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My Take: The thin line between God and guns
April 10th, 2013
06:45 AM ET

My Take: The thin line between God and guns

Editor's Note: The Rt. Rev. Edward J. Konieczny is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma. He was previously a police officer in Southern California.

By Edward J. Konieczny, Special to CNN

(CNN)  Both sides of the gun control debate think I’m on their side. I am the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, a believer in Jesus Christ and for more than 18 years before entering seminary, I was a police officer.

While I try to preach God’s love and mercy, I also have a concealed carry permit and sometimes take my gun on long drives through the isolated areas of my diocese.

I live with the knowledge that I share responsibility for the taking of a human life in the line of duty and that a good friend on the force was shot and killed after we’d swapped shifts. And I wouldn’t be writing this article if the rifle that was pointed at my head one night by a man in the grip of a mental illness hadn’t failed to fire.

Until very recently, I was adamantly opposed to any expansion of gun control. But as I have reflected on the current debate — and the emotionally charged and morally complex gun-related moments in my past — I find myself struggling and evolving in my understanding of guns in our society. I think it is time for an honest conversation about the assumptions on which both sides in the gun debate base their arguments. It's  time for both sides to acknowledge that neither offers a complete solution to the problems of violence in our society.

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In 1979, one of my best friends, a fellow police officer named Don, swapped shifts with me so I could play in a police softball tournament. During that shift, Don was escorting a man from a bar when the man pulled a semiautomatic weapon from his coat and shot Don in the chest. Don died at the scene.

The man who shot Don was a convicted felon, recently released from prison. He should not have been able to buy a gun, but he had bought the one he used and several others from a licensed dealer.

In 1982, I was leading a team of officers trying to catch a serial rapist who had escaped from prison. Acting on a tip, we spotted the suspect in a car he'd stolen from his latest victim. As he tried to run over us, several of us shot at him — causing him to lose control and crash into a telephone pole. When he tried to retrieve what we thought was a gun in the car, officers fired again, killing him. Although I wasn't among those who fired the final shots — and it's unlikely I fired the fatal one — I still feel partially responsible for his death.

In 1991, a few days before I was to leave the police department to enter seminary, I was dispatched to check on a man with a history of depression who had not responded to his family’s numerous attempts to contact him. No one responded to our knocking, and when my partner and I opened the door to his house, the man appeared directly in front of me with a rifle pointed at my head. He pulled the trigger, but the weapon did not fire.

Later we learned that the man had struggled with serious mental illness for years but was still able to purchase weapons.

My 18 years as a police officer taught me that the law has little influence on some people, that those people are dangerous and that individual citizens have a right to protect themselves. As a priest and bishop, I have walked with those who have lost loved ones to gun violence. And in the quiet of my own meditations, I often remember my friend Don, his wife and children.

By acknowledging the complex part that guns and gun violence have played in my own life, I have come to understand that it is possible, and reasonable even, to be both inured to and incapacitated by violence.

This happens to us as individuals, and it can happen to us as a society. We get used to living with something because we cannot bear the raw emotions we would have to confront to change it.

The horrific massacre in Newtown, Connecticut,  and the murders in other communities scream out to us. The unthinkable grief of the parents and grandparents who were called upon to bury their children and grandchildren make it clear to all of us that we have to face the raw emotions of gun violence whether we want to or not.

Clearly God’s command to practice mercy and justice requires us to formulate a comprehensive response to gun violence.

We need a reasoned conversation about existing privacy laws that protect the mentally ill but too often fail to protect our law enforcement officers and our citizens. We need conversations about movies and video games that desensitize our children to the effects of violence. We need conversations about loopholes in the laws that allow the sale of weapons at gun shows and by private dealers without proper background checks.

And yes we as a society need to have a reasoned conversation about the need for military-style assault weapons and large-capacity magazines in the civilian sector.

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We need not vilify gun owners nor make it unduly difficult to purchase and register a weapon.

There is no one wise enough to imagine every circumstance in which an individual might need a gun for protection or when a gun in the right hands might save innocent lives. But I would like my grandchildren to live in a world less violent than the one I have navigated, and it would be a moral failing if I refused to play my part in creating this world because I was too proud to change my mind or too mistrustful to work with people whose experiences may be different but who grieve as I grieve and share my prayers for peace.

We must proceed with humility. But we must proceed.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Edward J. Konieczny.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Crime • Episcopal • Opinion

soundoff (534 Responses)
  1. markinator

    As society continues to move forward in time, religious zealots are either stuck or moving backward. The organized religions are hemorrhaging followers, and for very good reason: As people become more educated, they know enough to reject the snake oil that religion offers. The people that will have the hardest time accepting that are the ones that formerly enjoyed being automatically right, when they've been wrong all along.

