Christianity and Guns 1

RE-POST: It is time. And it is the season of peace. We join the people of Newtown and Aurora and elsewhere to raise the flag of peace when it comes to guns. The church and its leaders ought to be first in line. I join them.

James Atwood admits he has been waiting for 36 years, but that wait (for all of us who have been waiting) is now over: Atwood himself wrote the book. What’s he been waiting for? After he buried one Herb Hunter who was killed by a reckless use of an easily-purchased handgun, he’s been waiting for someone to write a book that theologically reflects on guns in America.

30,000 gun deaths per year in the USA. 30,000. More than the population of the village in which we live. Wiped off the map every year. 30,000.

Where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths. Guns are designed to kill.

In 2008, 17 in Finland, 35 in Australia, 39 in England and Wales, 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany, 200 in Canada, and 9484 were killed by guns in the USA.

Atwood, who owns a gun and is a deer hunter,  was asked about five years ago to speak to the Presbyterian Peacemaking Forum about guns and gospel values and idolatry, and that book is called America and Its Guns: A Theological Exposé. Atwood is more than a concerned pastor; Atwood has been involved with The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence for 36 years. He’s read all the materials; knows the evidence; has been active in the discussion and social struggle; and he has given us a gift.

What we need is a balance between the right to bear arms and the right to live in safety.

For change to occur, Atwood observes, requires “the leadership of an educated, spiritually aware, and committed community” (xvi). The Gun Empire, he claims, has a stranglehold on America. He sees gun violence as the elephant in the room no one wants to look at or talk about. He thinks the stranglehold is about the “principalities and powers” and are nourished by death.

It is not God’s will that 82 to 84 people die every day as a result of gun violence.

The nonsense of the Gun Empire is that guns don’t kill people and that the answer to gun violence is more guns.

Atwood thinks his previous strategies — through the federal government and legal process to create better laws —  didn’t work because he was too naive about the NRA’s use of funds to guide legislators. He thinks now that the way forward in gun violence and the way forward against the Gun Empire is to motivate and mobilize the church, the community of faith, to act on its faith.

Here is how he says it:

On the moral high ground, with confidence in the rightness of our cause, with indisputable facts at our disposal, and with strong biblical and spiritual resources, people of faith will be able to convince those in Congress and in statehouses to vote for fair and balanced laws that they know in their hearts is the right thing to do.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Bob S.

    Stricter gun laws are fine by me. But I also wonder where it stops. Registering knives over a certain length is now happening in China thanks to continued crazies knifing school children. People use chemicals in amazingly damaging ways so I assume we’ll need to put strict regulations on those. We now get naked scans at the airport for our security. I’m tired of the violence AND the ever increasing laws which far too often have too little impact on solving the problem.

  • Kenny Johnson

    But it seems that the church goers are some of the largest gun rights advocates.

  • Greg D

    I don’t possibly see how in the world Christians reconcile Jesus’ words to “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies” with gun ownership. How can one possibly love their enemy and turn the other cheek with gun in hand? I am convinced of two things: 1) America has a love obsession (idolatry) with guns; 2) Americans by nature are a uniquely violent people. Guns and violence are a part of American culture and heritage. And, it’s hard to get it out of their blood.

  • Val

    The stats are confusing me:
    “30,000 gun deaths per year in the USA. 30,000. More than the population of the village in which we live. Wiped off the map every year. 30,000.”
    and
    “In 2008, 17 in Finland, 35 in Australia, 39 in England and Wales, 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany, 200 in Canada, and 9484 were killed by guns in the USA.”

    So, was 2008 a particularly odd year, or should it read 30,000 gun deaths in the last 50 years or something? I keep getting conflicting stats on this – 9484 is awful, but it is far less than 30,000 and I am just trying to clarify.

  • Bry McClellan

    I was wondering the same thing. Is the difference between 30,000 the total of accidental deaths plus poeple killed by guns through violent crimes. It may be that the 9484 deaths are limied to the number of murders minus the number by accident. Anyway when large numbers are thrown out it makes one wonder if this is an exageration.

  • Rick

    Greg D:

    “I don’t possibly see how in the world Christians reconcile Jesus’ words to “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies” with gun ownership. How can one possibly love their enemy and turn the other cheek with gun in hand?”

    The response may be that they also want to love their “neighbor” (including family, friends, etc…) by defending them from harm.

  • EricW

    Here’s how it will go:

    “You don’t believe in same-sex marriage? Fine. Then don’t marry someone of the same sex.”

    “You don’t believe people should have guns? Fine. Then don’t buy a gun.”

  • Jared

    I also question the statistics offered here. Mainly because I have been looking for reliable data and statistics relating to guns for a few days and it seems that a large majority online are offered by either the pro-gun lobby or the gun control advocates. Why the disparity between the two numbers? Further, what happens if you expand the statistics to include all violent crimes? The pro-gun argument usually holds that if we take away guns, criminals will be violent with other means. So, what do the statistics of violent crime look like in these countries? What do the statistics look like both before and after the enactment of stricter gun laws.

    Growing up a neo-con evangelical, I have now come to hate guns (mostly the attitude that so many of my fellow southern Christians have towards them); however, I earnestly desire to debate this topic on fair grounds and the availability of reliable data make this difficult.

  • KatR

    The problem with that argument, EricW, is that people who support same sex marriage aren’t dragging people out of their homes and forcing them to get married, while gun owners are shooting people at schools, churches, malls and movie theaters.

  • Dwight K

    Why is it the role of the church to fight guns (or support them)? Seems to me that there are solid arguments on both sides and that if you adamantly support one side or the other you alienate half the people we should be reaching with the life-changing love of Jesus. Shouldn’t we focus on the great commission and loving God and others? If we do that won’t we also influence and change society to be more like Jesus?

  • Jennifer

    The lower number refers to homicides. In the U.S. in 2010 there were 12,996 homicides of which 67.5% were from people using firearms. 53% of the people were killed by someone they knew. 24% were killed by a family member. 23% were killed during felonies.

    More alarming, the Center for Disease Control in the U.S. reports:
    The Center also reports that the number of firearm deaths of kids younger than 15 is almost 12 times higher in the United States than in the next 25 industrialized countries combined. We average more than 4,000 dead children annually. For comparison, as of last August we had lost 4.680 American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan since the wars there began in 2001.

