The (Gun) Law of Unintended Consequences

I know very little about gun control legislation, but lately I’ve read two stories that seem to me to share a disconcerting connection.

Several days ago, Joy Behar, host of ABC’s The View, said that Vice President Mike Pence’s Christian faith is a “mental illness.”

At the same time, I read another article that wonders why evangelical Christians are slow to support seemingly common sense gun control measures, such as forbidding guns to those whom our government defines as “mentally ill.” Some have even suggested that Christians love guns more than children.

The 2nd Amendment is not vital to the Christian Church. If no Christian in America owned a firearm, the Church of Jesus Christ would still thrive. Jesus is building His Church, and He doesn’t need an AR-15 to do it. No Christian would lose any part of his eternal inheritance if Uncle Sam took away every gun and all the kitchen knives too.

But it strikes me that Joy Behar is not alone. The number of people who think like her is growing, including politicians. It’s not so fanciful to imagine a day when our government defines the Christian faith as a mental illness. And the gun control laws many are now advocating forbid mentally ill persons from owning a gun . . .

Maybe you’re thinking, “That won’t happen!” And you’re probably right. Maybe evangelicals should just get on board with more gun laws.

But maybe laws are dangerous things. After all, laws set precedents. And sometimes a good law—like the 14th Amendment, which extended citizenship and voting rights to former slaves after the Civil War—becomes the grounds for a not-so-good law, like Roe v. Wade. Ponder that for a moment. A post-Civil War voter rights amendment that enfranchised millions of former slaves was—105 years later—hijacked to justify the murder of 60 million unborn children.

The legislation this present generation passes will affect our children and grandchildren. It may affect generations to come. Sometimes it will affect those generations in ways none of us can foresee.

At other times, however, the writing is on the bad-idea wall. Encouraging our government to define mental illness, and then making our Bill of Rights dependent on that definition, is a bad idea. If a mentally ill person—as the government defines such illness—no longer possesses the rights afforded by the 2nd Amendment, what guarantees that citizen any other right? What prevents the government from denying 1st or 4th Amendment rights to those citizens whom it defines as mentally ill?

What happens if, years down the road, the government defines your beliefs as a form of mental illness?

If the government can create a group of citizens for whom the Constitution offers no protection, then the government is no longer a government of law. It is a tyranny. And that frightens me.

So maybe at least some Christians have thoughtful reasons not to rush to implement new laws, especially laws that depend upon the government to define mental illness; laws that deny constitutional rights based upon that definition—a definition that can be altered to include the beliefs of any group that the government finds unsavory.

Or maybe every Christian is just a brainwashed, NRA junkie, child-hating, supporter of school shootings.

In fact, maybe we’re all just mentally ill.

2 thoughts on “The (Gun) Law of Unintended Consequences

  1. It seems you are dealing with two issues here. One, those who want to outlaw AR-15s and other assault type rifles. Two, those who want to outlaw these type of weapons from the hands of the mentally ill, which would have to be defined by the government. Ultimately, probably by the courts.
    It’s interesting that the more pro-gun leaning crowd is a bit accepting of the latter. This position deflects away from the guns and to the “illness” of the shooter(s). Even LaPierre blames our mental health system.
    The anti AR-15 crowd, in my experience, is the spectrum of those who want no guns at all to those who favor tighter gun laws with restrictions on types of guns and who can own them. It’s a more diverse crowd than the former. The common ground between the sides being the mentally ill, who you say will be defined by the government. I have to think about that one for a bit.
    Currently, you can be prevented from owning a gun because of mental unfitness. But, this has to be legally declared by a judge or through an involuntary commitment to a mental institution, so our government kind of already does determine what and whom is mentally ill. The NCIS included about 17,000 people under this category in 2014 (adjudicated mental health). I suspect, to satisfy the two groups above, what is considered “mentally ill” would have to be expanded to add a zero or two to that number. Still need to think about that a bit, although you’ve raised some good points.
    Historically, I have favored tighter background checks and the outlawing of certain types of weapons, and have not really contemplated the “mental illness” aspect. Nevertheless, I had come to the conclusion that America loves her guns (all of them), will not pass substantial gun legislation, and will just have to accept the subsequent mass shootings and violence as a result of her choice (was anyone surprised by the Parkland shooting?). There will be another Parkland, another Las Vegas. There will be outrage, there will be calls to do something, it will become the “sin du jour”, and then forgotten until the next shooting. The irony here being this will increase the mentally ill. Who, by the way, are much more likely to be a victim of gun violence than a perpetrator of it. My question is: why is the US such a violent society?

    “See, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule with justice.
    The effect of righteousness will be peace,and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.”
    Isaiah 32: 1, 17


    1. Good points, all . . . I read an intriguing story recently that claims that of the 28 deadliest mass shootings in American history, 27 were perpetrated by men/ boys who were fatherless. Surely preventing fatherlessness is not a cure all, but it does point to underlying societal factors that may help to answer your question about the violence of American society. Like any complex problem, however, the answers are not simple.


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