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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. Jason

    The pastor makes an important point. The guy who shot his friend was a felon who should not have had a gun. Really that should end the debate. The problem with gun laws is that they only stop law abiding citizens from protecting themselves. Criminals will get guns. After England banned guns, violent crime went up 41%. The criminals knew they could do bad things with no resistance. I am 100% in favor of violent criminals from losing their right to guns for life. I am also in favor of the mentally ill in losing the right to keep a gun. However I do not support any restrictions on law abiding citizens who are sane. The most violent cities in America have the toughest gun laws (Chicago etc.) and that has not helped.

    April 10, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
    • Chuckles

      @Jason

      First and foremost, "strict gunlaws" are still so loose that saying they aren't helping isn't because they're too strict. That's just trying to distract from the problem of gun violance in those citiies with a false cause and effect.

      Second, Sure, if a criminal wants to get his hands on a gun then regardless of laws, the criminal will get a gun, but do you really think we should throw up our hands and say "well instead of trying to disarm them, lets arm everyone else!". That's what we tried to do with USSR during the Cold War and look how much that helped matters.

      No, we need gun laws because a) it does some deterance, whether you want to admit it or not. b) creates a barrier for people who might not be responsible for guns, meaning that if a person wants to purchase a gun, this just creates the incentive for a person to really think about it instead of impulse buying a gun, c) will lower the amount of gunshot violance due to accidents and d) see a world with fewer guns on the street and hopefully a little less death.

      April 10, 2013 at 6:11 pm |
    • Ken Margo

      Jason please pull your head out your azz. Unless you put in some restrictions, criminals and those with mental heath issues can say the same stupid things you say. "You have the rights to a gun" Their has to be restrictions or you will NEVER be able to stop anyone from getting a gun.

      April 10, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Report murders and not the nebulous and constantly changing "violent crime" category and people might be interested.

      April 10, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
  2. tpobrienjr

    Good discussion, and some good points. Neither my Senators, nor my Congressman will ever read this.

    April 10, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
  3. raymundo dionicio

    the owner should receive gun training, enforced.

    April 10, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
  4. David

    Rev Edward preaches that there is a merciful and loving god, but the evidence suggest otherwise. At least 250 million children died of a torturous death via small pox in the 20th century alone. Then there’s that claim by the bible, that the “loving” god drown almost all living creatures, including children, babies, and fetuses in the womb. Can you feel the love?

    April 10, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

      To lay their own failour on truth absolute GOD, is way of hindus, ignorant s, do what human is expected to do in following of truth absolute in life, and good LORD GOD will look over every one of us.

      April 10, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
    • cindy

      We are given free will to do as we please. We are not God's robots. Blaming Him is ridiculous. Blame the people that commit these horrible crimes.

      April 10, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
  5. Reality

    From today's news: "New Jersey police: 6-year-old dies a day after being shot – by a 4-year-old" .

    April 10, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
  6. reason

    Most of this is an entirely moot point. There is no god; there never has been a god. This "word of god," "god's commandments" and similar nonsense is simply the writing of men, doing their best to control other men. Just wanting something to be real (or having "faith" something is real) does not make it real, no matter how much you want it. Get an education. Learn something outside your close-minded community of inbred rednecks. Stop espousing your fairy-tales and join the rest of us in the real world.

    April 10, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • ISLAM FOUNDATION OF AMERICAN CONSTI TUTION

      What is GOD? American consti tution is based on GOD, Denial of GOD is un American, so is hindu secular ism filthy self center ism, every hindu denier of truth absolute like you, take your hindu secular ism, ignorant donkey ism, and move to hindered gutter of hindu secular ism, ignorant donkey ism called india. you will not be a stranger in zoo of hinduism ignorance.

      April 10, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • MormonChristian

      You call yourself "reason" but all you do is spew hatred and ignorance. There are plenty of church going people who believe, study and work in scientific fields. God and Science are not mutually exclusive. You also prove that hatred of others who don't believe as you do is not confined to religious people. Atheists (Pol Pot, Mao, Stalin, Lenin, Hitler, etc.) have killed more people than all the masses killed in so-called religious conflict. War and hatred of any kind is horrible. What matters is how fast we hold to our ideology over people.

      April 10, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
    • Sandoval

      Thomas Aquinas would disagree with you. http://web.mnstate.edu/gracyk/courses/web%20publishing/aquinasfiveways_argumentanalysis.htm

      April 10, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
  7. In Other Words

    Fuzzy = unclear, undefined, bleary

    April 10, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  8. raymundo dionicio

    none should be technically able to fire a gun but the owner

    April 10, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
  9. JustJoe

    Reasonable discussions....yeah, talk,talk,talk. One reason Ieft the Episcopal Church was its propensity to put off everything while it conducted more talks. The Bishop never took a stand one way or another in his article - just more talk. I'm a veteran and I know how to use guns and have one of my own. That said, it's time to have some meaningful and stringent control of guns and those incapable or dangerous who buy them. Stop the talking and act!