    In canada (keep in mind that we have 1/10th the population of the U.S.) there were 554 homicides in 2010 and 170 were by firearms. Canadians are allowed to own guns but we have fairly tight gun control laws (must attend safety course, background check performed by the RCMP, personal references checked and a mandatory 28 day waiting period).

  • Mark Nieweg

    To Rick (#6) in response to Greg D (#3) that “they also want to love their “neighbor” (including family, friends, etc…) by defending them from harm.”

    This has always been the response of non-pacifists to pacifists. And as one who has moved from the non-pacifist to a nuanced position called “cross-bearing” that on the surface looks like a pacifism, I could relate and continue to relate to that argument. After all, it is conventional wisdom, the way of natural response – the way Jesus was tempted in his temptations. I used that argument myself until I saw that Jesus calls a follower of his to the same obedience he was called to by his Father, if not for atoning purposes, at least for respresentative (ambassadorial) purposes. I found as I argued otherwise, the self-defense response would always be the first response rather than a real trust in my crucified (and vindicated by resurrection) Messiah that just might allow God to open doors for an outcome that would glorify Him – even, as with Jesus, an innocent death might occur. Of course, to even approach this, you have to have around you fellow believers encouraging you to obey, not those that give you every excuse not to. After all, the path called to by Jesus he says is narrow, and most won’t even give it a second thought when pursuing conventional wisdom. Of course, this requires discipleship that actually listens to the one we claim to follow. I wasn’t listening until challenged in just this way.

  • Rick

    Mark #10-

    “I found as I argued otherwise, the self-defense response would always be the first response rather than a real trust in my crucified…Messiah”

    Good point, and I don’t necessarily disagree. However, I was not stressing self-defense. I was stressing the defense of others.

  • britt

    What about all the police who shoot people everyday…Where are the restrictions for them?
    I wonder what the death rate is between cops vs normal people. I live in LA, and on the news,cops are murding people far more than anyone else. Why not disarm them?

  • Bob Myers (@Hawkforgrace)

    We can start with no assault weapons, no magazines with the ability to fire without ceasing, as there is no need for such things in hands of private citizens.

    The gun lobby has intimidated everyone, and their ideology has drowned out reason in many conservative Christian circles, perhaps the majority of them.

    With great scrutiny, and with licensing that has high standards and high penalties for violation, there can still be limited access to guns, but it’s very sad that this issue is not part of the Pro-Life agenda.

  • scotmcknight

    Dwight K, I would argue only that Christians should embody a kingdom vision, not enter the political process. I will only speak out in the direction of the church’s behavior. As a citizen, of course, I vote and I can offer my perspective, but in the end I would not argue the church is to “fight” so much as provide a better way.

  • Mitch Coggin

    I am troubled by such rabid devotion to guns in our culture but especially among Christians. You would think Jesus’ words had been reinterpreted to say, “Blessed are the piecemakers.”

  • http://davidspell.com/ David Spell

    I was a police officer near metro-Atlanta for almost 30 years. I retired last year. I have been involved in pastoral ministry for a little longer than that. One of the things that I learned as a cop is that criminals don’t obey the laws. The knee-jerk reaction after any tragedy is let’s make more laws. Laws don’t change people’s hearts and the reality is we have plenty of laws. How many times have we seen on the news where someone who should have been in prison had commited a violent crime? Connecticut already has some of the strictest gun laws in the US. More laws are not the answer.

    I have seen statistics as high as one million times a year that a law abiding citizen uses a gun to defend themselves or their loved ones. In most cases, the citizen does not even shoot. The mere presence of the firearm sends the predator looking for easier victims.

    For those of my brothers and sisters who would say that they could never harm anyone, even if that person was harming their family, I understand them not wanting to have a gun. In a previous comment, someone mentioned shootings at schools, churches, and malls. One church shooting was stopped by an off-duty cop with a gun. At the recent mall shooting in Oregon, an armed, private citizen confronted the gunman. The gunman then backed down a hallway and took his own life. That shooting could have been so much worse.

    Most of the police officers that I know are NOT in favor of more gun control. They understand that in most bad situations, they are going to get there after the fact. Police officers understand that citizens need to have the means to protect themselves. I am sure that at some point soon President Obama is going to have some police chiefs lined up behind him on the White House lawn as he signs some anti-gun legislation. Just understand, these police chiefs don’t represent the rank of file police officers. The famous firearms instrucor Jeff Cooper was asked why he always carried a gun. His answer, “Because a cop is too heavy.”

    It is unfortunate to me that tragedies such as Newtown immediately become political tools. The media was talking about gun control before the school had even been secured. Maybe, it might be better if we prayed for these families that are suffering and hugged our own children before we start trying to pass more laws that are not going to work.

  • Jim

    #16….Scot: Could you clarify your comment a bit. You do vote but you don’t enter the political process. How do you mean you don’t enter the political process? (I’m asking because I am struggling with this issue. How to be a citizen of the realm without getting too deeply involved in it.) Thanks for the lead on this book.

  • Bart Barber

    Just a couple of things to think about:

    1. Reflect a moment upon history. The Inquisition. The Crusades. The warfare tactics, standards of prisoner treatment (the Mongols, Parthians, Nero, etc.). If at any point you’d like to have a public debate on whether humans are more or less violent after the invention of firearms, I certainly wouldn’t be afraid to take the position that we are less violent. I’ve yet to read a philippic on gun control that didn’t seem to me to suffer from historical myopia.

    2. Considering the biblical witness and the example of Jesus, it’s a great deal more complicated than Mark suggests (not that Mark is under obligation to give a full systematic theology every time he offers a comment somewhere). The equivalent of gun control in the New Testament would be, I suppose, sword control. Not only do we not see that in the life of Jesus (or anywhere else), but instead we see Jesus in Luke 22 instructing his disciples to sell their clothing to purchase swords. He then, of course, chastises Peter for using the sword in Gethsemane. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always felt a bit of sympathy for Peter, who had to process these two instructions in a single night and comprehend an ethic of weapons. Certainly the juxtaposition of these two statements from Jesus excludes most of the absolutist platitudes on either side of the question.

