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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. omeany

    Edward J. Konieczny has laid out some very valid reasons for owning and carrying a handgun. I wish everyone who owns and carries a gun was as reasonable as he is. I've actually been considering getting one for the house myself.

    My concern is not for those who want to carry a handgun for protection but rather the folks that believe in guns and the bible who believe the government is coming for their guns any minute so they buy an arsonal. These folks seem to be poised to start another civil war at the least provocation. I'm not anti gun but I do believe in background checks and banning military grade weapons. (The military can define what weapons are designed for war only).

    April 10, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
    • Whataboutthis

      Thats pretty much all guns, you may not have intended that in your statment. But Muskets, Lever Action Rifles, Shotguns (Breach/Pump/Semi), Bolt action rifles, Revolvers, Semiautomatic Magazine Fed Rifles and Pistols, all military grade

      April 10, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
  2. SurelyUjest

    I am happy to see a person who was firmly on one side of this debate finally say "its time to talk about the issue". It is very clear that this man has reason to believe in both the common sense of looking at what kind of weapons should be legal (not ALL kinds only a reasoned debate over what is best for society), what the capacity of those weapons should be, what ways can we make sure folks with mental illness and prior offenses cannot break existing laws and purchase one. What is so hard about these issues. If I bring the issue up to some folks it is like I am threatening to kill thier first born? I am a gun owner, I believe in the 2nd ammendment whole heartedly. I also believe I don't want my son to grow up in a world where its so easy for a sick person/badperson/good person who has just hit a period of crisis in his/her life/or a idealogical fanatic to get a gun and kill innocents and unarmed persons. The answer is NOT to force people to carry a gun, the answer is NOT to fight fire with fire. The answer is to look forward to a more peaceful, loving and intelligent future for all.

    April 10, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
    • Spakole

      Yes Surely, I agree....its called living in fantasyland. good luck with that.

      April 10, 2013 at 5:04 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      To Spakole: in 1949 someone would have said the same thing about integration, in 1915 a person may have said a similar comment about women getting the right to vote. Look forward, stop acknowledging the same brickwalls we all see today. Look foward.

      April 10, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
    • Spakole

      Surely, integration and womens voting rights were about GIVING rights to people, not taking them away. try thinking a little harder next time instead of lighting that joint and going along with the LALA crowd.

      April 10, 2013 at 5:29 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      To Spakole: Just think you lost the right to NOT wear your seat belt, you lost your right to breath a smokers smoke in a public place, you lost your right to own a fully auto weapon (without special licenseing) you lost your right to stop women from voting, you lost your right to count slaves as 1/5th of a person, you lost your right to shoot trespassers on site. Are these really bad rights to lose? Why do you focus on making fun of someone who has a different opinion rather than have a real conversation? All I am encouraging here is some reasoning and fair honest discussion about a very important subject. I am a gun owner I own 5 weapons. I am NOT against guns, I am NOT agains the 2nd ammendment so unless you want to man up and talk without insults and comments that make you feel superior stay off the blog.

      April 10, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Spakole

      Surely, go ahead, I will give you the last word.

      April 10, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
  3. TimelessRanch

    Something is not adding up here. You believe in Jesus Christ but you carry a gun. Isn't Jesus Christ supposed to protect you? Or if he decides your time has come wouldn't you be going against Jesus' will by defending yourself?

    April 10, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
    • .

      Jesus can protect against the evils of the soul. However, white christians feel they should be armed up in case there get to be too many brown people.

      April 10, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
    • Brad76

      If you don't know what you're talking about keep your mouth closed. God/Jesus doesn't float around physically saving people from dangerous situations, you do not understand the concept of free will.

      April 10, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
    • dumbasfock

      No. You wouldnt. See the Bible for details. Particularly the gospels. Look for something akin to "sell your coat and buy a sword". Its easy to find if you try.

      April 10, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
    • EdG

      Yes. You are right. Jesus said "whosoever lives by the sword shall die by the sword" and he instructed his two armed disciples to put away their weapons.

