James E. Atwood
Herald Press, 224 pages
Reviewed by G. Wilson Gunn Jr.
In James Atwood’s new book, he makes his most compelling case yet for gun responsibility. This book builds upon his previous two books, “Gundamentalism and Where It Is Taking America,” and his earlier volume, “America and Its Guns: A Theological Exposé.” Atwood lays out the profound losses we suffer in our acquiescence to the idolatrous ideology perpetrated by the National Rifle Association and reinforced by elected leaders who cash their checks. These losses are mammoth: loss of life, economic losses, psychological losses, loss of civility. He explores the intersection of this idolatry and America’s other functional idolatry: racism. Stir in a cup of nationalism and one concludes this nation is far from Christian. Fearing what might reduce gun sales, the NRA and its congressional adherents have resisted funding for gun violence research. Their fear is that this research might guide sane policy challenging their primary devotion: “the God-given right” to unencumbered gun ownership. As Atwood points out, there are 120 guns owned among every 100 people in this country, and 39,773 people died at gunpoint in 2017. That comes to 12 deaths per 100,000 people — six times the rate in Canada, and 60 times the rate in Japan. In short, this is a health crisis epidemic to which our legislators are paid to be blind. But there is a point of hope: In December, Congress included funding for gun violence research.
I found the most valuable chapter to be the one that took on 10 myths about guns. You have heard the phrases: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” and the “mentally ill” arguments and the “guns save lives” arguments put forth by the NRA. Atwood accurately identifies them as “death-dealing lies,” and guts every one of these arguments. Christians would do well to consider these points and raise them in dialogue with others.
Atwood himself was an NRA member and a gun owner up until the vicissitudes of age gave him pause about his own safety with a gun. He is not out to take all the guns away from Americans (as the NRA devotees would reactively exclaim about any safety proposal). He is advocating for research; for extreme risk laws allowing a judge to temporarily remove guns from those in crisis; for understanding the interaction of guns, poverty and race; and for common sense action, like physicians being able to ask about guns in the home of those evidencing suicidal thoughts. He favors universal background checks, disarming domestic violence abusers and banning assault weapons. These are common sense measures that a majority of Americans favor, yet which a majority of legislators have yet to realize. We are invited to engage with a variety of organizations that hope to persuade these legislators to quit drinking the idolatrous NRA Kool-Aid, or replace them.
Atwood’s book is an excellent resource for any Christian ready to be equipped “to unmask idolatries in Church and culture” (as noted in our A Brief Statement of Faith).
G. Wilson Gunn Jr. is honorably retired and now serving as coach and consultant to congregations. He lives in Durham, North Carolina.