    3. I think it is a mistake (not made in the original post, but emerging rather in the comments) to conflate pacifism and gun control. Gun control is a question of public policy (should gun violence be the exclusive domain of nation-states). A Christian might support gun control and yet still support gun use by Christians (who, for example, serve in the military or in law enforcement). Pacifism, on the other hand, inexorably calls Christians out of military service and law enforcement, branding those violent professions as beneath the Christian pacifist ideal. If the ownership and use of a gun against people is wrong in itself, is it not wrong regardless of one’s occupation? If the moral status of gun use depends somehow upon context, don’t the contextual tests apply equally to the hostage rescue team and the housewife?

  • http://www.kingdomroundtable.blogspot.com Dru Dodson

    I wonder if we agree on what the lawyers call the following “stipulations”?
    1. The Constitution does not envision a dis-armed population.
    2. Jesus’ teaching on non-violence is in the context of Roman occupation and the constant agitation on the part of some Jews of the time to take up arms against Rome and establish the Kingdom.
    3. Part of freedom and part of love is the willingness to accept restrictions on myself for the sake of others.
    4. the Church’s role is prophetic by word and deed. And we should not expect those outside the Kingdom to have the grace to live the Kingdom way.
    5. Mammon and Power are the gods behind the scenes of BOTH sides of the American debate.

    Certainly we should discuss the implications of these, but noticing that a lot of the conversation here and in the media doesn’t seem to agree with these “stipulations”.

  • Mark Nieweg

    Rick (#13). I apologize for missing the nuance of your statement. It is this very thing – love of neighbor – that has made it hard to engage in the kind of “go-around” between pacifists and non-pacifists. Like I said, it is the same response I would use in the past. And I do think it is legitimate as a question: what about going to the aid of the innocent neighbor? But I don’t believe it serves as a good answer (it is no answer at all) to Jesus’ teachings and example. I think of John the Baptist sending his disciples to question Jesus’ identity when he finds himself in prison under Herod, not knowing what will happen; or why, if indeed Jesus is on the scene as expected Messiah, John is even there at all. Jesus finishes his response with “blessed is he who is not offended by me,” a statement that reveals John’s motive for asking his question. In trying to come to terms myself of Jesus’ “offense” I find certain approaches to issues such as what we are discussing will fall under this challenge. For me to obey Jesus given the current question, I had to get rid of all my guns (I know what I’d be tempted to do!), and so hopefully allow a trust that God would have a better way in the situation, given my marching orders by Jesus.

  • scotmcknight

    Brett,

    1. Your first point, however, needs to be balanced with the nightmarish numbers of humans killed during the 20th Century in war. The weapons of war are moving backwards into ownership by citizens. We are not, in fact, safer. We are more violent today, not less. Historical myopia includes attention to more than use of guns.

    2. The biblical witness gets nowhere merely citing texts, including the obscure comment about the sword by Jesus. More to the point is the witness of the NT that Jesus, when treated violently, did not use violence, and that “strategy” or “theology” was commended to the Christians when they were treated violently. The cross, not the sword, is the paradigm for Christian living.

    3. I agree: pacifism and gun control are not the same. The latter is an issue of citizens and laws; the former is a Christian strategy of how to live God’s will. The issue for me is how are we as Christians to conduct ourselves in a world given to violence?

  • scotmcknight

    Dru, thanks. Good list and you illustrate a kingdom approach to our relation to State/Caesar and to one another. Love of neighbor meant love of enemy.

  • Rick

    Mark #22-

    I appreciate your thoughtful stance. However, I understand the stance of those wanted to defend others as well. It is for that reason that I responded to Greg D’s comment in #3.

    I don’t think the answer is so clear that one side’s position needs to be imposed on the other. Both have reasons that come from sincere, good-intentioned hearts.

  • Mark Nieweg

    Rick (#25). I think my challenge to you is to engage Jesus, not me, with your reasoning. I had to come to terms with Jesus, not those who could defend one side over another on other grounds. My concern is that courses of action based on conventional wisdom have consequences well beyond the situation at the moment. Jesus’ very “way” serves to expose those consequences as well as reveal our parochialism in how we see God’s world and our responsibility in it. Indeed, our faithfulness to Jesus is important in this very respect – to participate in his mission. History’s ironies should continue to vindicate him and his way, but especially for those who claim to be his followers. God bless.

  • http://markkakkuri.wordpress.com Mark Kakkuri

    I haven’t read the book so I admit being unfamiliar with the details of Atwood’s overall case. I also admit my biases as a Christian who writes regularly about firearms for gun magazines and other publications.

    Responding only to what McKnight wrote, however, I have a few questions/statements:

    1) “30,000.” Can you substitute any other device or vice – e.g., baseball bats, tire irons, alcoholism, bad driving of a car — for ‘gun’ and still make the same case, that the device should be banned or regulated more?

    2) “In 2008 … 9,484” Does Atwood include the statistics regarding the number of times each year firearms are used for good and lawful purposes?

    3) “Guns are designed to kill.” I appreciate the point about design but only to an extent. The better question seems to be: What amount of morality is intrinsic to an inanimate object (no matter its design) that will not function until a moral human being purposely uses it?

    4) “The balance…” What’s the relationship between using particular tools such as firearms to the ability to live in safety? How does this relate to the concept of freedom and individual responsibility?

    5) From the comments regarding self-defense: We need to be committed both to the biblical preservation of life as well as a biblical response to persecution for our beliefs. So, we are against abortion and would rightly fight off someone attacking us or our family or friends (where there’s no obvious reason to think this is religious persecution) and would otherwise generally protect and care for life – this includes the leaders of a church in both spiritual and physical matters. Turning the other cheek is how we respond to insults that come to us because of our belief in God.

    6) Obviously, this is a fallen world that is sick with sin. We have a biblical basis for government bearing the sword (a tool for the proactive pursuit of righteousness, Rom. 13:4) to keep the peace for the purpose of facilitating gospel success. Granted: The gospel can succeed anywhere and certainly has succeeded even in the most oppressive environments. It seems the normal course, however, according to the Bible, that systems and people and tools can and should be used for righteous purposes – namely in adequately fighting or suppressing unrighteousness in society.