    April 10, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  10. KrjMc

    There is nothing godly about guns.

    April 10, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
  11. IvotedforObama

    If only those disciples had a sword then most of them wouldn't of been persecuted and killed for their faith in Christ.

    April 10, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • norman

      funny-wrong of course-they were supposed to sacrifice themselves...if you're a mindless sheep and believe that sort of thing...

      April 10, 2013 at 5:46 pm |
  12. EX catholic

    Man oh Man, wow Sal, that so called "clarity" is Really, Really all Fuzzed-up! What a Super Stupid and Super Dumb question to ask! Of course it was a Scribe, someone who knew how to write. They'r were the ancient version of a typist or a Secretary. What kind of Stupid people are this atheists? Is incredible how dumb they are. They are just the IDOLATERS of the RCC.

    April 10, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • clarity

      The original question to Salero21 and others, in case you missed it, Ex cath. – who authored the gospels?

      April 10, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
    • clarity

      So Ex catholic and your sock puppet "Salero" – if you continue to avoid the question, then that simply shows your discomfort about the question. What do we know about the authors of the gospels? How many different versions were there?

      April 10, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • EX catholic

      LOL 😀 No wonder atheists and romanist, Idolater catholics are so much alike. Salero21 already answered your Dumb Stupid question. Someone who knew how to write! What part of that you don't understand?

      April 10, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
    • clarity

      Well for a grade-schooler type joke I suppose your punchline might be funny to some. But that's OK if you're only interest is playing here.

      April 10, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • clarity

      And no, Salero never provided a serious answer – interestingly today I've only received two answers from Christians which were ridiculous.

      April 10, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
  13. B.

    The bottom line of this debate is that we kill 30,000 people in this country every year and that is outrageous!

    If any other endeavor you can think of had that kind of record, we would stop it fast. Can you imagine 30K people dying on the airlines every year? They would ground them until it was solved. We are not having that many people die in these Wars!

    The NRA is complicit in these deaths and if they cannot move to regulate their own, than someone else should, and that is the Government.

    April 10, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
    • Really

      Once again inflated numbers quoted. According to the FBI, if you believe them, 8,775 people were murdered by guns in 2010. The rate has been falling since 2006 and earlier. Approximately 19,000 people die in automobile accidents. Most involving Drunk or Impaired drivers. Just trying to keep the fact straight.

      April 10, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
  14. raymundo dionicio

    this is too much filtered

    April 10, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
  15. Rosslaw

    TC suggests a groundbreaking concept-you own a weapon your are responsible for it and its misuse. I never hear gun owners (I own two shotguns and one revolver) discuss what the consequences should be for allowing a weapon to be stolen, lost or picked up by an unsurpervised child.

    April 10, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
  16. Amadea

    What a totally irresponsible headline, CNN. Belief in Jesus Christ doesn't automatically turn one into a redneck. Many intellectuals have been true blue Christians ... that is ... followers of Christ. The headline is insulting on every level possible.

    April 10, 2013 at 5:28 pm |
    • norman

      relax-all rednecks are religious freaks, but not all religious freaks are rednecks...well, most of them are-all polls show the less educated one is, the more likely they are religious

      April 10, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
  17. bob

    In Texas it required to have a plug in your shot gun to bird hunt, why i'snt that against our second amendent rights??
    how stupid limit shots on bird but not on school children? the cowboy days are over, grow up.

    April 10, 2013 at 5:27 pm |
  18. raymundo dionicio

    bu

    April 10, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • sam

      Exactly.

      April 10, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
  19. Rundvelt

    I suppose no one needs to point out that Jesus said to turn the other cheek. There's no need for a gun if you're not going to resist being attacked.

    April 10, 2013 at 5:13 pm |
  20. TC

    Why do we require so much more regulation, training, insurance, and licensing to own a car, than to own a gun? It should be simple. Every weapon registered – all transfers legal, and safety training required.

    And, if your registered gun ends up in the hands of either a criminal, or some unauthorized person – without a police report showing it stolen – you should share in the jail time for whatever crime is committed with your weapon.

    If you can't properly secure it, you should not have it.

    April 10, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
    • PJD

      Wow lets criminalize every gun owner would that make you happy , you see people like you are what make people like me not want any more laws in reguards to guns. Because you are way off the mark you imply all gun owners are bad people. When you do not even say one word about the crimenals who do not obay the laws gang bangers,dope dealers,rapist,car jackers,armed robers and on and on. you just want to vilify gun owners when we are the law abiding people. your a joke

      April 10, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
    • Ualv

      @PJD It is spelled YOU'RE not YOUR...

      April 10, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
    • Whataboutthis

      I have always agreed with requiring training and an operator’s license program. The program should not be a registration of what individuals own, just that you as the owner know how to handle and manage firearm ownership. Just like a driver’s license the user will need to have passed a competency and safety test to receive one. Hell I would recommend a course on maintenance, it amazes me to this day how many people don’t even know how to clean the gun they possess.

      April 10, 2013 at 6:26 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.