I've had the courage to ask the question publicly only once before.
I responded to a Twitter debate about the idea of teachers carrying guns in school by asking what the plan would be if a well-meaning educator accidentally killed an otherwise safe student in an ill-fated attempt to stop an intruder.
I received only one response, but it was enough. A stranger without a real name jumped to the attack, demanding to know what difference it would make, since the shooter would be killing everyone anyway, and expressing disdain for "you people", I assumed meaning those who questioned the wisdom of just anyone packing heat in a public place.
I considered answering that it would, in fact, make a significant difference to the family of the hypothetical, otherwise-safe-but-dead-at-the-hands-of-a-teacher child, but decided to let it go. There was clearly no conversation to have there.
But my question has never gone away, and I have never heard an answer for it: What are we going to do when a civilian, attempting to stop a crime, real or perceived, or to defend himself/herself against a threat, real or perceived, inadvertently makes the situation worse than it would have been without their intervention or without the introduction of their firearm? And when their legal justification emboldens other would-be heroes to pull guns when they shouldn't?
I'm not saying no one should have a gun, and I'm not talking about anyone's home. And I'm as enticed as anyone by the scenario of a would-be mass-murderer being stopped short by a bullseye through the crowd from a sane, stable individual with the moral compass of the Lone Ranger and the aim of Doc Holliday, who never wanted to hurt anyone, but knew he or she had to be ready in case this ever happened.
But aside from that one perfect scenario, what happens when:
*A civilian correctly perceives a danger, but misses the target and shoots someone who otherwise might have escaped, or had already escaped? Or fires a shot through a window, across the street, and through the head of someone who was nowhere near the threat? Or multiple civilians all do these things at the same time?
*A civilian perceives something incorrectly and draws or fires when there is no need? Trained and experienced soldiers and police officers kill people they aren't supposed to kill more frequently than we would guess, but we don't think this will happen when scarcely trained and probably panicked civilians attempt to respond to what they perceive in the heat of a moment?
*A civilian attempting to intervene is mistaken for a perpetrator by police who are also intervening?
*A criminal seizes a firearm right off the person of a civilian who is caught off guard, or has overestimated his or her reflexes? Carrying a gun doesn't make you Chuck Norris.
*A gun falls into the hands of a child in a crowd, the way all kinds of things fall into the hands of children?
*A clinically sane, but aggrieved, misguided hothead, a person you wouldn't want teaching your child's Sunday School class, is the first in line to strap on a holster at church? (Of course they will be, and you know you thought of someone! If you can pack heat, so can the person whose judgment you trust the least.)
In a story that needs to be dwelled on, a board member from the NRA posted comments online recently, waiting scarcely long enough for the bodies to become cold, criticizing the murdered pastor of Charleston's Emanuel AME church for not supporting a concealed carry law in his role as a South Carolina state legislator. The NRA board member was bold enough in the moment to blame this pastor for the deaths of eight members of the congregation, but not bold enough to leave his comments posted after they triggered a backlash.
A sad detail of this story is the fact that the board member's criticism was posted in response to comments from an individual using the pseudonym "ShootDontTalk". Seriously. An influential player in one of the most influential political lobbies in our nation engaged online and thus lent credibility to someone who called himself "ShootDontTalk".
And this leader, who thought "ShootDontTalk" was a good person to engage with online, is presumably telling us, with his claim that these murdered worshippers should have been armed in Bible study, that the perfect scenario at the beginning of this post is all that will ever happen if we all just carry loaded weapons everywhere we go.
Maybe there is a good answer to the six scenarios I posted above. Maybe a critic would point out the long odds against any of these scenarios happening, as though their chances are any slimmer than the deadeye-Annie-Oakley scene we all hope for. Or, maybe the NRA board member from the story above would acknowledge, "Yes, any of those terrible things could happen, and if they do, we will be very sorry, but that's just the tradeoff we need to make to be safe today."
Being sorry and having a meaningful answer are not the same thing. Maybe I am uninformed, but I haven't heard proponents of concealed carry and open carry laws publicly address these unintended scenarios and how our society might respond if they should occur.
But maybe none of these things is the worst danger or most difficult question the followers of Jesus face in all this.
Maybe, just maybe, a congregation of worshippers carrying loaded guns while singing "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" isn't a picture consistent with a Lord who told Pilate that if His kingdom were of this world, His servants would fight, and who rebuked Peter's swordplay and restored Malchus's ear.
Could it be that a family of disciples keeping one hand on their pistols while they worship discredits the gospel of Jesus Christ?
In whom (or what) will the followers of Jesus place their trust?
Our answers may not match the perceptions of those we are trying to reach for Him.