(Article was originally posted at TimeofGrace.org.)
It seems like we revisit this controversy on a monthly basis. That’s too much.
Last Wednesday, in shocking fashion, Americans were once again alerted to the regularity and accessibility of gun violence as disgruntled ex-WDJB employee Vester Lee Flanagan killed reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward ON LIVE TELEVISION in Virginia. Almost nothing alerts Americans to reality like putting it on TV. In the same way that last year’s TMZ footage of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his fiancé reintroduced the country to the problem of domestic violence, the footage of Flanagan adds another wrinkle to the gun control debate.
One of the things I find a bit surprising, maybe even disappointing, is where a majority of Christians seem to land on the controversy of gun ownership.
Many Christians, even beyond Midwestern hunters and Southern Fundamentalists, will point to the Second Amendment as the defense of gun ownership. But the thoughtful Christian needs to be shrewd enough to see a line between Constitutionally protected rights and the principles of Christian freedom. Yes, there is absolutely nothing inherently immoral about bearing firearms. Yes, there is nothing illegal about owning registered weapons. But when considering Christian freedom, grace moves us from what we could do in personal interest to what we likely should do for the sake of the greater good.
Let me draw a comparison. One of the most puzzled looks I ever get in Bible studies is when I ask people if we are free to say what we want. Many students, channeling their American spirit, will proudly tout, “Of course! This is our First Amendment Constitutional right! I have the right to speak my mind and express my opinion.” At this point, I’ll generally move the class to collaborate on God’s instructions regarding our speech. I’ll remind them what God’s words themselves do – build up, not tear down. Then I’ll redirect them back to the initial question about free speech. The class eventually comes to the conclusion that while our speech as Americans is largely unrestricted, our relationship with Jesus compels us to forfeit our national rights for the sake of glorifying God in our personal speech. We realize that we’re not really “free” to say anything we want, because that would be to violate a higher law, the law of love. (I’ve written about this at length before.)
The same logic would seem to hold true for the Second Amendment and our right, or lack thereof, to bear arms. I am well within my Constitutionally protected right to own a gun. However, by doing so, and advocating for all Americans to have those same rights, am I contributing to the good of society, or hurting it? Does this seem to build up or tear down civilization? Put differently, while I and 999 citizens can probably responsibly own a firearm, what if one in a thousand can’t? For the sake of that one, should the other 999 put their guns down? What if you asked the victim’s family? What if your family WAS the victim’s family? Would you feel differently?
With each passing month, I’m just less compelled by pro-gun advocacy. Consider the common arguments…
For instance, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” That’s ridiculously truncated logic. There’s a reason why it’s illegal for 3-year-olds to drive actual vehicles, but no law prohibiting them from driving Big Wheels. One is capable of causing significantly more damage than the other. With the “guns don’t kill people” logic, you could equally argue for every one of us possessing nuclear warheads, because “Nukes don’t kill people. People kill people.” The fact that such clichés are still in circulation leads me to believe that we haven’t thought this through carefully enough.
Or, some like to say, “I need to be able to protect my family.” Okay, so now you get a gun…but so do your home intruders. So you’re banking on your ability to out duel your attacker like a suburban Clint Eastwood? On the other hand, if you both were armed with only baseball bats, slingshots, or this thing, you might still do some harm, but death is considerably less likely.
God has given us plenty of wonderful freedoms, including, in our country, the right to bear arms. But there are also plenty of biblical exhortations to give up that right when love obliges us to do so. Consider what the Apostle Paul says to the believers in Rome, when in chapter 14 of his letter he addresses the willingness of Christians to not eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols for the sake of those who are negatively impacted by such behavior. In the midst of that instruction, he says, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Rom. 14:19) At this place and time in history, can a Christian confidently determine that private ownership of guns trends toward peace and mutual edification in our communities? I’m not suggesting that the Christian can’t possibly reach that conclusion with a clear conscience. I’m merely pointing out that the Christian’s thought process must sink deeper than “Well, it’s my Constitutional right!”
Even more, consider the example of Jesus, our Savior. Paul writes:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:6-8)
Incredible. Jesus life here on earth, and even his very coming to this planet, was characterized by giving up his legitimate, undeniable, divinely protected rights. And by emptying himself of such rights, he didn’t just potentially become a victim, he was crucified unjustly. This all because he so loved us. And by doing so he rescued mankind.
Therefore, something remarkable is programmed into the DNA of Christianity that inspires us to forfeit some freedom if it may protect another.
So…guns…is this a right that we should give up? I’m willing to consider.