My dad was a great hunter and he taught me how to survive off the land in rural Minnesota. He believed there was no reason I shouldn’t capture, kill and prepare any form of edible animal. I have killed and prepared many animals. (Perhaps that has something to do with why I am a vegetarian today, but that’s a whole different story.)

I got my first gun as a teenager and, with good vision, I was a deadly shot. My dad, brother and I would compete and I loved spending time with them. Dad taught me to respect weapons that could serve our family well. We didn’t need an arsenal. We didn’t need a pistol. We had four rifles that worked just fine and always a full freezer of meat, wild game and fish.

When I started college, I enrolled in a self-defense class because it was scary walking home at night. The class was taught by two retired sheriffs who emphasized practical skills. We cleaned pistols and shot at targets in a building where a woman had previously been murdered by an intruder. These teachers took their job seriously, wanting us to be safe. They taught us how to take a weapon away from an assailant, if we could. They warned us that owning a pistol was more dangerous than not owning one, since we were more likely to be harmed or to harm loved ones, than we would ever use the weapon for our own defense. I gave up owning weapons.

After taking that class, I began working with a beautiful young woman confined to a wheelchair. As a toddler, her cousin accidentally shot her. Whenever I see a pistol in someone’s purse, I think of the woman in the wheelchair and the freedoms she lost.

It is ironic when people claim “freedom” for gun owners. What about freedom to live and pursue happiness, without worry about harm from guns? Our second amendment is precious, but all liberties come into conflict with other liberties — they don’t exist alone in a vacuum. When we treat them that way, weapons take on the status of idolatry. We worship the right to have them, rather than recognize coexisting higher ethical and moral liberties.

I have never heard anyone, not even my most liberal acquaintances, say that guns should be outlawed. Scaring people that the liberals are coming to take away guns is a tactic used by gun lobbies to maintain their treasured idolatry.

Our right to bear arms, like any right, is not absolute. I can’t own nuclear or chemical weapons and there is no need for weapons of war on our streets. Our country fights to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of foreign rulers, yet we allow private arsenals to exist throughout our country. We cannot afford to buy the gun lobby’s arguments. We need sensible limits and to see those suffering in our midst.

Rev. Nancy Bacon is the pastor at Tehachapi Community Church.

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