An October breeze surrounded the crowd of tourists around Virginia Beach’s Dairy Queen. Suddenly a loud pop rang out, narrowing the unconcerned eyes. The bang eerily resembled a gunshot. Youths, employing a time-honored prank, filled a paper bag with air, then popped it. Though the source was harmless, the reverberation complicates efforts at defending the Second Amendment.

Despite Barak Obama’s notorious comment about clinging to God and guns, the charismatic 39th president accomplished little regarding firearms. Now, a new, more persuasive voice is addressing Americans. An utterance reaching where previous leaders dared not tread. With little hope of soon vanishing from our national identity, speaking in a horrific, heartbreaking tone, is the specter of mass shootings.

Even that description stirs debate. The FBI has no official number, though assaults needn’t be lethal for the designation “mass shooting.” The Gun Violence Archive suggests four victims qualify. The greater question: Who’s to blame. Gun accessibility? Violent movies and video games? Mental illness? Bullying? The digital age’s isolationism? Nuclear family breakdown?

The cause may prove elusive, American fatigue over the casualties isn’t. Little wonder with the Gun Violence Archive reporting 417 mass shootings in 2019. Incorrect stats? Perhaps. Yet how does one counter public opinion without sounding callously indifferent? Some polls suggest 58% of gun right champion Republicans, and two-thirds of Democrats, feel something must be done. But what?

Proposals include amending or repealing the Second Amendment. But requiring a two-thirds Congressional majority and 38-state ratification, the lengthy procedure won’t stop the next shooting. Legislation the criminal mind will ignore, (do lawless people obey laws), and thus wouldn’t stop the flow of illegal weapons.

Yet despite reasonable objections, ongoing incidents make modification of the Second seem inevitable. And what harm would amending do, proponents ask, if it reduced the bloodshed? After all, the Framers couldn’t foresee the destructiveness of modern weapons. Sensible questions? Yes, when offered by impartial bystanders. But after years of liberal effort, conservatives see only smokescreens and hypocrisy.

Case in point: The tear-stained cheeks and quavering voices that denounce gun violence defend abortion with shameless abandon, threatening even the newly born. The CDC reported 1,700 induced abortions per day in 2016. Reduced by two-thirds, the numbers dwarf the cumulative totals for gun violence. Shouldn’t the harmless child in the womb be accorded equal dignity with the innocent children in the street? It’s a daunting double standard.

Yet abortion, usually a Christian issue, also challenges the Christian gun owner about his own duplicity. No brief opinion piece does justice to the nuanced aspects of Christ’s teachings, especially on peace. Yet his commands have implications for this historical moment. Are they approached as vigorously as gun rights?

Distorting Christian values over firearms is as great a tragedy as gun violence, mirroring the hypocrisy cited above. On the right shoulder a patch: “One nation under God.” On the left, a patch warning that those who come for the guns should expect the bullets first. Not all Christian gun enthusiasts are guilty of that sentiment, but none should be. And shame on those who are. Sincere believers must guard against being so swept along by inflamed rhetoric that they betray their allegiance to heaven in their devotion to earthly freedoms.

All citizens should rightly fear that one civil liberty’s loss will lead to the collapse of others. Look no farther than the Democratic bill to forbid criticizing Virginia’s governor. The loss of free assembly, speech, of the press, of religion — these are real threats. After all, if free speech were lost who could complain about gun violence? Yet those who see the Bible as life’s roadmap, not mere ancient wisdom, have special responsibilities. They must strive to prevent blurring the lines between two kingdoms, always recognizing that advocating an American principle isn’t always the same as championing a heavenly one.

Followers of Christ can enjoy the legitimate uses of firearms. And they should defend the Second Amendment, but not primarily because of losing a weapon. Rather, it should be because of the domino effect of one public freedom after another disappearing from our national consciousness. Undeniably, some on the left support abolishing firearms from America. Yet painting broadly is unfair and exactly the kind of motive judging Christ forbids. Some on the left don’t want the guns. They just want the killing to stop. Abolishing the Second won’t likely accomplish that. But every citizen must ask what can I do to reach that goal?

William Shifflett is an Edinburg resident.