Michael W. Austin
Eerdmans, 216 pages
Reviewed by Deanna Hollas
I had not heard of Michael Austin before reading “God and Guns in America.” When I learned that he was a philosophy professor rather than a pastor or theologian, I was skeptical about what he would have to say. However, Austin’s approach to gun violence prevention is reasonable and practical. He wants to encourage Christians to think critically about gun ownership and the role guns play in society. He begins by reminding us that while the Constitution and the Bill of Rights (the location of the Second Amendment) are important documents for us as citizens of the United States, our primary allegiance as Christians is not to any government or nation but to Jesus and his teachings. Austin does not shy away from calling out the many people he knows that call themselves Christian and have a love for guns he calls “chilling.” If Christians must own a gun, they should do so soberly and with regret as one should never be happy or proud about owning a weapon that is designed to take life. Every life is created in the image of God and the death of any person is tragic.
Austin is a gun owner and not a pacifist. He dedicates a whole chapter to making the argument for a moral right to own a gun for self-protection with clear limits to that right. As I was reading his argument and his repeated claim that lethal force should only be used as a last resort, I kept thinking of the words of theologian Walter Wink in his book “The Powers That Be.” Wink realized that even though he was dedicated to the nonviolent teachings of Jesus, he had an escape clause. Wink was willing to accept the use of violence as a last resort and therefore was still enmeshed in the belief that violence saves rather than Jesus saves. When we are willing to return violence for violence, are we following the teachings of Jesus? As citizens of a country that was founded by committing genocide on the native population and enslaving human beings, are we so caught up in the system of violence that we have lost our imagination for a path that does not involve violence? Do we believe in the nonviolent teachings of the Christian faith?
“God and Guns in America” will appeal to those who want to take action and do something to curb the growing gun violence epidemic we have in this country and believe that lethal force is sometimes necessary. Austin’s reasonable approach and his dismantling of the most common arguments for why we can’t have gun safety laws makes this book one that I can recommend to congregations that might be hesitant to talk about guns. We need to be having conversations about the role money and profits are having in creating our violent society and what Scripture has to say about this. Part of the problem in engaging more Christians in the work of ending gun violence is how the issue has been framed. The gun industry wants us to believe that any regulation will lead to the government confiscating all guns, which is just not true. This book is the middle ground many are looking for that addresses the theological and biblical challenges we face as Christians.
Deanna Hollas is the gun violence prevention ministry coordinator with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and lives in Dallas.