The United States has a problem with violent crime. The FBI reports that the violent crime rate was 403.6 per 100,000 people in 2010. Firearms also play into these rates: 68% of murders, 42% of robberies, and 22% of aggravated assaults involved guns [data was not collected for rape]. Given this background, I was excited to come hear “The Gun Violence Prevention Storytelling Tour,” organized by Mennonite Central Committee East Coast, last Friday. Friday chapels are meant to be forums for discussion, and so I was looking forward to seeing what stance would be taken.
I was disappointed. There were a few good moments. In a powerful short film Celmali Jaime shared her family’s experience with gun violence. Luke Shrock-Hurst extended an invitation to witness a local neighborhood gun-show that day, which implicitly invites dialogue. But overall, the chapel was a hodgepodge of statistics, polemic statements, story, and film. The binding thread was guns, but the talk hopped between various topics in a schizophrenic manner. Beyond presentation, there were significant problems with the talk.
The most significant problem was that the planners seemingly made the assumption that the audience was made up entirely of left-leaning pacifists. The result was an abrasive message that was not conducive to good discussion.
The tour presented the anti-gun violence message in a way that was incredibly distasteful. The key example was the closing song “Jesus Joined the NRA,” which the singer was inspired to write after seeing a copy of the gun magazine The Shooter’s Bible. It featured such lines as “first he was a carpenter now he’s become a soldier” and “he used to raise people from the dead, now he’s going to fill them full of lead.” The song lambasted Christians who owned guns.
Uncomfortable messages are acceptable if they promote fruitful discussion, but “The Gun Violence Prevention Storytelling Tour” failed on two accounts here. First, the conversation was not framed positively. The topic was muddled from the outset by the poor presentation. Important distinctions were blurred. There was no conversation about illegal and legal guns, and the differences between different types of gun ownerships was ignored.
Secondly, opposing arguments were ignored or mocked. In the video shown, a NRA member offered a position of support to the tour, noting that illegal guns were a problem that could be addressed while retaining the legality gun ownership.
His perspective was ignored by the commentary of the speakers, who did not acknowledge such a possibility. The final song reinforced this by removing the dignity of gun owners. Gun violence is an issue, but chapel did it an injustice.
Joel Nofziger, Co-Editor In Chief