This past Monday, Hope College’s Students Demand Action for Gun Sense chapter partnered with the Peace and Justice Department to bring the community a guest speaker, Shane Claiborne.
Natalie Schiller (‘26), a member of Hope’s SDA and survivor of the 2021 Oxford shooting, opened Claiborne’s lecture with words on her experience as an advocate against gun violence.
Claiborne’s presentation took place in Winants Auditorium and was titled “Beating Guns.” The presentation featured his thoughts on the epidemic of gun violence as it applies to the Christian perspective, as well as what we can do as students, individuals, activists and members of the community to bring about real change regarding the issue. Claiborne highlighted his time fighting for peace on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. He reflected on how these experiences impacted his point of view and fueled his fight for peace.
This fight has close ties to Hope’s community members, including Lauren (‘24) and Natalie Schiller, two of the leaders of the school’s SDA chapter. Lauren began to lay the groundwork for the organization after her sister Natalie survived the Oxford High School shooting. Lauren recalled her desire to create “an organization that brought more awareness to the epidemic of gun violence and was able to make change.”
Claiborne carefully articulated what makes guns so controversial and dangerous: their finality, their permanence and, most importantly, the purpose behind their creation. “We can devise ways to hurt people if we want to, but there are some things that are designed to kill.”. This analogy is frequently used as an argumentative tactic by SDA members in their efforts to lobby. They argue that, due to this intention, gun ownership should require a larger number of restrictions and regulations than other threats to life such as cars.
Guns are the main cause of death in the United States for college- and high school-aged individuals. Car-related accidents were treated as a public health emergency and various restrictions were placed on seatbelt and car usage. Hope’s SDA then questions: Why is gun violence not receiving the same amount of attention and urgent action?
During his visit, Claiborne spoke on how individuals can potentially manage the turmoil, fear and stress that this rampant increase in gun-related deaths has caused. He also emphasized that spreading awareness is the first step for those who wish to make an impact.
In an article for Red Letter Christians, Claiborne wrote, “RAWtools is an organization that seeks to reverse tools of war into garden tools. We disassemble guns and convert them into spades, trowels and jewelry. We want to show that God, working through humans, can take ugly, horrible things and make them beautiful.” Hope students, particularly in SDA, claim that outlets like this are significant in the process of learning to cope with the trauma that the issue has caused. The students stand by the notion that we can use sadness and anger to fight for change.
Lauren, the president of Hope’s SDA, says that it’s best to let each other have the space to “feel those emotions.” The organization faces a difficult mission, and conversations must be had about where to bridge the gap between seriousness and lightheartedness in their activism. It’s important to them that they inject a sense of lightness into their discussions of an otherwise astoundingly heavy topic.
Claiborne’s experience as a Christian leads him to another question that has been central to his activism: How do we deal with a conflict that is politically controversial, yet clearly holds common moral grounds? As Natalie stated, “Gun control, the word itself, is kind of scary to people who lean right.”
Claiborne implied that those in the Christian community may find it more difficult to grapple with drastic changes in laws regarding guns, and says that gun violence is a “spiritual crisis.” He also acknowledged that if this part of the gun-owning population realizes how deeply the issue of gun ownership and violence lies, it has the potential to become a politically neutral question.
Also included as one of Claiborne’s areas of concern in his lecture was gun ownership’s role in domestic violence. He stated, “A gun in the home means that you are five times more likely to become a victim of domestic homicide.” Though not closely linked at first glance, gun and domestic violence—in combination—can be catastrophic.
The SDA’s next event is in support of Domestic Violence Awareness month, which begins in October. They plan to make blankets to send to a resiliency center.
The organization urges Hope’s students and community to garner as much support for the cause as possible—because the end to gun violence is inconceivable until policies are put in place to combat it.