    I’ve found Wayne Grudem helpful on this topic: http://scottsdalebible.com/assets/audio/christian-essentials/20100314WGrudem.mp3

    Enjoying the discussion!
    Mark

  • Rick

    Mark #26-

    I have engaged Jesus on the matter (you may be incorrectly assuming I hold to a certain position regarding my own actions). I simply am not going to tell someone else that his/her decision to have (or use) a gun to defend someone else from serious harm was due to a lack of engaging Jesus on the matter.

  • Thomas

    “It is not God’s will that 82 to 84 people die every day as a result of gun violence.” True statement. Nor is it God’s will that some 3,000 babies die every day as a result of abortions. Perhaps the bigger issue is how Christianity values life.

  • Mark Nieweg

    Rick, I think you and I have every responsibility to engage another, especially if they are claiming they are following Jesus, on a matter that involves obedience. But most times these kinds of things are placed at the level of conscience instead of obedience. Or even at a level of freedom. If that were the case, I would agree with you. And surely we all have the freedom to disagree. If you think I am missing something about how to be a disciple regarding the issue at hand, please give me something to go on. I am always open to re-evaluating how I think. Just because I don’t own a gun due to its practically guaranteed lethality doesn’t mean I wouldn’t use a baseball bat (I admit I struggle at the pacifism thing).

  • TeeJay2012

    @David Spell – I just wanted to thank you for your insight on this topic. I completely agree with your stance and hold you and your fellow police officers in the highest regard. Thank you for your service to the community over the past 30 years. God Bless you and your family. Have a blessed Christmas.

  • Rick

    Mark #28-

    An innocent child is being attacked: Is defending/protecting that child disobedience, or is it “doing unto others…”/”love your neighbor…”?

  • Robin

    I think it would be helpful if the terms of the discussion moved away from “gun control” and moved onto specific policy proposals.

    Using “gun control” keeps making me think that some Christians see guns themselves as the problem. That their existence and usage, in and of itself, is the problem. That is simply not the case, unless you are a pacifist.

    If the terms used in the conversation shifted to (1) better training of firearms owners (2) better regulations to keep undesirables (previous criminals or mentally ill) from owning a gun and (3) reasonable limitations on total killing potential of individual weapons (magazine limits, elimination of 3-second bursts, etc.) then I think more progress could be made.

    In short, I think the very terms that the “gun control advocates” are using is hurting their cause because it seems to be primarily “anti-gun” instead of “pro-reasonable measures.”

  • Robin

    And I think that might indeed be an issue, do gun control advocates want reasonable measures such as mandatory training, increased licensure and insurance of guns, and reasonable limitations on magazine capacity, etc., or do they simply just want to throw away all the guns.

    I view guns as a tool, much like I view automobiles, and I could very much support a system in which gun licenses were regulated like drivers licenses…where there was training, a test, insurance, strict registration, etc. I would even vote to limit magazine capacity (and I would vote to make all vehicles cease operation at 75 mph or mandate that they come installed with breatalyzers).

    I am not sure if the gun control crowd (including Scot) would see a stricter ownership regime, similar to the one in Canada, as a victory, or if their real goal is the confiscation and destruction of most civilian owned firearms.

  • http://citygatestheology.org Sam

    Rick (#29) I find your reasoning very much among the lines of how pro-abortion advocates reason. “if your teenage sister was gang raped and traumatized, would you want her to raise that child up”. What you are doing is using an extreme situational case to make your point. I would rather use history (it is more realistic).
    Next thing, when Jesus said love your neighbor, he included your enemy in that too.
    Having said all of this, i will say that in the end our way of life is towards living out a Biblical righteousness, which included a restorative form of justice. I cannot build my way of life around narrowly defined situations. I would rather think of not just stopping sin in the instant, but would also want to be pro-active and preventive about sin. If Jesus way of life was to stop sin in its tracks, he would not have ended up on the cross. We need to take the same view of sin as Jesus did.

  • Mark Nieweg

    Rick, this conversation is about the use of lethal force, and better ways – ways Jesus would use – of doing something in a circumstance. These kind of “what if…” miss the point entirely. Jesus wasn’t packing a sword for the use you are suggesting. He wasn’t packing a sword at all. When you see the conversation surrounding us (I am wondering if we are moving outside of that conversation), it is about how we think about lethal gun violence. The wider world is astounded at this country’s “love affair” with guns. However, they would agree with you that the kind of defense you are suggesting is legitimate. I think our problem is that we as followers of Jesus have become so compromised by our history of legitimating accepted violence that we are now in a position where we have power and means to do things that might remedy a particular situation, yet have us never think about the wider picture of why Jesus calls us to another way. That is why guns as the topic is so important. It does not give us any reason to think of another way.

  • scotmcknight

    Jim, what I mean is that I’m not going to spend my time entering into the political process — writing a congressman/woman, boycotting gun stores, marching against the NRA. The church is my politic.

  • Rick

    Sam #32-

    “What you are doing is using an extreme situational case to make your point…I cannot build my way of life around narrowly defined situations.”

    Is it really that extreme and narrow? As David in #18 stated: “I have seen statistics as high as one million times a year that a law abiding citizen uses a gun to defend themselves or their loved ones. In most cases, the citizen does not even shoot. The mere presence of the firearm sends the predator looking for easier victims.”

    You said, “Next thing, when Jesus said love your neighbor, he included your enemy in that too.”

    I totally agree, but are you then choosing the enemy over the innocent? Loving your enemy does not mean an innocent person stops being your neighbor.

    You also said, “I would rather think of not just stopping sin in the instant, but would also want to be pro-active and preventive about sin.”

    I totally agree and think the church should lead the charge in looking for way to help prevent things from getting to that point, include reasonable gun laws.

  • RobS

    The “love your neighbor” topic that came up was a good one. It seems like a handful of the perpetrators of these events seem to be young men ages 15-30 that are often removed from society. If someone reached out to them with the love of Jesus, would they find hope and joy there and let Him change their heart instead of accepting the lies of Satan and following the path of evil? One may hope.

