A Christian Consideration of the Second Amendment

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says…

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

As far as the constitution goes, it seems pretty clear… The right for the “people” (not just the military!) to not only have weapons, but also to carry them seems quite obvious. Except, of course to those who have been sadly deceived by the anti-gun propaganda that has been flooding the country for decades now.

But, as you might gather from the title, this post is intended to help us think in a Christian way about this important issue. In other words, in light of what the Bible teaches, what should be the attitude of a Christian toward the Second Amendment of the American Constitution? We will get to that shortly.

First, it is pretty amazing to me that there are still people out there who believe that an armed citizenry will automatically lead to irate citizens killing each other willy-nilly. The power of the liberal media to persuade people of this kind of erroneous thinking (in spite of abundant evidence to the contrary) astounds me! I am amazed that people would feel less safe instead of more safe (as I certainly would) to know that law abiding citizens around us are carrying weapons.

So, if you are still reading and you happen to be one who believes that an armed citizenry is a menace, then just know that you and I have very different convictions. But this is America! And that is OK! I respect your right to disagree! But from my humble perspective, the real menace is that element of our society which wishes to take away our second amendment rights.

I do not believe that my conviction is based on personal opinion alone. There are some facts out there that are pretty well established. In places that have strict gun-control laws (which, of course, means that only the bad guys and psychos have the weapons) there is much more crime and more killing of innocent people. In places where criminals know that a significant portion of the population may be armed and ready to defend themselves, there is much less crime and killing of innocent people. Gun-control advocates seem to honestly believe that gun control laws will actually keep criminals from getting guns. I believe that that conviction is dangerously naive.

Unfortunately, I fear, many gun-control advocates are not to be persuaded by facts. Many seem to have a visceral, emotional reaction which enables them to ignore facts as they cling to their inaccurate perceptions.

The facts are relatively easy to find. For example, The Future of Freedom Foundation is one website (among many) with some helpful statistics. Here are a few paragraphs from that site:

That means that firearms are used 60 times more often to protect the lives of honest citizens than to shoot with criminal intent. Of these defensive shootings, more than 200,000 are by women defending themselves against sexual abuse. About half a million times a year, a citizen carrying a gun away from home uses it in self-defense. Again, according to Kleck and Gertz, “Citizens shoot and kill more criminals than police do every year [2,819 times versus 303].” Moreover, as George Will pointed out in an article entitled “Are We a Nation of Cowards?” in the November 15, 1993, issue of Newsweek, while police have an error rate of 11 percent when it comes to the accidental shooting of innocent civilians, the armed citizens’ error rate is only 2 percent, making them five times safer than police.

Other studies give similar results. “Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms,” by the Clinton administration’s Justice Department shows that between 1.5 and 3 million people in the United States use a firearm to defend themselves and others from criminals each year. A 1986 study by Hart Research Associates puts the upper limit at 3.2 million.

Those studies and others indicate that often the mere sight of a firearm discourages an attacker. Criminologist John Lott from the University of Florida found that 98 percent of the time when people use guns defensively, simply brandishing a firearm is sufficient to cause a criminal to break off an attack. Lott also found that in less than 2 percent of the cases is the gun fired, and three-fourths of those are warning shots.

I would go a step further and predict that not only the “mere sight of a firearm,” but even the knowledge that a few law-abiding citizens might be carrying weapons would be enough to discourage many would be attackers. (By the way, I would urge you to read that entire report. Here’s the link again: The Future of Freedom Foundation )

But What Does the Bible Say?

But what about Christians? What about “turning the other cheek?” What about “loving your enemies?” What about the personal example of Jesus? He allowed Himself to be captured, beaten, and crucified, refusing to fight back. What about Jesus’ rebuke of Peter when he drew his sword to defend Jesus? (Jesus told him to put it away and that “he who takes the sword shall die by the sword.”)

Certainly there are many very thoughtful and sincere Christians who believe that verses like these compel them to allow themselves (or loved ones, or other innocent victims) to be killed rather than to offer any self-defense. Their logic is that God is able to save us if and when He chooses. And if He does not, then we simply must be prepared to die rather than stop an aggressor.

I believe that it is appropriate for us to recognize and appreciate the sincerity of those who hold to this interpretation. But, as with many other interpretations of Scripture, we also need to at least consider whether there might be another side to this issue. And, of course, I believe that there is.

First, we must realize that there is a difference between vengeance and defense. That difference is highlighted in Exodus 22.

“If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. [THAT is defense!] But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. [That is vengeance!] ” (Ex 22:2-3)

Vengeance belongs to the Lord. And He has delegated the punishment of criminals to those in positions of governmental authority. So if someone asks the question, “If someone kills or harms someone I love, may I hunt them down and kill them or hurt them back?” Clearly, the answer is “No.”

However, defense is another issue entirely, as Exodus 22:2 (above) makes clear.

When Jesus told His disciples that the time had come for them to purchase a sword, He seems to be indicating that they might find themselves in situations in which they would encounter the necessity to defend themselves or their loved ones.

