Put Away The Sword: On Gun Control

Put Away The Sword: On Gun Control July 7, 2022

Fibonacci Blue: March For Our Lives Student Protest For Gun Control / flickr

After the Fourth of July mass-shooting in Highland Park, Pope Francis once again reiterated his plea for our society to move beyond its cycle of violence;  that is, he indicated, once again, the need for gun control in the United States:

Pope Francis has decried the tragic shootings that killed six and wounded some 30 others during a Fourth of July parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park on Monday, appealing for a rejection of all forms of violence, and a respect for life at all its stages.[1]

Pope Francis follows what he learned from Jesus. When Jesus was being arrested, he stopped his disciplines from using a sword to defend themselves from Roman authorities. He told them that they should not take up their sword and use it even in self-defense because violence is not salvific. The sword can only bring about the destruction of those who rely upon it. “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword’” (Matt. 26:52 RSV). We must not take the text so literally so as to suggest that Jesus only rejected the use of a sword. Rather, all forms of violence were struck down by his words. Taking up arms, even in an act of self-defense, only continues the cycle of violence. The cycle, so long as it is embraced, will not end well, for all it can produce is more death and destruction. Ficino understood the point of Jesus’s words; however, thinking about its implications, he suggested that if the use of arms is a problem, then the production of such arms is also a problem. So long as secular authorities allow weapons to be made, they have not dealt with the problem themselves: “What more, my friends? The magistrates forbid murder, and allow instruments for killing men to be made everywhere.” [2]

If we are going to speak out against violent crime, we must do more than offer thoughts and prayers. We must look at what causes violent crimes, and counter those causes. But we must also look for the means which are used for those crimes, and make sure the means are not so readily available. So long as we do not do so, the cycle of violence will continue. While various practical arguments can be made so as to suggest why there is need for arms control (and thus, for gun control), Christians have other reasons why, even if society does not follow such practicality, they can and should avoid the use of arms for themselves:

Indeed, it is not fitting for us, who have been chosen to contend earnestly for piety towards God, to arm ourselves with swords against our enemies. Rather, we should be longsuffering. And though some people may wish to persecute us, when reviled we bless, when suffering we do not grumble, instead we give ourselves over to him who judges justly.[3]

Thus, when we see and hear all kinds of mass shootings occurring within the United States, we should, as a society, do what we can to eliminate the means which allow for them to happen. Sadly, we see a great amount of resistance. One reason is that many have accepted a rather bad interpretation of Bill of Rights (and the Second Amendment), and so they think gun control of any kind undermines their rights. The truth is far different from what they have been told. If they studied history, they would know that from the beginning, there were all kinds of regulations put on arms, and so the interpretation which they give for the Second Amendment does not meet even the original interpretation of the text. Even if the interpretation was valid, it does not mean society cannot do away with the Amendment if it learned that it hurts, instead of helps, society as a whole, which is what is happening when it is used to undermine legitimate regulation of arms. For, if one looks around the world, it is clear such regulation works, as various countries have been shown to significantly reduce the number of people needlessly killed by guns by engaging some form of gun control:

The world over, mass shootings are frequently met with a common response: Officials impose new restrictions on gun ownership. Mass shootings become rarer. Homicides and suicides tend to decrease, too.[4]

Certainly, if someone wants to kill, they can find a way, but they will likely find their ability to kill will be much more limited if guns are regulated than if they are not (and, if they don’t have a gun, they will be much more easily stopped if they are caught trying to hurt or kill someone). The perfect should not be the enemy of the good, and so pointing out things are not perfect due to gun control does not mean gun control is ineffective; constantly, it proves itself to be, which is why mass shootings are far less frequent in countries with gun control than the United. If we cared about life, we would not fight against gun control; rather, we would look at how to make the best regulations, eliminating as many needless deaths as possible. And from the Christian standpoint, it is clear, those who put their trust in arms, those who put their trust in violence, and promote it, in any fashion, do the Christian faith a disservice, for they contend against the peace-making and love which is meant to be found in a disciple of Christ. Roger Bacon understood that this turn to violence in Christendom is what led many non-Christians reject the Christian faith:

For there is no doubt but that all nations of unbelievers beyond Germany would have been converted long since but for the violence of the Teutonic Knights, because the race of pagans was frequently ready to receive the faith in peace after preaching. But the Teutonic Knights are unwilling to keep peace, because they wish to subdue those peoples and reduce them to slavery, and with subtle arguments many years ago deceived the Roman Church. [5]

When Christians put their trust in arms, they show they do not put their trust in Jesus and the way of peace which he promoted. When those who seem to be the vocal about being Christians show, with their love for guns, an infidelity to the faith, it should not be surprising that others, upon seeing this, would think the Christian faith offers nothing for them since those who claim to be the most faithful show they do not really believe what they had been told.

Working for gun control, working to regulate arms, trying to determine what should be allowed to be bought or used, is itself a social form of self-defense. For those who want to regulate and limit the use of guns understand it is a matter of life and death. They want to reduce the amount of violent death occurring in the United States. It is self-defense, therefore, which makes them think it is better to make sure the cycle of violence is stopped than it is to engage it, for when it is engaged, it is reified, allowing things to become much, much worse over time. We can see the truth in this when we realize that those with guns tend to make dangerous situations worse, not better. Thus, those who want gun control, who want guns to be highly regulated (if not entirely eliminated from society) are engaging the way of peace, not just because they do not think they can personally fire a gun, but because they think it is the best form of self-defense possible. Why should they be told they can’t defend themselves from an increasingly violent society by finding ways to remove the means by which that violence is embraced and escalated? Why is it only one form of self-defense, the kind which relies upon violence and ends up making things worse for society, the only one which is acceptable? Every time there is a mass shooting, we must ask ourselves, how long will we accept the status quo? How long can this go on until, at last, those who trust in the sword, those who trust in violence, realize it is their trust in violence, even for the sake of self-defense, which is leading to such deaths?

[1] Deborah Castellano Lubov, “Pope Francis Saddened By Fourth Of July Shooting In Chicago” in Vatican News (7-5-2022).

[2] Marsilio Ficino, The Letters of Marsilio Ficino. Volume 1.  trans. by members of the Language Department of the School of Economic Science, London (London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1975; repr. 1988), 104  [Letter 58 to Piero Vanni].

[3] St. Cyril of Alexandria, Glaphyra on the Pentateuch, Volume 1: Genesis. Trans. Nicholas P. Lunn (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2018), 269.

[4] Max Fisher, “Other Countries Had Mass Shootings. Then They Changed Their Gun Laws,” in The New York Times (5-25-2022).

[5] Roger Bacon, Opus Majus. Part I. trans. Robert Belle Burke (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1928), 111.


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