  • Rick

    Mark #36-

    I agree with much of what you said in that comment. Just remember, I was specifically addressing Greg D’s comment in #3 (“I don’t possibly see how in the world Christians reconcile Jesus’ words to “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies” with gun ownership. How can one possibly love their enemy and turn the other cheek with gun in hand?”).

    I was simply pointing out that some Christians do seem to reconcile the two, with plausible explanations. Does that mean anything goes? Certainly not.

  • scotmcknight

    Robin, good points, and your three points is what most think “gun control” means. And your next comment probably assumes what we differ most on: I would guess you have a Lutheran or Reformed view of the relationship of the Christian to State, one in which there is a sense of two realms (State vs. Church). My contention is that the Christian is not called to compromise with the State, and that what Jesus teaches is what we seek to live, public or private. I’m not saying you are inconsistent in participation in the State, but you know where I’m coming from as an Anabaptist. If Jesus’ vision is swords into pruning hooks (he doesn’t quote those lines but it is my conclusion they express his vision), then the use of any weapon designed to kill humans is turning pruning hooks into swords. The goal for me is the elimination of all guns designed to kill humans for those who want to live the kingdom vision of Jesus (as I understand it).

    More gun control – as I said above — is better than what we have.

  • Patrick

    Jesus commanded His own 12 to arm themselves upon His looming ascension, so this claim He opposes His people having self defense rights against thugs is unsound biblical exegesis and frankly bizarre.

    Of course Jesus didn’t carry a sword during His incarnation, He came to die at the hands of thugs, that’s not the role we have or those innocent kids had.

    IF you consider the pre Incarnate Son, you’d fine Him in Joshua as a man with a “drawn sword’ in His hand leading His people in combat though. Same God.

    I WISH these Newtown kids had protection from a well armed and trained citizen like these examples below had which minimized the success of the evil side:

    – Mayan Palace Theater, San Antonio, Texas, this week: Jesus Manuel Garcia shoots at a movie theater, a police car and bystanders from the nearby China Garden restaurant; as he enters the movie theater, guns blazing, an armed off-duty cop shoots Garcia four times, stopping the attack. Total dead: Zero.

    – Winnemucca, Nev., 2008: Ernesto Villagomez opens fire in a crowded restaurant; concealed carry permit-holder shoots him dead. Total dead: Two. (I’m excluding the shooters’ deaths in these examples.)

    – Appalachian School of Law, 2002: Crazed immigrant shoots the dean and a professor, then begins shooting students; as he goes for more ammunition, two armed students point their guns at him, allowing a third to tackle him. Total dead: Three.

    – Santee, Calif., 2001: Student begins shooting his classmates — as well as the “trained campus supervisor”; an off-duty cop who happened to be bringing his daughter to school that day points his gun at the shooter, holding him until more police arrive. Total dead: Two.

    – Pearl High School, Mississippi, 1997: After shooting several people at his high school, student heads for the junior high school; assistant principal Joel Myrick retrieves a .45 pistol from his car and points it at the gunman’s head, ending the murder spree. Total dead: Two.

    – Edinboro, Pa., 1998: A student shoots up a junior high school dance being held at a restaurant; restaurant owner pulls out his shotgun and stops the gunman. Total dead: One.

    NOW, consider the success of the evil side w/o the presence of armed citizens to help:

    By contrast, the shootings in gun-free zones invariably result in far higher casualty figures — Sikh temple, Oak Creek, Wis. (six dead); Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va. (32 dead); Columbine High School, Columbine, Colo. (12 dead); Amish school, Lancaster County, Pa. (five little girls killed); public school, Craighead County, Ark. (five killed, including four little girls) and now Newtown.

    All these took place in gun-free zones, resulting in lots of people getting killed. Not a difficult thing to figure out here, fear of being killed as opposed to a free hand to kill is a bad deal for the innocent and a great deal for the evil and why would a Christian preach THAT?

    I assume most of the ” Christians are immoral who protect themselves from violence” side here would be raking a Christian over the coals if she had been armed and killed that man before he succeeded in his evil?

  • Cris

    @Mark K.

    I think the difference is there is not much else a gun was designed for than killing. While I agree with you to an extent, there is a distinction say between a gun and a car. A car was not and is not made with intentionally killing others in mind, but guns certaintly are. Whether in war, hunting, or what have you the question behind the design of the gun is always “how can we kill more in number and in efficiency?”

  • Dale Cole

    I’m curious how some of you arrive at such a stridently pacifist philosophy based on the “example of Christ” when that example presumably includes crafting a home-made whip to forcibly evict money changers from temple and overturn their tables. Not to mention some of the above examples that have been brought up and dismissed as obscure and unhelpful for seemingly no reason than those examples did not support a particular poster’s viewpoint.

    Surely we follow the whole example and not just the parts that we like?

  • http://faithforthefainthearted.com TriciaM

    Watching this gun discussion (again), as a concerned foreigner and sister, is like watching a person I care about deal with an unadmitted alcohol addiction. The United States as a nation is addicted to guns. When something goes tragically wrong, an alcoholic in denial will blame everything but the drink. In the aftermath of Newtown I hear a lot of blame placed on everything but the real problem.

    I pray that some pro gun people are deciding for real that this is the last shooting hangover they ever want to have. It’s time to change.

    As for a church response, I think it’s time for sackcloth and ashes, fasting and prayer. This is not an issue that will be won by argument but by spiritual conviction and repentence. Every death by a privately owned gun, whether intentional or accidental, represents an injustice – and those of us looking in from the safety of an unarmed community can’t believe that’s not obvious to the Spirit filled body of American believers.

  • http://citygatestheology.org Sam

    @rick #38
    You talk about the good guns can do while i highlight about the bad that guns do. The difference in us is whether the collateral damage, of having guns, is acceptable. For me the answer is no. So what about the good that guns do? Well let us widen the solution to be more than just guns and ask ourselves are these situations preventable without having to resort to guns? If so let us pursue them. Here is where the example of Jesus comes in. He was looking at a wider cure for sin than simply stopping it in its tracks. We as Christians should have the same attitude.
    Other things i find alarming among Christians, is that the highest percentage of the population who support gun rights are evangelical Christians. Why is this so? Does Jesus advocate weapons? Most people quote Jesus asking for swords. But this is taken out of context. When the disciples bring two swords, he says it is enough! Yes, he put a limit on them! The scripture also makes it clear that he asked for the swords so that he could be counted as a criminal. I think we have to come realize that to a certain extent we have idolized guns.
    You ask me to make choice between the innocent over the enemy. This is exactly what Jesus is saying we shouldn’t be thinking. The ultimate innocent sufferer is Jesus. Did God sin when he allowed Jesus to die on the cross? Was God somehow compromising on his character during the crucifixion?