      April 10, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
  4. Mohammid Shaffique-Kaddir

    Ishallah Allah will bring peace to the world . In Islam , we use guns to bring peace . We fight the Infidel and kaffir , as Allah commands , to conquer the world for Allah . Non Muslims should never haave weapons , only Muslims can have weapons . The world belongs to Allah and Allah alone . Islam is peace . Islamophobia makes America less safe . Convert to Islam and know peace today .

    April 10, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
    • sam

      Did you want to stick that sideways or straight up? I'll let you decide.

      April 10, 2013 at 4:45 pm |
    • Brad76

      sigh...

      April 10, 2013 at 4:49 pm |
    • EdG

      Your name is really John Smith. You are a Baptist. You are trying to stir religious hatred. Shame on you.

      April 10, 2013 at 4:53 pm |
    • Jim

      May the fleas of a thousand camels come to rest in your armpits. I don't need a gun to take you down jockey boy.

      April 10, 2013 at 4:56 pm |
    • ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

      Right in truth is domain of every human and defend his right is a right of every human, forget it, any one in following of truth absolute in life has right to bear arm, not just the one choose to call them self Muslim, and do not live by Theen Allah, consti tution of truth absolute.

      April 10, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
  5. steve

    Background checks for all gun purchases does not interfere with law bidding citizens right to own guns. It does not in anyway. The proponents of gun background checks make a huge illogical leap that if background checks were preformed then the government may come and take my weapon. That's just an illogical assumption.

    April 10, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • l in nyc

      Along the same note, does anyone need 10+ bullets in their chamber? Does anyone need an automatic weapon? Again, I'm not saying that people can't have guns (though you see more and more stories everyday of why people shouldn't be able to carry them at all), but they don't need ones that can cause mass destruction by pulling a single trigger.

      April 10, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • Darryl

      I have no problem with background checks for all sales of guns save two.

      1. When does the information that a background check get destroyed so that the governement doesn't keep a list of who owns guns? That's kind of the point of the 2nd Amendment, that we can defend ourselves against our own governement if it ever came to that and we don't need them know who has guns and who does if it does come to that one day.
      2. Do we really believe that felons still won't get their guns off the streets that are stolen?

      Posted by an avid, life long hunter and the owner of 12 various "legal" guns.

      April 10, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • EdG

      It's illogical to assume that citizens armed with pistols and rifles would prevail against a nuclear armed Federal government. Our system is designed to be self-sustaining and self-correcting. We elect our leaders. We don't shoot them. When the system is dysfunctional, as it is now because of undue corporate influence, we correct the dysfunction. We don't kill people.

      April 10, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
  6. Larry Winkler

    Okay, now. Where does this author stand? He doesn't, seems to me. He just strung a bunch of words together. Just a long fortune cookie message, but less clear.

    April 10, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
    • Mo

      Where the author personally stands on the issue isn't the point of his article.

      April 10, 2013 at 4:41 pm |
    • EdG

      He's saying Jesus would pack heat but would be regretful after he gunned down a Philistine.

      April 10, 2013 at 5:00 pm |
  7. gladiatorgrl

    what this guy doesn't get is "we the people" aren't real comfortable with people who believe in imaginary creatures owning guns and self righteous ones turn to groups like the Christian Taliban and Hutaree style militias

    April 10, 2013 at 4:18 pm |
    • Marcus Tridellas

      Yea! You don't believe in God and are therefore smarter than everyone else. Pat yourself on the back and go grab a cookie fool.

      April 10, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • Brad76

      Still trashing peoples rights and practicing authoritative Marxism eh?

      April 10, 2013 at 4:50 pm |
    • sam

      Marcus, what would you like to share with the class? Do you hear imaginary voices and pray to non existent deities?

      April 10, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
    • .

      Taking bets now that Brad has no idea what Marxism actually is....

      April 10, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
  8. K-switch

    "A WELL REGULATED militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

    WELL REGULATED

    ...ANd for that matter, shouldn't membership in a militia be a prerequisite to gun ownership?

    April 10, 2013 at 4:17 pm |
    • Bob

      "The right of the people" is what it says. It mentions that in the First and Fourth amendments as well. That's a personal right. Also, the rights are not CREATED by the Bill of Rights, they are only RECOGNIZED by it. So when it says the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, it means the right THAT ALREADY EXISTS shall not be infringed. The militia reference is just the REASON that they are bringing this right up and giving it special mention in the Bill of Rights.

