On Swords and Guns

In the face of one of the nation’s worst school shootings, JP Rennquist finds comfort in his faith and urges us to find comprehensive ways of ending gun violence.

My heart aches, it cries out for mercy, it cries out for justice. For me the only real answer is to take comfort in the endless healing, endless mercy and endless justice of the Creator of this world. President Obama and countless others have told us to take comfort in prayer on this tragic day. Even after all of the wreckage is cleared away, the broken, tiny little bodies are laid to rest and their precious blood is wiped away there will never be any real answers to why madness such as this would occur.

I’ve felt something like this before, too often. I felt it upon hearing of the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, I have felt it upon word of all of the school shootings over the last two decade. I felt it just last week when I got word of the 2-year-old Minneapolis boy who was slain by his 4-year-old brother with a weapon that their loving father kept in the house to protect them. I’ve felt this before so many times, but never as strong as I do today.

In that space between brokenness and healing and justice, between bewilderment and understanding there is a fear, an anger, no—a rage—that rumbles somewhere deep within me. It rumbles deep within millions of us today. One of my favorite fables is Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant.” In the fable a once beastly and self-centered giant who has had a great change of heart finds a little child that he loves who has been broken and bloodied. “Who hath dared to wound thee,” the giant growls in a rage that I imagine rattling windows and shaking the earth. “Tell me that I may take my great sword and slay him” the giant continues. But the little child tells him that no sword is going to bring justice or comfort.

The boy in that allegorical story is a stand-in for Jesus Christ. The wounds he bore are “The wounds of love” the child tells us. And the boy was only visiting to take the repentant, transformed selfish giant home to paradise not to ask for revenge. It’s a great story with many lessons for today. Today I’m that giant who wants to take a great sword and destroy the evil. I take comfort in my faith, I have to. What else could comfort any of us in the face of a tragedy of this magnitude? I also take wisdom, even when it is a wisdom that I don’t entirely want to believe: Violence isn’t going to solve this world’s problem with violence.


I am lucky to be surrounded by children, hundreds of children, on a daily basis. As soon as I was able to today I left behind the terrible news for a few moments. The news was getting worse and worse the clearer that it got and I’m sure that’s about how this tragedy is going to play out. I took a little break and found a group of precious little children and took comfort in their beauty, their peace and their grace. I stood outside their classroom peering in, the giant with my great sword and nothing to slay.

But just as the boy tells the giant in the story, just as the real, historical, supernatural Jesus told his friend when the soldiers came to take him away: Swords aren’t going to solve this problem. Neither are guns.

In November on the eve of the election I was disgusted and horrified to hear my congressman Chip Cravaack answer a debate question about this summer’s Aurora, Colorado bloodbath by saying that the whole tragedy could’ve been averted if someone in the theater would’ve had a firearm. A firearm powerful enough to blast through body armor is what he meant, I’m sure. Some nightvision goggles and a gas mask to block out the smokescreen that the Aurora killer allegedly deployed would have been handy, too.

The sting of this politically cowardly rhetorical shift was especially personal for me. Only days before his remarks, a shooter had opened fire directly in front of my own house, filling up our yard with police investigators searching for bullet fragments and filling up my, wife, my four children and I with an unsettling fear and insecurity about the safety of our little home in the heart of Duluth. If I had a gun, would it have kept the gunman from pulling the trigger and rattling our world? No. No it would not have.

Cravaack, who is thankfully my one-term congressman having been voted out of office a few days after that gaffe, isn’t the only public figure who made a dodging leap to avoid implicating guns in gun violence. Millions of American people around the world were scratching their heads as former Massachussetts governor Mitt Romney answered a similar debate question about gun violence by blaming single mothers who aren’t able to manage their kids. Responsible fatherhood is one of the great vocations of my life, it’s a pet issue for me and I agree with the governor that it is key to stopping the decline of our society. But I would have rather heard him talk about fatherhood in an authentic way, not using it as a dodge to avoid angering America’s 2nd Amendment extremists. President Obama has really been no better. There have been a hundreds of shootings and “wake up calls” about gun violence since he took office. I see no real action that has come out of Washington to stem the flow of guns, bullets, and the precious human blood that follows them far too often.

Bob Costas felt that withering wrath a few weeks ago when he repeated the words of another commentator, Jason Whitlock: “If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.” Costas and Whitlock were referring Kansas City Chiefs football Jason player Belcher who killed Kasandra Perkins, his intimate partner, before turning the weapon on himself.