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    1. Jesus used a whip, okay, and how many ended up dead?
    2. There is a huge difference between Christians arguing for the use of force to stop evil and the use of deadly force. And what do Jesus last words in a vision to John in Revelation 13:9-10 mean if not to take up weapons of violence?
    3. Why do “what if” scenarios mean that someone must end up dead? Can a Christian imagination come up with better alternatives?

  • Rick

    Sam #46:

    “I think we have to come realize that to a certain extent we have idolized guns.”

    I totally agree. I think the glamorization of guns is a huge problem, and Christians should lead the way on diminishing that perspective.

    Jesus was indeed the ultimate innocent sufferer. However, he sacrificed Himself for others. I am talking about Christians choosing to defend others who are innocent.

  • http://shaneblackshear.com/blog Shane

    I’m excited about this book. I think all to often our only argument is “Guns are bad, am I right!?” I don’t think we’ve been great at really delving in to the arguments of the pro-gun side and refuting them.
    Like every blogger in the world, I posted some thoughts earlier this week on the topic.
    http://www.shaneblackshear.com/violence-guns-the-christ-follower/

  • Ray

    The reason why disciples of Jesus should be leading this conversation is that we, of all people, are called to embody and witness to a sentiment that says “I may have the right to ____, but I give up that right for the good of my neighbor” (and collectively, many neighbors = “society”). This is the essence of the gospel, through and through, and it is what the world needs to see and hear. That’s what we are about to celebrate next Tuesday, right?

  • Val

    It is weird that all these gun owners are running out to buy the assault weapon(s) used in the Newton incident in fear they will be banned. If they get banned, won’t the gun owners just have to hand them back? If not, the legislation has no comparison to other Western gun-restricted countries.

    Some things that would need to happen to make gun restrictions similar to other countries (below are Canada’s):

    - recall all banned weapons, and if people don’t return them then seize all restricted weapons
    - make ownership/possession of banned weapons a criminal act, and police are granted search warrants for the banned weapons
    - tighten the boarders with Mexico and steam the flow of illegal firearms
    - make gun licensing more difficult than driver licensing – have psych profiles filled out by the applicant
    - like all driver’s licenses, have the applicant prove they took and passed a nationally certified firearms safety course
    - phone the applicant’s spouse and ask if they are OK with him/her owning a gun. I suspect the divorce rate will lower on this criteria alone, we have a lower divorce rate in Canada too :)
    - make each sub-type of weapon have it’s own firearm safety course requirements (like truckers, bus drivers and car operators all have their own set of tests for driver licensing).
    - have a registry or tracking system for all guns, if you sell a gun on Craigslist, then, like a vehicle, you have to obtain and fill out an ownership transfer, so all guns bought are tracked throughout their existence
    -possession of an unregistered gun results in a criminal record and confiscation of all guns and a life-time ban on ownership
    - require hand-guns to have a “carry permit” – if you want to take your handgun out of your home, you need a carry permit – the government generally only approves permits to and from the shooting range.

    I think the reason restricting guns in a specific area doesn’t work is because anyone can leave that area to buy a gun and then return with it. A criminal can’t illegally use a gun he or she doesn’t have. So, criminals won’t obey a law willingly – a ban and confiscation forces them to obey/do the law unwillingly.

  • http://markkakkuri.wordpress.com Mark Kakkuri

    Cris #43. Fair point, but the design/intent of a firearm does not occur in a vacuum. It occurs in the context of a sinful world where it has been used far more for good than for evil. Conversely, other seemingly ‘innocent’ designs have been used for evil more than firearms have. I guess the point is that trying to regulate the tool/design might not be the most effective means to greater ‘safety.’ What we need is for hearts to be changed. That only comes by the power of the gospel.

  • Adam

    17 people killed in Finland by guns in 2008, given their population, is .00034 percent of the population compared to .0030 percent of the population killed by guns in the United States, given our population of almost 315,000,000. We’re talking about something which kills very few people, statistically speaking. In the midst of the media feeding frenzy, let’s keep in mind that alcohol related deaths amount to 75,000 a year and **illegal** drugs around 35,000 each year. Christians would be better off fighting obesity than pushing for gun laws, which quite frankly, have been totally ineffective in places like Oakland and DC and in countries like Columbia.

  • http://thekingsfellowship.com Steve, Winnipeg, Canada

    Val @ #51, as a Canadian I’m not sure about what you have written. I think some of that has recently changed in Canada. I’m not entirely sure though.

  • Rob F.

    It seems to me a major issue in this discussion revolves around whether the end justifies the means.

    Some seem to be making the case (in a Christian context) that it is ok for private citizens (again Christians) to own and use deadly force with guns IF it is to protect a “neighbor” or the “innocent”. Yesterday, I heard Dr. Land from the SBC in a radio interview in which in my opinion he almost seemed to characterize this as a Christian duty (based on the golden rule). So the end (saving innocents and neighbors) justifies the means (using deadly force with guns).

    Others (and I would include myself here) seem to be pushing back/questioning that utilitarian ethic in Christian context. Did Jesus model utilitarian ethics? Did Jesus ever participate in or condone deadly violence? Further who is our neighbor? Who is an “innocent”? Are these always easy to define in a given situation?

    I have not seen anybody in this conversation (on this blog or nationally) calling for an outright ban on all guns. I am not a hunter, I don’t own guns, and I have no desire to own a gun, but I understand that some do enjoy hunting and I have been known to shoot skeet on occasion. However, I find it frankly bizarre and tragic that we, as Christians, let alone a nation, can’t seem to agree that military grade weapons designed for no other legitimate purpose than killings humans shouldn’t be readily available to private citizens.

  • Cris

    @Mark K.

