The emotionally charged song is driven by a repeated heavy guitar riff and rap-paced lyrics. There is no one story fully told here, but there are two tragic tales hinted at – in the first verse, the police are called, the shooter has escaped, and the “tears of a mother scream through the night.” In the second verse, a white sedan comes into view, and then “Shots ring out by the grocery store, Everybody down, hit the floor!”
The verses are punctuated by “Boom, boom, boom, that American sound, Teen-aged kids on the naked ground.” We can easily fill in the details of each story from the tragic ones we hear on the news every day. That “boom, boom, boom,” is in many ways, in terms of its frequency at least, a very “American sound.”
Osborne separates his tragic gun violence stories by recalling the celebration of Martin Luther King Day, when “we all have a dream.” Sadly that dream was shattered for the victims of the scores of school shootings all over the US over the past forty years, and the 11,419 people who were killed last year and all the other victims from previous years. “Some kind of wrong you can never make right,” sings Osborne, expressing the outrage and disbelief that the firearms industry could be more important than the lives of innocent children.
As well as the 11,419 gun deaths last year in the United States, the firearm-related homicide rate was higher than that of any other industrialized country – 20 times higher in fact than the rates in other high-income countries. Every year an average of more than 100,000 people are shot, 289 a day. Between 2000 and 2010, a total of 335,609 people died from guns – more than the population of St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Newark, and Orlando. Shockingly nearly three times more children (15,576) were injured by firearms in 2010 than the number of U.S. soldiers (5,247) wounded in action that year in the war in Afghanistan.
The numbers make for sombre reading and cry out for a change in firearms legislation. And yet the voices shrilly proclaiming the right to bear arms, no matter what the cost, still speak loudly.
Lieutenant General William G. “Jerry” Boykin was the United States Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence under President George W. Bush from 2002 to 2007 and is a conservative Christian political activist. Boykin recently gave a speech at the WallBuilders’ Pro-Family Legislators Conference, in which he talked about his understanding of the second coming of Christ, which, apparently, he believes will be led by a blood-stained, gun-toting Jesus armed with an AR-15 assault rifle!
Boykin said, “The Lord is a warrior and in Revelation 19 it says when he comes back, he’s coming back as what? A warrior. A might warrior leading a mighty army, riding a white horse with a blood-stained white robe … I believe that blood on that robe is the blood of his enemies ’cause he’s coming back as a warrior carrying a sword…And I believe now – I’ve checked this out – I believe that sword he’ll be carrying when he comes back is an AR-15.
Now I want you to think about this: where did the Second Amendment come from? … From the Founding Fathers, it’s in the Constitution. Well, yeah, I know that. But where did the whole concept come from? It came from Jesus when he said to his disciples ‘now, if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.’ And the sword today is an AR-15, so if you don’t have one, go get one. You’re supposed to have one. It’s biblical.”
The General has apparently and conveniently forgotten the whole thrust of Jesus’s teaching about loving your enemies, turning the other cheek and how his kingdom was not a violent one like that of the Romans. So although the right to bear arms might happen to be in the US Constitution, it sure as shootin’ sure ain’t in the New Testament. Go count up the number of times God and peace are mentioned in the same sentence – it doesn’t tally with Boykin’s extraordinary vision of an AK-15 wielding, blood-stained Messiah.
A few years ago on a flight back to Europe from the US, I sat beside a friendly elderly gentleman who told me he was the president of a conservative Christian university in a Southern State. During our conversation he felt he needed to explain carefully to me just why he and everybody else in the country should carry a loaded gun. Like Willie Dixon says in his 1984 song It Don’t Make Sense You Can’t Make Peace about our inability to live peacefully, despite our scientific progress – the college president’s argument didn’t make much sense then and it still doesn’t. Strange how so-called Christians such as Boykin or my fellow air passenger have ripped out so many pages of their New Testaments.
St. Paul in his letter to Jesus-followers in Rome, in words which clearly follow the words of Jesus, advised them “not to repay anyone evil for evil,” to “live at peace with all people,” not “to get revenge for yourselves,” but to “overcome evil with good.” We’re a long way away here from Boykin’s gun-toting Jesus. Eric Bibb’s got the right end of the stick – check out his song Got to do better:
Confrontation after confrontation for too many years
Stones & bullets flyin’ through the air, Wounded dyin’ on the ground
We need total revision of the way we understand…
We’re supposed to be learning to love one another.
For Bibb, the answer to violence is not more violence – as Gandhi is reported to have said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” The answer is Jesus’s golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. People like Boykin might like their Jesus to conform to their own particular violence-sanctifying worldview – the real Jesus can’t be made serve such a miserable approach to life.