    May 24, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
  2. Science

    Free speech helps educate the masses................POLITICIANS too !!!
    Where do morals come from?

    By Kelly Murray, CNN

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/04/12/where-do-morals-come-from/#comments

    Gravity is not up for debate !

    BY the way ...................Splat goes a fairy in the sky !...............bye bye tinker bell !

    Einstein's Gravity Theory Passes Toughest Test Yet

    Apr. 25, 2013 — A strange stellar pair nearly 7,000 light-years from Earth has provided physicists with a unique cosmic laboratory for studying the nature of gravity. The extremely strong gravity of a massive neutron star in orbit with a companion white dwarf star puts competing theories of gravity to a test more stringent than any available before

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130425142250.htm

    Hey James Madison................religion has none it looks like.............with the comments on this blog.

    The Big question is ETHICS ! does religion have any ?

    The Ethics of Resurrecting Extinct Species

    Apr. 8, 2013 — At some point, scientists may be able to bring back extinct animals, and perhaps early humans, raising questions of ethics and environmental disruption.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130408165955.htm

    April 30, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |

    May 1, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |

    Dinosaur Egg Study Supports Evolutionary Link Between Birds and Dinosaurs: How Troodon Likely Hatched Its Young

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130418104324.htm

    And NO ANGELS the pope KICKED them OFF the TEAM last year !

    From Soup to Cells—the Origin of Life

    http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evo101/IIE2aOriginoflife.shtml

    the wrong path is Adam and Eve !

    Human Y Chromosome Much Older Than Previously Thought

    Mar. 4, 2013 — The discovery and analysis of an extremely rare African American Y chromosome pushes back the time of the most recent common ancestor for the Y chromosome lineage tree to 338,000 years ago. This time predates the age of the oldest known anatomically modern human fossils.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130305145821.htm

    No god(s) needed or required to graduate from public schools in the US

    Remember : Adam had to POKE himself hard with his OWN BONE to create Eve.

    No god(s) needed................... Old. DNA works..................also catches crooks !

    Ancient DNA Reveals Europe's Dynamic Genetic History

    Apr. 23, 2013 — Ancient DNA recovered from a series of skeletons in central Germany up to 7,500 years old has been used to reconstruct the first detailed genetic history of modern Europe.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130423134037.htm

    Ca-nabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®) – National Cancer Insti-tute

    http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/cannabis/.../page4

    Mar 21, 2013 – [1,2] These plant-derived compounds may be referred to as phytocannabinoids. ... have a protective effect against the development of certain types of tumors. ... In lung cancer cell lines, CBD upregulated ICAM-1, leading to ...

    Good stuff !

    The fact...............the earth is to old for this nonsemse ! Time to EVOLVE !

    Ancient Earth Crust Stored in Deep Mantle

    Apr. 24, 2013 — Scientists have long believed that lava erupted from certain oceanic volcanoes contains materials from the early Earth's crust. But decisive evidence for this phenomenon has proven elusive. New research from a team including Carnegie's Erik Hauri demonstrates that oceanic volcanic rocks contain samples of recycled crust dating back to the Archean era 2.5 billion years ago. Their work is published in Nature.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130424132705.htm

    For what...................... ? Make sure to read what the pope said !

    Where do morals come from?

    By Kelly Murray, CNN

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/

    Learning is fun with facts.......................... and facts work when teaching children.

    Atheist Prof. Peter Higgs: Stop calling Higgs boson the ‘God particle’

    Professor Peter Higgs said recently that there is no God and so people should stop referring to the theoretical partial that
    bears his name as the “God particle.”

    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/04/08/atheist-prof-peter-higgs-stop-calling-higgs-bosen-the-god-particle/

    Pope praises science, but insists God created world updated Thur October 28, 2010
    Stephen Hawking is wrong, Pope Benedict XVI said Thursday – God did create the universe. The pope didn't actually mention the world-famous scientist, who argues in a book published last month that the laws of physics show there is no need for a supreme... \

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/10/28/pope-praises-science-but-insists-god-created-world/

    Science

    Heaven is 'a fairy story,' scientist Stephen Hawking says updated Tue May 17, 2011
    By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor The concept of heaven or any kind of afterlife is a "fairy story," famed British scientist Stephen Hawking said in a newspaper interview this week. "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when...

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/17/heaven-is-a-fairy-story-scientist-stephen-hawking-says/

    April 7th, 2012

    08:32 PM ET

    The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/07/the-jesus-debate-man-vs-myth/comment-page-137/#comment-2281915

    Make sure to read comments

    April 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |

    Breaking News

    NASA: Three planets found are some of best candidates so far for habitable worlds outside our solar system.

    http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/18/us/planet-discovery/index.html

    May 3, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
  3. NCExile

    The comments that digress from the substance of this article typify the problem America has with gun violence: avoidance. Thanks for an excellent, thoughtful article. It's a great start to the work Congress has yet to do in addressing the bloodbath from too many guns in too many of the wrong hands.