    Sure, no one here would disagree with that, but to say regulation on something so obviously intended for killing does not help is, I think, foolish. To say we have to either be for “heart change” or saftey is a false dichotomy. How many more massacres like this do we have to go through to realize we have a gun problem?

  • Dale Cole

    Why can’t we all agree we have a gun problem? Why can’t we agree these terrible military-style killing weapons shouldn’t be in civilian hands? Because some of us are forced to deal with the facts and research of the matter instead of uninformed fear.

    There’s ample research that gun control is pointless. There’s ample evidence that murder and suicide will continue and roughly the same rates with or without guns. There’s ample documentation that most mass killing occur in supposed “gun free zones” and plenty of incidents where armed citizens stopped potential mass killings outside those zones. Those scary military “assault weapons” are some of the least used crime guns, it’s not even the most common “mass killing” gun. A private citizen can own, with varying levels of permits and taxes, fully-automatic rifles, a .50 Browning machine gun, suppressors and all kinds of other powerful weaponry… and there is zero use in crime.

    I get that some many people think we mu t “DO SOMETHING!” I just don’t understand why they’re not interested in doing something actually useful.

  • Jim

    Thanks, Scot. Interesting that you say that the church is your politic ( I agree). I teach Pastoral Counseling and tell my students “The church is God’s therapeutic.” :-)

  • http://www.normmacdonald.wordpress.com Norm

    When you look at fifty eight comments and counting, it’s not hard to see why this is such a difficult “conversation” when it comes to politics, laws and the desire to maintain personal liberty.

  • Rob F.

    Dale,

    I would be happy to review the data you refer to regarding gun control being pointless…if you provide sources. I just heard a story today stating that U.S. law prevents the CDC and
    ATF from releasing and/or analyzing data they possess regarding gun-related violence. Why is this so? Mother Jones (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map) recently reported that in the past 30 years there have been something like 61 mass shooting events in this country (this past year being the worst in both number of events and body count). They reported that in approx. 80% of these mass shooting the perpetrator obtained the weapons legally. Semi-automatic pistols and assault weapons are by far the weapons of choice according to the report.

    Now I realize these are rare events, but that makes them no less traumatic and by definition they involve the murder of innocent people (not people involved in crime or domestic violence, hunting, etc.). Just because we can’t guarantee that limiting the “rights” of all Americans will eliminate all such instances or gun violence in general, should we do nothing? We should do more than limit access to certain guns, but no less.

    How would address this issue?

  • Patrick

    With me it has nothing to do with politics. God gave humanity the authority to protect itself from violent humanity.

    I suppose the majority view here is that it would have been bad if a confessing Christian teacher had shot this man dead as soon as his intent was known, saving maybe 24 lives instead of having to use their body as a shield for a lead bullet.

  • Dale Cole

    I’ve posted links in other comments, there’s plenty for anyone willing to look around. The CDC actually releases lots of data on gun deaths/injuries/suicides. Some of the links in the Doubhat post discuss how it may be impossible to prevent these kinds of massacres.

    Frankly, doing nothing is preferable to doing something stupid.

    The available research suggests things that would actually make a difference are arming teachers, eliminating gun-free zones, and some kind of awareness/reporting system that would facilitate identifying the killer early (in almost all cases someone had knowledge of the killers plans but never told anyone). Changes to involuntary commitments might make some impact but there’s nothing emperical to base that on and won’t be unless we try it.

    Overall murder is a much bigger threat to life, and would be better prevented by hiring more police officers, providing better rehabilitation/reintegration services instead of mere criminal warehousing, decriminalizing some illegal drugs, encouraging strong two-parents families and general improvment of economic opportunity.

    Hopfully that will tide you over. I’m leaving for Christmas vacation and don’t plan on touching a computer until next year.

  • Jason

    @ Dale @David
    Here is more evidence compiled by the Harvard School of Public health that suggests that more guns=more violence and counters claims that millions of people use guns as self defense against the criminals (http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/research/hicrc/firearms-research/).
    I have a hunting rifle and a hunting bow that I use to hunt deer (I prefer bow hunting), I grew up in a military family (father was a Navy vet, grandfather was a vet in the Korean war, uncle and cousins in the Marines) and have many friends who are police officers. I have been around guns and shooting gun most of my life. I am not advocating that guns be completely outlawed but I see absolutely no reason for us “average Americans” to possess some some of the guns we currently have access to and I am completely for stricter gun control laws across the US.
    I was discussing gun control with a state trooper friend of mine and he was adamantly for stricter gun control while a police officer friend was for more lenient gun control. Just because a person is in law enforcement does not mean they will be on one side or the other

  • Phil Miller

    It is weird that all these gun owners are running out to buy the assault weapon(s) used in the Newton incident in fear they will be banned. If they get banned, won’t the gun owners just have to hand them back? If not, the legislation has no comparison to other Western gun-restricted countries.

    Some things that would need to happen to make gun restrictions similar to other countries (below are Canada’s):

    I cut this comment short in the quote, but do you really think this would come close to working in the US? There are several millions of AR-15s in the US, and that’s only one model (the best selling one) of assault rifle. I just can’t imagine that many people willingly giving them up. Then what? Are we going to throw several million people in jail?

    I don’t own guns, nor do I particularly like them. But the fact is we already have fought the gun control battle and the pro-gun side won. Anything we do now going to be a marginal change at best. The bell has already been rung.

    I suppose a change would be possible in the long-term, like several generations, but even then I’m skeptical.

  • Val

    Steve at #54 – I’m a Canadian too. This is current, what changed was the long-gun registry – but in order for a country to eliminate random gun deaths, it has to eliminate the current crop of losely licensed or unlicensed guns. These laws were more in action in 1989 through to the 1990s. Now, if you want to obtain a gun, you have to get a license – takes ages (months at least), pass a fire-arms safety course, etc. before you get your license. Your license then only applies to the type of gun you can own.

    The long-gun reg. was also about connecting your gun to a giant database, and updating it every year or two or something. It was tedious, and sort of a cash grab, as they had to re-reg. and pay and go through everything, for each long-gun owned, that is the registered gun, sort of like re-registering your car ownership, paying, filling in reems of forms, and all that separate from their actual gun licence. The owners pointed out it was a futile exercise, as the govn’t had all the data already and if there were issues, shouldn’t the license be revoked?