Personally, I think that we definitely need to enforce and tighten our existing gun laws before we look at creating wholly new laws to prevent gun violence. I don’t want to take away anyone’s hunting weapon. I don’t want to take away anyone’s properly stored and secured handgun that they keep in their home. All I want is to tighten control of firearms in America, not to take them all away. But Bob Costas, Chip Cravaack and Mitt Romney and even President Barack Obama could not espouse even relatively moderate beliefs—dare I say common sense beliefs?—without angering the second amendment zealots.

No amount of gun control, no amount of mental health services, no amount of slashing and cutting with our proverbial giant swords is ever going to bring back those precious little ones who were slain today. Gun control, and locks and metal detectors in schools and churches and hospitals will not silence the echo of their screams in our hearts and minds. Gun control isn’t going to bring the Aurora, Colorado victims back to life, it’s not going to heal the wound in the skull of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. It’s not. But, America does need to address the issue of access to weapons. We need to properly fund the existing legislation that controls access to weapons. Also, we need to adequately fund mental health services. And we need to de-stigmatize mental health care so that people who need help will have access to effective treatment and they will be less likely to feel ashamed of admitting to their health problems. We need to consider practical, no-nonsense legislation to keep weapons out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Because kindergarteners shouldn’t have their little bodies riddled with bullets, either and I’m siding with the kindergarteners on this one no matter what the framers of our constitution said about guns.

And, yes, Mitt Romney, we need more responsible fathers, and strong mothers, and strong families, and unified communities. Me, as a Christian, I believe we need God. We need all of those things. We need to be able to have a real conversation about our problems, and we need to listen to everyone on all sides of the issues and to act on those conversations. Yes, we need action.

And for now, for today, and the weeks and months to come, we need to have hearts, broken hearts wide open and grieving for all that was lost in that schoolroom in Connecticut today. May God have mercy on their blameless little souls, may he comfort their families, and may he help us all to heal our grieving nation.

Image: Andorand / Flickr


About JP Rennquist

JP Rennquist works as a toymaker and home visitor with an early childhood education program hlping to educate parents and strengthen families in northeast Minnesota. He lives in Duluth, MN with his family. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jprennquist


  1. JP Rennquist says:

    Hi folks, thanks for the thoughtful responses.

    Kirsten and Rob I don’t disagree that someone with a gun could’ve stopped it all from happening, I do think that the deployment of the guns would likely cause more harm than it would ever prevent. And, it might not work, either. In the 2005 school shooting in Red Lake Reservation in Minnesota the shooter killed a police officer (his grandfather, if I recall correctly) and then used the officers weapon to do most of the killing.

    Audra your brave response really impressed me and I am happy to hear that your brother is getting some care. The attitude that someone with mental health problems is just fine and what harm can it do is extremely widespread. Extremely widespread so your family is not rare whatsoever. What is great is that you were able to work though some of the relationship issues and take a stand for your brothers health.

    In my part of the world I am lucky to live in a little city where I can look our my window and see three hospitals. However, it still takes about a year to get in for a first appointment with a psychiatrist. Chemical dependency treatment can work much more quickly but the quality varies. Of course if you are violent or attempt a suicide you can get in right away, but that is too late, isn’t it.? Our mental health system is broken in this country. BROKEN.

    I also think that our relationships with one another are important. One news report about Sandy hook described a place with huge houses and no sidewalks. Where I like there are plenty of sidewalks, but also plenty of isolation. I don’t know a lot of my neighbors names, and some of them come and go so quickly that I wouldn’t have time to really get to know them if I did have the courage to break out of my shell and make a good effort at trying. I’m going to work at it. We all should work at it. Busyness is enough of an epidemic that we don’t have enough time to take care of ourselves, our kids, and we don’t have time to really know other people. Not even our close friends and family as well as maybe we should. Audra, clearly you did know your brother well enough to (possibly) prevent another catastrophe.

    I think I agree with everything that Clarence said. I will add that the shooting outside my own house was a gang/drug related incident according to police investigators. But that was already obvious to me. The drug war is just nuts and it keeps us from working on our real priorities

    Thanks also for your kindness and insights, Roger. I think I agree with you there. My faith teaches that we need a savior but that we have one that we can engage with whenever we need to, too. No one is getting out of here alive, so it is how we live today that reverberates in the afterlife (hey, isn’t that a line in Braveheart or something?) Anyway, my spirituality has made all the difference in my life. But I don’t claim to have the truth cornered, just, for me, that’s the truth.