      April 10, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
    • ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

      Freedom fighters were a militia , not a regular army, it was not recommended, USA to have an Army.

      April 10, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
    • ME II

      Perhaps it is a reason for the right but not a prerequisite to exercise that right?

      April 10, 2013 at 4:33 pm |
    • JSB

      If you aren't smart enough to read the US Code...10 USC § 311 specifically. If you are a male between 18 and 45 you are a part of the militia.

      April 10, 2013 at 6:40 pm |
  9. hippypoet

    aren't you nice!

    April 10, 2013 at 3:58 pm |
  10. David Hollingsworth

    I like that comment about automobiles and drivers licenses, but (at least in NY) a drivers license is a privilege; bearing arms is a right. It's the interpretation of this that's the problem. Voting is also a right as is free speech, free press, etc BUT there are regulations , requirements and restrictions on the exercising of these rights, so why not with firearms? I have owned and used firearms a good part of my life – rifles, shotguns and even handguns. But what civilian needs military assault rifles and machine guns? They just recently had a case in Texas where a student went after schoolmates with a weapon that was not a gun. In Germany, where they have stricter gun laws than the States, there are still a helluva lot of violent crimes with hammers, knives, tireirons,etc, so gun laws will NOT prevent killings!

    April 10, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • drep

      "They just recently had a case in Texas where a student went after schoolmates with a weapon that was not a gun"

      Yes, and lo and behold not a single person died.

      If he had used an AK47 we would be corpse counting.

      Thanks for proving the gun control side of the debate.

      April 10, 2013 at 3:46 pm |
  11. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    Words to fear from your government, "Don't worry, we're here to help you."

    April 10, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • gladiatorgrl

      most insane don't like it when people "help" them we get that

      April 10, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
    • DARTH CHENEY

      Words to fear when you're paranoid: _________ (fill in the blank with anything).

      April 10, 2013 at 4:39 pm |
  12. SAAB

    This guy, Konieczny, is just confused. He needs more a good psychiatric than God.

    April 10, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
  13. hippypoet

    The difference between a philosopher's mind and everyone else's is the ceaseless questioning of life's quandary. Where others accept and go about life, we wonder how and why. From the age of reason we, thinkers, feel the burden to ask where others dare not. We do not often get answers but at times the act of questioning alone is a statement of such grand magnitude that actions are taken to change mankind and how we live due to it. Even lacking answers, we persist. We do not believe. We do not act without forethought. We live as if life was meant to be questioned and we live unknowing of what answers we will find. We never stop questioning. Atheists of every age are philosophers in their own right. Consider perhaps it is the atheists of the past that all civilizations of the present owe their thanks and existence to for without the philosophers our ancestors may have never left the cave...

    The Hippy Poet

    April 10, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
    • TCS

      Yo HP, that prose is the mad note yo! Quit bogartin' the GF and pass the dutchie on de left bruddah!

      April 10, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Hippy Lives

      I wudda swore u was in Gitmo by now dude

      The battle continues!

      April 10, 2013 at 2:37 pm |
    • DIE HIPPY

      go hug a tree and die!
      is that logical?!
      @sshat!

      April 10, 2013 at 3:48 pm |
    • Robert Brown

      Philosophers like Plato?

      April 10, 2013 at 4:02 pm |
    • hippypoet

      if your going where I think your going – I never said that philosophers weren't religious, I said that atheists are philosophers in their own right.

      April 10, 2013 at 4:16 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      You also said present civilization owes itself to atheists of the past. While there may be isolated incidences of atheistic contributions to civilization, the preponderance of the western world has been built on the Judeo-Christian ethic and philosophy. Get off the ganja

      April 10, 2013 at 4:37 pm |
    • sam

      Bill, what are you on, then? How are you able to tolerate your own delusional bullshit day after day?

      April 10, 2013 at 4:48 pm |
    • hippypoet

      Bill, don't think I've had the pleasure...

      But to your point: You are correct and hugely wrong. Philosophers question and that was the premise, questioning is why we know what we do about what we know about opposed to mere belief of said world!

      April 10, 2013 at 5:01 pm |
  14. Reasonably

    Do you really think Jesus would be a gun owner?

