There is a t-shirt that has a picture of a Bible and a gun surrounded by the words “Two things every American should know how to use… neither of which are taught in schools.”
The mixing of God and guns seems to be a uniquely American recipe. But it’s not a good one. More people died this week in America, victims of yet more mass shootings. And the same conversations about gun laws, gun rights, mental health and how this is now normal in our country continue. But another mass shooting will occur today, and tomorrow and the day after that. We average more than one per day.
There are important moral, legal and social facts that can be brought to bear on this debate. Here, however, I’ll discuss some religious arguments related to gun laws, in part because so many people attempt to combine guns and God, Christianity and a Colt .45. I think a strong religious argument in favor of more restrictive gun laws can be made, grounded in Christian ethics.
First, both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament consistently conceive of God as being especially concerned with the poor, the outcast, the weak, and the vulnerable (see Isa. 32:15-18; 60:17-18; Rom. 14:17; and James 1:27). Gun violence is especially prominent in economically depressed areas. It is also prevalent in cases of domestic violence, where women and children are vulnerable and the victims. Surely these are good reasons, from a Christian moral perspective, to have more restrictive gun laws.
Second, the New Testament consistently opposes violence. As New Testament scholar Richard Hays puts it in The Moral Vision of the New Testament, “From Matthew to Revelation we find a consistent witness against violence and a calling to the community to follow the example of Jesus in accepting suffering rather than inflicting it.” The New Testament teaches non-violent love for one’s enemies (Mat. 5:38-48), that it is the role of government to “bear the sword,” not individual persons (Romans 13), and that followers of Jesus should accept even the theft of their own possessions rather than using violence to defend them (Heb. 10:32-34).
I would add that it is hard to imagine Jesus, if he were present in our culture, carrying a gun. And as the exemplar for Christians, this is significant. Some deny this claim, based on a passage from chapter 22 of Luke’s gospel. Prior to his betrayal and arrest, Jesus tells the disciples “If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” Gun advocates interpret this as a justification for the status quo. But when they do this, they ignore the context of the passage. Later in the chapter, a follower of Jesus uses a sword against a servant of one of the religious leaders involved in the arrest. Jesus tells him, “No more of this!” Moreover, the context of the passage reveals that the point of the exhortation to purchase a sword is to fulfill an Old Testament prophecy, not to use for violence against others.
I’m not a pacifist, and I am not an advocate for outlawing all guns. I think there are good arguments in support of the claim that we possess a right to self-defense. But this doesn’t justify the current gun laws in the U.S. Common sense and Christian ethics lead to the conclusion that we need more restrictive gun laws in the United States.
Many are opposed to this, for a variety of reasons.
First, many pro-gun advocates argue that an unarmed citizenry will be helpless against a tyrannical government. While it is possible that tyranny may arise in our nation, this seems unlikely, given the existence of democratic institutions and a strong tradition of adherence to the rule of law. Moreover, when we take into account the military might of the United States government, it is not clear how an armed populace would prevent such tyranny. If such tyranny did arise, the people could successfully resist only if they had a stockpile of weapons capable of matching the state’s firepower. It is not clear how a stockpile of guns would deter a drone attack, for example.