“And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.” (Luke 22:36)

In this verse, Jesus is indicating that there are times when having a weapon for defensive purposes is more important than having a coat!

Most Christians would acknowledge that, at least in the Old Testament, God commanded His people to be prepared to physically defend themselves and their nation. They had to do it many times. We do not find that principle overturned in the New Testament. When the soldiers came to John and asked what they should do, significantly he did not insist that they get out of the army! (Luke 3:14) Similarly, when Jesus interacted with soldiers (e.g., Matt 8:5ff), He never urged them to leave their vocation.

Most Christians are familiar with Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonians, “If any would not work, neither should he eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10) One could argue that it is not necessary to work, since God will provide for us. And it is true. God does supernaturally provide for us. But we all know that God also requires us to work!

In the same way, we may argue that we should not have to defend ourselves or others, that God will do that for us. And it is true that God is the Defender of us and our loved ones!

But we must ask, very thoughtfully questions like these: “Is it morally right to allow someone to be murdered… or raped… or assaulted when I might be able to stop it?” “Is it morally justifiable, for example, to allow a small child to be hurt by a person of violence when I could have prevented it?” The larger question is simply, “If someone intends to do harm to another, should we choose not to resist that evil? Or should we choose to resist evil?” Is it not possible that part of providing for our families includes defending them from those who would harm them? (In Matthew 5, when Jesus taught that we should “resist not evil,” the context is vengeance. The word “resist” can mean “to set oneself against another” in the sense of seeking revenge.)

Is it possible that to refuse to defend our family (or other innocent people, or even our own bodies… which are temples of God’s Holy Spirit) in the name of being non-violent actually a moral failure and not a moral virtue?

Paul spoke of fighting wild beasts in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32). Whether this passage is to be interpreted literally or figuratively, Paul fought. He did not simply yield himself up them.

Most Christians understand that they must fight (and not merely yield) to spiritual enemies (Ephesians 6:10-18). Most of us realize the reality of spiritual warfare. But that spiritual warfare can also include the physical realm! We must remember that Satan seeks not only to damage us spiritually, he would also be happy to destroy us physically if he could. We must not only resist him spiritually, but also emotionally and physically when necessary.

If the allies had not been willing to physically resist Hitler in World War II, the world would have suffered an enormous loss… not only physically, but spiritually.

In Hebrews 11:30-34, we are told that some of the members of the Hall of Fame of Faith were people who were essentially warriors (e.g., Joshua, Gideon, Barak). They were willing to resist physical attacks. And they were considered Biblical heroes.

Well then, what about “turning the other cheek?” Some Bible students believe that Jesus was talking about reacting to insults. He specifically mentions the “right” cheek. A back-hand slap to the right cheek is not considered a life threatening attack, but an insult.

What about “He who takes the sword will die by the sword?”  Well, first of all it is interesting that Jesus told him to “put your sword back into its place.” He did not tell him to get rid of it!  Jesus may have been telling Peter, in essence, “Peter, this is not the time for that. It’s now time for Me to offer Myself as the Ultimate Sacrifice. But don’t fret about these men. These men who are bringing their swords against us shall in due time also die by the sword.” Or even, perhaps, “Peter, these men happen to be the lawful magistrates. If you take up the sword against them, you need to be prepared to die by the sword and it isn’t your turn to die just yet.”

When His hour had come, Jesus Himself refused to resist His own arrest and beating and crucifixion because He was fulfilling the purpose for which He had come. On other occasions, before His time came, He hid Himself and got away from His would-be killers (e.g., John 8:59).

Paul wrote, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18).  However, there may be times when it is not possible. At those times, it seems unlikely that God intends for us to allow evil, wicked, and crazed men to do whatever harm that they may wish to do to others in order to get whatever it is that they want to have. In Proverbs we read,  “Like a trampled spring and a polluted well Is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” (Proverbs 25:26)

Finally, even if we do conclude that defense is appropriate for a Christian, we must realize that there often comes a time when defense is impossible. While Paul used all the power at his disposal to defend himself (fleeing danger, pleading his case before magistrates, using his rights as a Roman citizen, etc.), there came a time when it was no longer possible to escape death. His time was up. And he was beheaded.

In Summary

While I personally respect and defend the rights of other Christians to disagree with me, I also personally believe that a Christian has a moral obligation to do all he or she can to defend others as well as to defend his/her own body (which really belongs to God). At the same time, I also believe there will be times when self-defense is impossible. Christians have died at the hands of wicked men before. Most likely it will continue to happen. It’s one way God uses to remove us from this scene. Certainly, every Christian must be prepared to suffer and die.

Perhaps we might make an analogy with health and disease. As long as we can fight the disease and fight for our health, we should do everything in our power to resist the germs or the cancer or whatever. But there will come a time when, in spite of all we can do, we must succumb to death. We need to be prepared for that as well.

But, until He says your time is up, stay in the battle!