    April 10, 2013 at 2:25 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      You mean the jesus fabricated from the mithra myth? Sure why not? I bet he would of carried a concealed pink-handled 9mm Nano nestled near his magical but non-functioning package...

      April 10, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
    • Diraphe

      Considering they carried swords it is reasonable to assume they would carry the historically appropriate equivalent

      April 10, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
    • Reasonably

      Jesus wasn't a myth – just like Bhudda isn't a myth. What they were turned into via fable and story are myths...

      That said, my question is still unanswered by someone with real insight to christianity (yes, a myth-based cult, fine) and gun ownership.

      April 10, 2013 at 6:53 pm |
  15. GaryS

    When you have a society that values privacy and allows gun ownership. There must be a line drawn as to what freedoms are allowed to people with mental illness. Since we cannot force mentally ill people to seek treatment, and have the additional restrictions of HIPPA. How can you possibly hope to have an accurate background check system?
    Who's rights do you diminish? Since both privacy and guns are rights which should have precedence?
    For me personally if you are of sound mind and body your rights should take precedence over someone who's mentally ill as it relates to gun ownership. In other words the right to know your mental status relating to gun ownership overrides your right to privacy about your mental status.

    April 10, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Ah the slippery slope.

      As 100 Christians if a Mormon is crazy just because he is a Mormon, and I bet 25 say yes.

      As 100 Christians if being gay is a mental illness and I bet 50 say yes

      So should a Gay Mormon be allowed to have an asault rifle (Intentionally misspelled)

      As for me, I draw the line a Baptist.

      If you are Baptist, you are already too crazy to have a gun!!

      April 10, 2013 at 2:16 pm |
  16. Well there it is.

    from the article..."...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..."

    Christians don't forget to turn in your badge on the way out.

    April 10, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
  17. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    Interesting middle-of-the-road article. Not too much left and not too much right... he doesn't actually say anything important, but leaves you the impression that he's concerned about both sides of the issue. He must have had some politician training.

    April 10, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
    • Atheist, me?

      Anglicanism does that!

      April 10, 2013 at 2:21 pm |
  18. Bootyfunk

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

    yes, we wouldn't want to make it a complicated process to buy a weapon capable of taking human life from a football field away. that would be inconvenient. when someone needs a gun, they need it immediately.

    what an IDIOT. it SHOULD be difficult to obtain a deadly weapon. we need to register vehicles, but not guns? have to take driving lessons, then a written test, then a an actual driving test. you have to have a photo ID to drive. you get tested eery few years to see if you're still capable. but not with guns. unbelievable.

    April 10, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Booty

      With off the shelf weapons and ammo, I can kill from 5x greater distance (or more) than you indicate

      Unless you have an interest, you will definitley underestimate what you can buy.

      .50 Caliber sniper rifles, arrmor piercing or incendiary ammo, the selections would amaze you!

      April 10, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • Poltergiest

      If our government ever falters and the American people have only themselves to rely on, the sheer number of guns will ensure the population culls itself relatively quickly. I wholeheartedly believe stockpiling death machines of any kind just makes it easy for a lot of people to get killed in the future. So, I consider civilians stockpiling weapons a bad idea from the get go.

      April 10, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      "the sheer number of guns will ensure the population culls itself relatively quickly"

      You make that sound like a bad thing.

      April 10, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      I prefer .338 Lapua, William. The ranging shots don't wear on people quite so much as with the .50.

      April 10, 2013 at 4:31 pm |
  19. William Demuth

    Ban private ownership

    Sooner or later we will, why not now?

    April 10, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
    • Bootyfunk

      but how will the southerners protect themselves from the h.omos, mexicans, atheists and blacks?

      April 10, 2013 at 1:41 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Booty

      We can leave em the same black powder muzzle loaders the founding fathers were talking about.

      With that, we would have one dead, and a clown with a musket crammed up his hind quarters by an entire movie theater.

      April 10, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  20. Bootyfunk

    "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."

    he forgot, we need to look at all the horrible violence in the bible - worse than any video game - and decided if this is the kind of trash we want to teach our children. the bible is a terrible guide for living a good life.

    April 10, 2013 at 1:38 pm |
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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.