The interesting case of James Brady and the conservative lust for guns

FlagWaiverThe Chicago Tribune carried a thoughtful obituary about James Brady, America’s leading proponent for gun regulation and control.

While people may be nominally aware of the so-called Brady Bill passed in 1993 that requires federal background checks for gun buyers, it is worth reviewing the context of who James Brady was, and why he came to be a leading proponent of gun control. According to the Chicago Tribune article, the Brady Bill as it came to be known has blocked about 2 million gun purchases by people who did not meet the requirements of gun ownership due to criminal or mental health records.

The idea that an official serving a key role under a Republican administration could turn out to be a leading gun control advocate almost seems impossible today. These days so many GOP candidates and politicians stand behind the NRA and its position of less gun regulation it is hard to conceive of a Republican official actually lobbying for better gun control laws.

And James Brady served as Press Secretary under none other than President Ronald Reagan, still the standard-bearer for so-called modern conservatism. But therein lies just one of the oxymorons in conservative positions on gun control.

Brady was shot while trying to protect Ronald Reagan from the criminally insane efforts by John Hinckley, Jr. to assassinate the President of the United States. We can all be thankful his efforts were not successful. Certainly conservatives must be happy and proud their President pulled through despite a collapsed lung suffered during the shooting.

Brady was not so lucky. His brain was affected by the shooting. He was partially paralyzed and used a wheelchair the rest of his life. But Brady decided to do something about his lot by using his position as a former top official in the Reagan administration and the notoriety it brought to advocate for better protections against people who want to use guns for the wrong purpose.

Of course we might find that ironic on a number of fronts. So many guns get used for the wrong purpose it far overwhelms the practices claimed by law-abiding gun owners seeking use of guns for self-protection, sport or hunting.

The trouble with all that supposed rightful use of guns is that it only takes a moment’s notice or a bad decision for a gun owner to allow rage or bad judgment or a sudden killer instinct to turn a gun into a murderous instrument.

And after all, guns were designed to kill. In that context they run afoul of all manner of human social values including those laid out in the Christian Bible, where one of the 10 Commandments states “Thou Shalt Not Kill.”

That means anything that makes killing easier to accomplish is an accomplice in the process of murder or even the threat of violence. The relationship between envisioning the crime and actually doing it has a solid biblical history.

The book of Matthew quotes Jesus this way (KJV) : “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”Insecurity and selfishness are just some of the reasons why people commit adultery. Personal desires or lack of self esteem, even jealousy can drive a person to adultery.

The same holds true for gun crimes. The weakness of flesh and spirit that lead to the act of adultery can also lead to acts of anger, frustration or selfish aims (no pun intended) as expressed through gun violence.

How is it that we fail to appreciate that guns are a form of bloodlust? The adultery of guns is murder, for they act as an expression of intent.

That’s what Brady in part sought to recognize and express through his advocacy for gun laws to kept weapons out of the hands of criminals. His particular story was compelling, yet the very party for which he served in politics turned away from his message because it conflicted with the tools so many conservative politicians used to get elected. Side with looser gun rights and you get votes. It’s that plain and simple.

But it is not necessarily more moral or in keeping with the actual purpose and meaning of the United States Constitution. It’s too easy to throw values like freedom and personal autonomy together with so-called conservative Christian priorities like family and church and call them the same thing. If they seem to fit together somehow, who are we to deny that?

There are several problems with this philosophy and approach. For one thing, blithe approval of gun rights ignores the famous or infamous (depending on your perspective) biblical advice to turn the other cheek. Yet the Bible is multiply clear on the subject. Luke 29: “And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also.”

So much for using guns in self defense, people. The whole intent of scripture is to live spiritually, not using murderous tools to impose your world view on the populace or the government that represents your interests.

See, there really is nothing conservative about loose gun laws at all. James Brady grew to recognize this when he was shot by a gunman. Brady’s own recollection of the event was something he actually tried to suppress. “I’ve worked very hard at forgetting as much about that as I possibly can,” he said. “But I’ve not been able to do it.”

The whole enterprise of aggressive gun advocacy is not founded on personal pain of the type James Brady experienced. Nor are liberal gun laws a Christian concept as some might have you believe.

The real reason American gun laws are so lax these days is that we left common sense behind in pursuit of some falsely conceived ideal. That is a radical way to proceed, and it has killed more people on American soil than all the soldiers ever killed in wars on foreign soil.

As James Brady tried so hard to express in his lifetime, we’re at war with ourselves over common sense and virtues. After all, Brady was shot even with the world’s leading Secret Service and trained gunman to protect the President’s entourage. You could have thrown a barrel full of guns on the street and it would not have stopped John Hinckley. Nor will it stop the continuous stream of shooters murdering innocent Americans in theaters, schools and shopping malls.

Like the adulterer that imagines lust in their head before committing the act, guns draw people into a lust for mindless action. It’s in their design.

James Brady recognized that. Let us hope his life continues to point out that fact.


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