    April 18, 2013 at 8:10 am |
  4. Micah Woolstenhulme

    If you are a minister of Christ, you would promote his message and his doctrine.

    Let me paraphrase. If someone punches you on the right side of the face, expose the left side of your face. Be a peacemaker. Give Caeser what belongs to him, and give up everything else you have to further Christ's message. For this you will receive eternal rewards in the next life. And regardless of wealth or lifestyle, we are all children of God.

    Is there any reason to ever use a gun? No, not in Christ's teachings, not even for self-defense. Good luck to the man who will have to answer to God that he pulled the trigger of a weapon aimed at one of his children.

    Do you believe what Christ taught? If you do, there is no thin line between God and guns. Rather, a vividly stark contrast. His doctrine is as radical now as it was 2,000 years ago. Stop invoking the name of Christ in vain until you actually believe what he taught.

    April 17, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
    • Which God?

      To Micha: Your village is looking for it's idiot. Hurry back.

      May 3, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  5. Over 40,000 denominations of insanity

    One sect calls homosexuality an abomination while the next one (over 4,000,000 members) in the same denomination is already performing gay marriage.

    One sect, the Westboro Baptist Church believes Americans are being killed at war because America is too kind to "fags".

    One sect believes women to be subservient, while another sect in the same denomination promotes equality between the sexes.

    One sect believes that Jesus and Satan were brothers and that Christ will return to Jerusalem AND Jackson County, Missouri.

    Some believe the Pope is the Anti-Christ. Some believe Obama is the Anti-Christ.

    Some believe that celibacy is the only option for certain people, or for certain people or positions. Many of the people from these same institutions advocate against abortion, but pretend not to understand the realistic benefit of the morning after pill or even basic contraception; their unrealistic wishful thinking is causing the death of many at the hands of disease.

    In the U.S. recently we learned of the head of Lutheran CMS chastising a minister of that church for participating in a joint service for the victims of the Newtown school shooting.

    Conflicted right from the very beginning, Christianity continues to splinter and create more extreme divisions as time goes by, constantly subjecting others in its crossfire.

    April 11, 2013 at 9:57 pm |
    • David Carr

      You seem to know enough to be critical, but not nearly enough to understand.

      April 12, 2013 at 2:02 am |
    • Pandamonius

      Unfortunately, this is what happens when humans mix with religion. One suddenly finds himself in a position of power, and all too often interprets his religion in such a way as to give him more power or to expand his power over others.

      I believe in God, I read the Bible and pray, but I am starting to believe that the real "anti-christ' is the Church itself, which as corrupted His teachings to justify their own desires.

      April 12, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • Salero21

      You're an anti-Christ too fool!

      You mean to tell us that you actually counted the 40,000 + denominations. Or are you just parroting some Roman Catholic Idolater Fallacy. Will you be able some day to see how foolish your repeti-tious asinine posting is?

      April 12, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
    • Over 40,000 denominations of insanity

      Common knowledge, Salero21 – try wikipedia for starters – keyword Christianity; then you might look less like a fool.

      April 12, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
    • Science

      With facts......................... no gods and politicians should know better !

      Where do morals come from?

      By Kelly Murray, CNN

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/

      Learning is fun with facts.......................... and facts work when teaching children.

      Atheist Prof. Peter Higgs: Stop calling Higgs boson the ‘God particle’

      Professor Peter Higgs said recently that there is no God and so people should stop referring to the theoretical partial that
      bears his name as the “God particle.”

      http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/04/08/atheist-prof-peter-higgs-stop-calling-higgs-bosen-the-god-particle/

      Pope praises science, but insists God created world updated Thur October 28, 2010
      Stephen Hawking is wrong, Pope Benedict XVI said Thursday – God did create the universe. The pope didn't actually mention the world-famous scientist, who argues in a book published last month that the laws of physics show there is no need for a supreme... \

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/10/28/pope-praises-science-but-insists-god-created-world/

      Science

      Heaven is 'a fairy story,' scientist Stephen Hawking says updated Tue May 17, 2011
      By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor The concept of heaven or any kind of afterlife is a "fairy story," famed British scientist Stephen Hawking said in a newspaper interview this week. "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when...

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/17/heaven-is-a-fairy-story-scientist-stephen-hawking-says/

      April 7th, 2012

      08:32 PM ET

      The Jesus debate: Man vs. myth

      http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/07/the-jesus-debate-man-vs-myth/comment-page-137/#comment-2281915

      A wedge !

      April 14, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • robin donald-deVallon

      which shows how depreeved of correct mental capability and capacity we as Americans are.... Donah..//

      April 25, 2013 at 9:53 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.