  2. JP – thanks for this piece. I believe that the issues involved in the Sandy Hook killings are far more complex than the availability of guns. Mental health, social isolation, bullying, were probably part of the recipe that contributed to this. I also believe that faith matters. We may never know what part faith played in the life of the killer, but I am convinced that what we believe in shapes our lives and our actions. And actions like those of the shooter in Newtown are actions of one who has lost faith – in himself? in life? in hope? in possibility? in relationship? – we won’t likely know. But I don’t believe that someone who still has faith inn something can do something like that. Faith matters.

  3. JP Rennquist says:

    I am appreciative of the thoughtful discussion underway here. I’ll share some more personalized comments when I have a chance. (One thing I didn’t share earlier is that I am also a full time grad student and this is finals week.)

  4. I’m afraid trying to ban objects is the wrong way to go here.

    I suppose it’s also futile to link to the various massacres throughout history , though I do intend to point out that this isn’t the worst school massacre: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bath_School_disaster.
    The Bath school disaster involved the use of explosives and left — ahh, heck, I’ll defer to wiki:

    The Bath School disaster is the name given to three bombings in Bath Township, Michigan, on May 18, 1927, which killed 38 elementary school children, two teachers, four other adults and the bomber himself; at least 58 people were injured. Most of the victims were children in the second to sixth grades (7–11 years of age[1]) attending the Bath Consolidated School. Their deaths constitute the deadliest mass murder in a school in U.S. history and the third-deadliest non-military massacre in U.S. history, behind 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing.

    Certainly there’s been times in the past when US gun ownership rates were higher than they are now, and yet, while you would hear of the occasional murder of a teacher, you never heard of large massacres involving guns until the Prohibition era. This suggests to me that trying to take on guns to “solve” this problem – as if one could ever truly stop forever rare events like elementary school massacres- is rather futile.

    However we can reduce their incidence with the following three steps:
    A. More coverage for mental health issues. Often, even people who have insurance have trouble getting mental healthy therapy, and most coverage only pays enough to cover the issuance of psychotropic drugs.
    B. Don’t popularize such things in the media as some of the killers do this stuff for attention. That doesn’t mean don’t report it, but it would be nice if news organizations informally decided to report only official statements for the first 5 days after an attack (to allow initial investigations to complete) and voluntarily agreed to publish no books nor do any tv special reports for six months after an attack.
    Of course getting the news media to be this responsible would be a hard battle.
    C. Someone at any large gathering SHOULD be armed. It might be a security guard or a principal, but the someone should be trained and have access to some sort of protective gun or weapon.
    Oh, did I forget the biggest and most effective way to reduce fatalities, esp. firearms fatalities?
    End or at least significantly reform our “War on Drugs”. Most firearms deaths in this country are between criminals killing each other over sex, drugs, or money.

  5. I PREVENTED AN EVENT LIKE THIS FROM HAPPENING and so can other people. I have a schizophernic brother who wanted to get a gun and spoke of his homicidal fantasies against catholics. I called an emergency meeting with my family and made them PROMISE not to get him a gun (they wanted to surprise him w/ a gun for X-mas!). They said “What could possibly go wrong?” and I told them to stop living in denial. He’s now in a half-way home where they keep him on his meds. The family didn’t want him there. Thankfully, they didn’t get their wish.
    I am so saddened by this and ALL such tragedies. We can all make a change by EDUCATING ourselves about the warning signs of Schizophrenia & homicidal fantasies. There ARE warning signs! 2.2 mil Americans are Schizophenic, which means we all know someone who is. Let’s keep an eye on them and get them on meds/treatment. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schizophrenia

    • @Audra … thanks you for sharing this. I don’t understand why families are in such denial. I don’t see the benefit of denying a mental condition.

  6. This nation is too stupid to survive!

    I am outraged that MORE little children and teachers have died and not person of power is even considering how to defend them!!!! NO ONE believes that more bureaucratic gun hoops will save anyone! If someone does believe that, they are certifiably nuts! To leave our children with nothing more than to hide under their desk and quiver in hope that a bullet does not find them is a crime against humanity.

    Our nation has turned into such a coward-fest, we won’t even consider our own survival. All we can do is hope the bad man doesn’t come into this classroom.

    If police can be trained to shoot a dog, so can teachers! No? If accountants for the FBI can be trained to shoot a bad guy, so can a school principal.

    My little town of yuppie fktards pay $21,000 per-student in school budget taxation. We can certainly afford staff gun-training or a hired armed guard, but no one in this nation will even consider it.

  7. Kirsten (in MT) says:

    “But, America does need to address the issue of access to weapons.”

    I agree. Women need more access to weapons to level the playing field.

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