Lisa Miller in an eponymous Washington Post column asked, "Is gun ownership Christian?" She reported that 57% of white evangelicals live in households with guns and that 59% of them oppose gun controls. Then she asked how these Christians reconcile their actions and beliefs with their claim to follow a Lord who allowed the Romans to crucify him rather than engage in armed resistance. She identified several rationales that evangelical Christians use to justify their views about gun ownership. I list these below, along with my rejoinder why each rationale is severely flawed.
· The second amendment is approved by God. Whatever cogency this claim may once have had is long gone. As my previous post emphasized, the second amendment no longer constitutes a bastion against tyranny; personal weapons are no match for a modern army (Mass murders and gun control).
· Only prayer can conquer gun violence. This claim wrongly presumes that God acts unilaterally and that prayer is an acceptable substitute for human actions. Prayer, rightly understood, complements other human actions rather than being a replacement for those actions; humans cannot shift their responsibility to God (cf. Responding to a reader and What is prayer?).
· Don't blame guns, blame a corrupt society. Guns obviously require human operators. However, we do not entrust individuals with nuclear weapons, confident that a few would abuse the responsibility to the detriment of the many. Similarly, we should not entrust all types of guns, and not every size of magazine, to everyone.
· Curbing gun ownership is the gateway to curbing other rights. This claim entails two false assumptions. First, that people have a right to gun ownership. Although such a right may exist in U.S. law, there is no such natural right and most countries do not recognize a legal right to gun ownership. Law and ethics are different disciplines whose conclusions are not interchangeable. Second, curbing one right does not necessarily lead to a slippery slope. A classic example is that morally and legally people have no right to shout "Fire!" in a crowded auditorium when there is no fire. The imposition of that limit on free speech has not caused an erosion of the right to free speech.
· Self-defense and love (and defense) of neighbor are biblical values. Christian theologians and ethicists debate whether self-defense is a biblical value. St. Augustine, for example, declared that killing in self-defense is morally wrong. Defense of neighbor is a biblical value. However, gun ownership is not essential for either defense of self or neighbor. Owners of guns are at a greater risk from suicide and having an accidental homicide in their household than are people who do not own guns. A community delegate responsibility for defense of self and neighbor to its police and military forces because this delegation has proven more effective and prevents more violence than does the alternative. Vigilantes, by any name, are immoral.
Miller concluded her column by quoting from a sermon that the Very Rev. Gary Hall, new Dean of Washington's National Cathedral, preached last week: “If we want to stand with Jesus and Martin Luther King, we’ve also got to stand with those who, like them, die by means of violence. . . . That may sound like a hard truth, but for a Christian, there’s no way around it.”
I am not opposed to all gun ownership. Hunting, in the absence of natural predators, is necessary to cull animal populations, prevent disease, and reduce the number of vehicular accidents caused by wild animals. Some people enjoy the sports like skeet and target shooting.
On most military installations, residents are not permitted to keep guns in their residence but must store the weapon (and often the ammunition) in the installation's armory. This policy should make anyone who owns a gun re-examine their reason for having the gun and the manner in which they store it. Anyone who owns a gun should keep the weapon and all ammunition under secure lock when not in use; they should only permit individuals who have taken the appropriate weapons safety courses to use the weapon. Guns inappropriate for hunting or sports belong in museums (not private collections!) or police/military custody.