Book Review: ‘Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence’ by Shane Claiborne and Michael Martin

Someone, somewhere in America will be the victim of gun violence today. Mass shootings have become part of our routine national experience. What should be done with guns? That, essentially, is the question animating a new book from Shane Claiborne and Michael Martin, Beating Guns: Hope for People Who Are Weary of Violence.

Claiborne and Martin argue that that guns should be destroyed and refashioned. Their argument runs like this: Guns are violent, violence is antithetical to peace, and because Christians must be committed to peace, they should oppose guns. No Christian who cares about peace is energized for violence.

Many readers will be familiar with Claiborne’s previous books on Christian nonviolence. He has been admirably consistent: Christians who take the teachings of Jesus seriously must forsake violence and pursue what makes for peace. In Claiborne’s case, this has meant a recurring emphasis on aiding the poor, sheltering the homeless, and advocacy against capital punishment. Martin, for his part, is the founder and director of RAWtools, Inc., a nonprofit that turns guns into gardening tools. Together, they want to beat guns, figuratively and literally.

Surprising Statistics

Beating Guns offers a useful historical overview of gun markets in the US and an instructive statistical analysis of American gun violence. The book is at its strongest when accounting for the scale of firearm ownership and use in the United States. Many of Claiborne and Martin’s findings are indeed quite alarming. Most people are aware, for example, that Americans own more guns and experience more gun violence than any other nation in the world. But did you know that Americans own half of all firearms globally, even though the US accounts for only 5 percent of the world’s population? Did you know that of the 38,000-plus gun-related killings in America each year, more than half are the result of suicide? Even the statistical caveats offered are instructive. For example, 65 percent of guns are owned by 20 percent of gun owners, and of that latter group a mere 3 percent own half of all firearms!

Claiborne and Martin cite other statistics that might come as a surprise to readers. Even among gun owners largely committed to Second Amendment values, there is surprisingly broad consensus favoring specific regulatory policies. Around 85 percent support universal background checks covering private sales and gun shows, and somewhere around 65–68 percent support banning assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines.

In a related chapter on “myth-busting,” Claiborne and Martin helpfully push back against some of the more popular arguments made about the utility and indispensability of guns. The belief that “guns keep us safe” has a certain intuitive logic. Surely they make their owners at least feel safer. But it turns out that “for every one gun used in self-defense, six more are used to commit a crime,” and at least one study has shown that a gun kept in the home is 12 times more likely to be involved in death or injury to a family member than to stop an intruder. Mace is often an equally effective deterrent.

When it comes to the history of the gun in the US, Claiborne and Martin are not interested so much in the technological chronology as they are in the development of the firearm market. They worry (understandably) about the mass production and marketing of firearms, connecting the economic development of munitions to stages of militarization, particularly defense contracts. The history of gun manufacturing, on their telling, is one of war, opportunism, busts, and ultimately commodification. As they put it, “Gun production went from a specialized skill to a corporate enterprise.” To this day guns remain icons of our national self-understanding.

From their statistical and historical insights, Claiborne and Martin build toward the theological argument of the book, one plainly in keeping with the authors’ longstanding commitment to Christian pacifism: Following Jesus means taking him at this word that his kingdom is a kingdom of peace. Guns, therefore, are false idols to be rejected. Christians cannot, as Claiborne and Martin argue, “carry a cross in one hand and a weapon in the other.” Being conformed to the image of the Son must involve rejecting violence, a violence Jesus helps his disciples “unlearn.”

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Source: Christianity Today