Armored in Light

By Anna Heckler, Class of ’18

When I was in kindergarten, I would joke with my dad about the gun under his bed. Can I get a gun license someday, Dad? I pleaded with him. When can I go deer hunting with you? By the time I was about ten, my eagerness to join the world of gun-holders began to falter. At age twelve, it was my father’s turn to joke with me. So when can we get your junior hunting license? He prodded. When can I teach you how to shoot?

It took me a while to recognize the implications attached to the firearm under my father’s bed. But even once I’d graduated beyond infantile curiosity, the concept of gun ownership was a fact that I accommodated quite easily into my life. I can’t say I’ve been much more intellectually critical of my family’s culture of gun use since I left home either. In a city that bleeds Yale blue in everything from its sports to its politics, thoughts of recreational gun-use seem out of place. My church lights incense and serves its home-baked Eucharist bread with gluten-free wafers; I hear a lot more about unconditional love than about the latest Cabela’s gear.

That’s why, when my church invited pro-life Evangelical Reverend Rob Schenck and African-American anti-gun activist Lucy McBath to our campus, I stayed relatively quiet. The event, titled “God & Guns,” would include a screening of the Armor of Light documentary, featuring Schenck and Mcbath as they promoted anti-gun dialogue in religious communities. I reluctantly agreed to attend, hoping my fear of self-contradiction would dissolve with time.

But on the day of the screening, I sat down in Battell Chapel feeling something like a traitor. So I folded my hands, bowed my head, and started to pray. I asked God to show me His patience and composure; I asked Him to let me sit easy, to open my ears. And then I took a deep breath and I listened.

Schenck and Lucy’s story begins in November of 2012 with Lucy’s son, Jordan Davis. One evening that fall, seventeen-year-old Davis and his three friends parked his SUV at a local gas station, listening to music. A few moments later, forty-seven-year-old white Michael Dunn confronted Davis, complaining that the boy’s music was too loud. In the ensuing engagement, Dunn drew a gun and fired into Davis’s SUV ten times. One of the bullets pierced upwards through Davis’s torso, rupturing his aorta and searing through his upper chest. Davis died within hours.

In the wake of the Treyvon Martin case, Dunn’s trial received national attention. Dunn was ultimately convicted of one first-degree and three attempted murder convictions and was sentenced to life imprisonment. But the path to that decision was considerably rockier. Dunn’s lawyer cited Florida’s stand-your-ground law and argued that his client’s shots were fired in self-defense. It took two trials for the jury to reach a verdict on the first-degree murder charge for Davis’s death.

Furthermore, Dunn may not have been found guilty if he had simply remained in his car, firing only while Davis’s SUV was in close proximity.[1] Even Dunn’s gun ownership was a quirk of Florida’s handgun-handling-proficiency laws: Florida, along with some other states, only requires applicants to fire a single, pre-loaded training shot to receive their permit.[2],[3] Dunn didn’t need God’s love and protection—it was too easy for him to shroud his fears behind the pro-gun and racist biases encoded in the law.

Reverend Schenck and Lucy followed the Armor of Light screening with a question-and-answer session. Their conversation echoed my own impish back-and-forth with my father at age six, but at that moment in Battell Chapel, surrounded by the street-sounds and sirens of New Haven, the questions seemed much more solemn. Why do we own guns? Schenck and Lucy challenged. What does The Bible have to say about gun ownership? Can the discussion on faith and gun violence be incorporated into racially-charged movements like Black Lives Matter?

The answers, they suggested, can be found in reflection on each of our relationships with God and in Scripture.

We must realize that, though God’s love for us is not contingent on much, it does require that we trust in Him. “There is no fear in love,” John tells us, “But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). Gun ownership implies a fear of others; the rifle under the bed is a safety net in case God’s protection isn’t enough. If we know God, we know that He is enough to shield us—whether it be from loneliness, from oppression, or from teenagers and loud music. With Him, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the words of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:12).

Though the very thought of Davis’s death fills me with a will to fight, I still haven’t reconciled my history with the discourse on gun ownership. But Jordan, Lucy, and Reverend Schenck’s mission helps me recognize that, as a Christian, I have a responsibility to question the presence of the gun under my father’s bed. I have a mission to challenge places where legal and social systems encode fear of the Other. Now is the time to destabilize the culture of gun ownership; it is time to turn to those on both sides of the gun, to don our Armor of Light, and to listen.

[1] Online Sunshine. The 2016 Florida Statutes, 776: Justifiable Use of Force.

[2] Online Sunshine. The 2016 Florida Statutes, 790.06: Weapons and Firearms.

[3] Concealed Carry in the United States.


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