  • Kyle E

    I think we can quickly polarize the discussion, and make points based on anecdotal evidence; neither of those things are helpful. We need a multi-pronged approach to this issue that works on the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the problems of violence. Here is what I think:

    -I am avid deer hunter, I own a rifle and a shotgun. Owning pistols, assault rifles, high capacity magazines, and bulletproof vests is not needed for any civilian. we need stricter gun controls.

    -I work for Young Life, and I am constantly pushing kids to befriend the farthest kids out in their high school. My prayer is that in every high school and college we are in the adam lanza’s do not go un-cared for. We need adults who care for teens in this way in more communities.

    -Love your enemies does not mean shoot them. Love your neighbor as yourself does not mean shoot your neighbor.

    -Using the situation of my spouse/kids/helpless friend are being attacked: shouldn’t a gun be used to fight off the attacker? IF we are serious about living as Christ did our appropriate response would be to offer ourselves to the attacker in exchange for the life of our spouse/kids/helpless friend. Living and thinking like this is a big departure from common human thought, but isn’t that what we signed up for when we chose to follow Christ?

    -

  • Greg D

    I notice there are a lot of bad hermeneutics and exegesis going on here. Particularly from those who espouse a pro-gun view. Perhaps a little clarification is in order.

    First, Luke 22 is the most commonly cited passage that pro-gun advocates use to justify gun ownership. The sword used in this passage (Gr. macheira) is actually a long-bladed knife/short bladed sword. Much like what we would call a utility knife today. This was not a military grade weapon. In fact, the Roman oppressors were fine with the Jews carrying such instruments because they were non-threatening, especially against the greater Roman swords used by the guards. These macheiras were primarily used as a tool for cutting nets, gutting fish, and animal hide. Rarely, if ever, were they used for killing people. If Jesus was indeed commanding them to buy two swords (or one for that matter) for matters of self defense or killing, why would He also tell His disciples that “he who kills by the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52)? Why would He also later rebuke Peter (who drew the sword to defend Jesus) and proceed to heal the man that Peter brought injury to? Seems a bit of a contradiction to me. Well, there is no contradiction because Jesus never commanded His followers to buy/use a sword to be used against another human being.

    Secondly, another commonly cited passage used by pro-gun advocates is found in Revelation 19 where a man on a white horse comes to conquer with a sword. If you read the passage in question, you will find Jesus coming with a sword not in His hand, but in His mouth. This, as much of Revelation, is symbolic. This is a dramatic way of referring to the power of His Word. Christ conquers by the power of His Word. Five times in the Book Revelation, John emphasizes that Jesus’ sword comes out of His mouth.

    Lastly, many pro-gun advocates like to refer to Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple (Mark 11:15-19) as a sign that Jesus resorts to violence/force as needed. Well, yes, Jesus did make a whip. And, yes, Jesus did drive out the animals. But, never is there any mention that Jesus used his whip on people. Most Bible versions either say He drove out all, or He drove out the animals. Either way, this is a weak argument to justify violence and force, since the Gospels are silent on the details of this event. And, more importantly, nobody was hurt or killed by His actions.

    I can go on and on about the New Testament’s support for Biblical pacifism. For instance never once did any disciple of Christ take up a sword to defend himself. This includes Stephen and Paul, who were both persecuted and confronted by angry mobs. The early church (pre-Constantinian) were also pacifists. Ever heard of the Roman catacombs? Evidence of a pacifist community.

    In conclusion, there is no evidence and no commands that Jesus gave His disciples a prescription for the use of force, weapons to be used against another human being. I can provide passage after passage that support the fact, the kingdom of God do not use the weapons of this world. And, in fact, there are literally dozens of Bible passages that support a pacifist, non-violent view.

    In the meantime… peace to all.

  • bobson

    Ray says:
    Dec 20, 2012 @ 12:30 at 12:30 PM
    The reason why disciples of Jesus should be leading this conversation is that we, of all people, are called to embody and witness to a sentiment that says “I may have the right to ____, but I give up that right for the good of my neighbor” (and collectively, many neighbors = “society”). This is the essence of the gospel, through and through, and it is what the world needs to see and hear. That’s what we are about to celebrate next Tuesday, right?

    Thanks Ray

  • Ray

    Thanks for the “RT”, Bobson.

    According to Scot, Atwood’s thesis is that “the way forward in gun violence and the way forward against the Gun Empire is to motivate and mobilize the church, the community of faith, to act on its faith.”

    In reading through the comments here, I noticed there is not much offering for what it looks like when the church “mobilizes.” In other words, what does all this discussion (including my original post above) look like practically? I would hope a forum like this could be a way for disciples to come together to vision on what it looks like to bring the gospel into this sorely needed issue. For the world needs to see “good news”, not caustic debate, in the aftermath of last week’s atrocity.

    My thoughts are that while it would be somewhat expected for pacifists to be speaking out & acting on this issue, the real power in this discussion lies in the hands of you all who are gun-rights proponents. But it is a power that is found in giving up power, paradoxically.

    I can’t help but imagine (with hope) what it would look like for a mass movement of disciples who are hunters, gun enthusiasts, etc. to march on Washington and – instead of demanding control of gun rights – to lay down your firearms at the seat of power and say “we know it is our right to have these, but we give up that right in the name of King Jesus, who asks us to love others before self, and in the name of justice for the innocent who have lost their lives.” Imagine the discussions (and the legislation) that could come from that. If you want a concrete example of what it looks like to mobilize and subvert the Empire of Violence and Power, there you go. Any takers?

  • Rob F.

    Kyle E and Ray,

    Well said. The Church mobilizing around proposals like these (that include gun control measure but are much more comprehensive) could have a powerful impact.

  • Greg D

    “Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t”. (Oskar Schindler to Amon Goethe in Schindler’s List)

  • David

    Re Jesus asking his disciples to get some swords as an argument for guns: if I follow this instance then I should for consistency follow the full account – ie also be able to instantaneously and miraculously heal anybody I wound by using the gun. Unless I am confident of doing that (maybe with a track record of seeing people healed that I haven’t shot), maybe I should wait until I have that confidence.


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