You’ll find several buildings of note in any American city. Among them, the courthouse and at least one major church. In the courthouse, lawyers and judges ply their trade. The rule of law is observed and, sometimes, realized. In the church, men, women and children of all races come together to worship God in faith and fellowship. The inhabitants of both buildings acknowledge the existence of evil, and its unceasing work among us. But they have very different ways of dealing with the potential for evil arriving on their doorstep . . .
At the courthouse, those in charge take steps to protect those within. There are metal detectors at the entrances. Armed security guards the doors. Armed guards may patrol the halls. At least one armed guard stands in the courtroom, protecting the judge and those under his supervision.
Lawyers and judges working in courthouses have a clear understanding of evil, and its ever-present danger. Truth be told, many of them take “extra” precautions against violent attack by carrying concealed weapons, in direct contravention of the law. They know that the changes are low that they will be arrested for violating a law that common citizens must obey on threat of imprisonment?
Now consider the situation at church . . .
There are no metal detectors. There are seldom, if ever, armed security. In part, that’s because few churches can afford the cost, even if they are inclined to recognize the need. In some states, such as South Carolina, churches are legally defined “gun-free zones.” No non-law enforcement civilian can carry a firearm into the church (or any other place of worship) without the express permission of the minister.
Last night a 21-year-old man entered a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina. He shot and killed six women and three men, including the pastor and state Senator Clementa Pinckney. The killer, who would want his name mentioned here, has been apprehended.
According to reports, the murderer said he wanted to kill black people. Perhaps so. Or perhaps he sought some sort of twisted fame amongst the chronically intolerant. Or he might be little more than one of the sociopaths walking among us, clinging to bumper-sticker hatred as an excuse to enact his fantasies. But the horror is he may have done it simply because he wanted to. He wanted to see what it was like to kill people.
If so, that will be upsetting to many. People have an inherent desire to believe there are concrete reasons for violence. Reasons that allow us to anticipate apparent madness and stop it before anyone is hurt. Those who seek to impose gun control on the general populace will pander to that desire. In the absence of an obvious motive, they will shift blame to an inanimate object. The gun.
To do this they have to deny the existence of evil.
It doesn’t matter whether one believes Satan to be the author of evil, or consider evil the result of a moral choice made by flawed human beings, doesn’t matter. For if evil exists, we must defend ourselves against it, both within ourselves and our fellow man. Those pushing the disarmament of the law-abiding cannot acknowledge the existence of evil because they’d have to see it for what it is: ever-present and inherently unpredictable.
Evil actively works against those who strive for good. Evil is planned, considered, nurtured and festered. It waits and watches and looks for weakness. It learns from experience. It sees laws designed to protect the innocent as the simple and simplistic barriers that they are. It exploits those weaknesses to corrupt or destroy whatever it wants or needs to corrupt and destroy.
Would magazine capacity limits have stopped or even slowed the Charleston spree killer? Would mandatory background checks between father and son have prevented him from accessing a firearm to slaughter the devout? To believe so is to underestimate the enemy.
There is only one way to stop evil: confront it. It is always preferable to confront evil before it acts out. But it is not always possible. Evil is clever and patient seeks to preserve itself. To accomplish its mission. Just as life finds a way, so does death.
Sometimes evil can only be stopped at the sharp end, when it finally reveals itself. At that moment, innocent lives must defend themselves with all the intelligence and yes force they can muster. Otherwise they will be taken. And how better to defend oneself against an imminent threat of death or grievous bodily than with a firearm?
Why should innocents be denied the ability to protect their lives by force of arms in a church? Are their lives of greater value on the sidewalk in front of the building than inside it? But it’s God’s house! It’s holy ground! Instruments of violence have no place therein! Weapons will disturb the very atmosphere of the church! Not nearly as much as the blood of innocents.
In the coming weeks, there will be the usual calls from the usual suspects for draconian gun control measures – despite their manifest failure. People of faith must resist the urge to seek unrealistic solutions. They must realize that evil is more than parable, more than metaphor. It is among us and waiting for its chance to wound, maim and kill the innocent, anywhere and at any time.
Being ready for the appearance of evil, or allowing oneself to be rendered helpless against it, is the ultimate moral choice. One that must be made before it strikes. And strike again it will.