Raffles of Death

Raffles of death

The flyer for the giveaway of an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle at Grace Baptist Church in Troy, New York, on March 23, 2014, reads “Does the Bible defend my right to keep and bear arms?” With the donation of the rifle from a local gun shop, the church’s pastor, the Reverend John Koletas said he was “honoring hunters and gun owners” by holding the raffle at the church (“Troy pastor’s AR-15 rifle giveaway creates controversy,” Times Union, March 7, 2014). The Reverend Koletas added that those legal gun owners that he wishes to honor “have been so viciously attacked by the antichristian socialist media and antichristian socialist politicians the last few years” in a letter posted at the church’s website. The reverend emphasized his support for the Second Amendment right to bear arms, a right that the pastor’s family members and some parishioners of Grace Baptist Church strongly supported.

Reverend Koletas’ raffle mirrored a recent spate of steak dinners and gun raffles at churches sponsored by the Kentucky Baptist Convention that featured the giveaway of “handguns, long guns, and shotguns.”

That the gun raffle in Troy is a response to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s sponsorship of the strong firearms’ regulations enacted into law in the Safe Act of January 2013 is no coincidence.  The Safe Act was in direct response to the massacre of students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut just one month earlier.

Many quoted in the Times Union article were quick to censure Pastor Koletas for his view on guns and religion. The Reverend Willie Bacote , pastor of AME Zion Church, also in Troy, said that “The only thing that we’re supposed to arm citizens with is the word of God, not guns.”

Albany, New York County District Attorney David Soares said, in the same Times Union piece, “This is one of the strangest things I’ve seen.”  District Attorney Soares has assisted with gun buyback programs in the area. He noted that “We’re prosecuting people selling these guns …urban centers are struggling with gun violence… I hope the pastor is praying that this gun doesn’t end up in the street and involved in a homicide.”

Gun sales are a big business in the U.S., and big business is what we’re all about! The Christian Science Monitor reports in “US gun industry is thriving. Seven key figures” (undated Briefing article), that the “estimated economic impact of the US firearms industry in 2012 was $31.8 billion…up from $27.8 billion in 2009.” And following the Sandy Hook Elementary School murders, both gun sales and membership in the National Rifle Association soared. A Watergate-like Deep Throat source isn’t needed to know that it’s almost always about “follow(ing) the money” when it comes to gun rights and gun sales in the U.S.! So, the numbers are there and easily documented and there’s lots and lots of economic turf to protect and a welcome arena for voices like the Reverend Koletas to occupy a soapbox from which to pontificate on their so-called good news about gun rights and gun laws.

When the issue of gun rights is not about the money it is often about race. These appeals for the right to bear arms for protection are often coded appeals to a white base of those who keep arms as protection against a mythical mass of black and brown people and immigrants who could knock the doors down of the innocent at any time and without notice. This coding of the appeal of guns is covered in depth in the book Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked The Middle Class (2014) by Ian H. Lopez.

Whether or not the Bible can be used in any way to support the prevalence of guns in this society or gun raffles is an argument so ludicrous on its face that it is not worth pursuing. What does happen because of the rabid support for so-called gun rights and the enormous profit made from gun sales (not factoring in international gun sales), is that some who purchase guns both legally and illegally have relatively easy access to powerful weapons like the AR-15 and act out lethal behaviors against  the innocent time after time.

It is also insane to even begin to construe the Founders as having dreamed of the proliferation of lethal semi-automatic weapons in a society so very different from the one in which  they envisioned as the basis for the Second Amendment. During the ten months following the Sandy Hook Elementary School murders, 28,177 people were killed in the U.S. because of gun violence. When is enough, enough?

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.