Foundations: Why Should Christians Support Gun Rights?
Gun rights are debated even among Christians. Some say that since we are peacemakers, we should not support the right to keep and bear arms. Others believe it is imperative to be able to arm and protect ourselves from crimes by others, and also in case the government ever becomes tyrannical.
So how important are gun rights? There’s a reason it’s the Second Amendment — because the Founders considered it very important. Without it, we could lose all our other rights, including religious liberty and freedom of speech.
Rights do not come from government, as the Founders knew. We are “endowed by our Creator” with unalienable rights, says the Declaration of Independence. The Founding Fathers were so concerned that people might get this wrong, they almost didn’t include the Bill of Rights in the Constitution.
But our government is under the Constitution, the highest law of the land, and that includes the Bill of Rights. The government has no legal power to take away those rights, and that includes those guaranteed in the Second Amendment.
Should We Ever Resist the Government?
The Bible says in multiple places that we are to submit to the government. Peter 2:13-14 states, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”
But if the government becomes oppressive and denies people their inherent rights, then it is no longer a legitimate authority. That goes double if the government defies its own Constitution while doing so. We don’t have such an authoritarian government now, but the U.S. may not always be free. Nations rise and fall. Some become very oppressive towards Christians.
When the disciples were ordered to stop spreading the gospel, they refused, responding, “We must obey God rather than men. ” (Acts 5:29) If our government ever becomes tyrannical, we may need guns to protect ourselves. The Founding Fathers found themselves in exactly that position when they rebelled against England and started the Revolutionary War. They knew their new nation needed to assure its people of the right to do the same if it were ever to come under such tyranny again.
Using Force to Defend
Exodus 22:2-3 authorized the use of deadly force in self-defense or in the defense of others. It provides, “If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed. Psalm 82:4 says to “rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
Proverbs 24:11 instructs, “Rescue those being led away to death…” Nehemiah 4 describes the Jews rebuilding the broken-down wall around Jerusalem. When they found out their enemies wanted to attack them, Nehemiah told them that God would protect them, and they armed themselves with spears, shields, bows and armor, thwarting any attack.
What About Turning the Other Cheek?
Some say Jesus’ instruction to “turn the other cheek” negates these Old Testament verses. But what if someone were trying to kill your child? Actually, Jesus was referring to insults and slander, not physical violence. Matthew 5:39 says, “But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” If a right-handed person slaps someone with the palm of their hand, it’s the left cheek they’ll slap, not the right. Slapping someone’s right cheek is the result of slapping someone with the back of the hand. Jesus was telling His listeners how to respond to degrading insults. The passage isn’t about attempts to cause harm.
In fact, Jesus told his disciples once to carry swords, since they were traveling to areas that could be dangerous for Christians. “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” (Luke 22:36) He then approved of the swords they had.
There was one instance in which Jesus didn’t approve of using swords. Luke 22:49-51 describes how his followers asked him if they should use their swords against the Roman guards who had come to arrest him. One of them cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Jesus responded, “No more of this!” He goes on (Matt. 26:52), “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Jesus then healed the man’s ear. He had come to earth for this — his arrest, death, and resurrection. He could have resisted it, but He didn’t. It would have made no sense for His disciples to resist it, either.
Thomas Aquinas, the great theologian, wrote in his Summa Theologica that the permission to kill another human in self-defense is broad enough to include using deadly force against a burglar in your house.
Evil Exists in the World
The Bible teaches that evil exists in this world. The police can’t be there all the time to protect us. We’ve even had major (although mainly local) breakdowns in social order where there was massive crime. It happened during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. It happened again all across the country in late May/early June 2020 over the police killing of George Floyd, a black man. National disasters are too often followed by looting and violence.
Then there are those who simply intend to do harm. In 2012, Floyd Lee Corkins II entered the offices of the Family Research Council in D.C. carrying a gun and almost a hundred rounds of ammunition. Building manager Leo Johnson sensed something was wrong and stopped him. Corkins shot him in the arm, but Johnson was able to seize the gun from him and hold him at gunpoint until law enforcement came. Corkins admitted later that he intended to kill everyone in the building since the Christian organization opposes same-sex marriage. He was sentenced to 25 years for domestic terrorism.
There have also been shootings at churches. Devin Patrick Kelley fatally shot 26 people at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in Texas before Stephen Willeford, alerted by his daughter, arrived at the church to stop him. Willeford shot and wounded him. Kelley fled in his vehicle, and Willeford and Johnnie Langendorff chased him in their car. Kelley lost control of his car driving at 95 mph, ran off the road and shot himself fatally in the head. Willeford was rightly called a Good Samaritan for his actions that day.
If people are armed, they may be able to protect themselves and others from this violence if necessary. Owning a firearm also acts as a deterrent. States with large increases in gun ownership have shown the largest decreases in crime. Criminals know where they’re more likely to run into someone who is armed. Meanwhile, there is scant evidence that gun control laws work to reduce violence, as their proponents say they should do. The Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 was allowed to sunset in 2004. Why? Too many studies had come out showing it had no effect: Violent crime did not go down.
Link to the Right to Life
The right to self-preservation is linked to the right to life. The philosopher John Locke, whose writings greatly influenced the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, described the right of self-preservation as a “fundamental law of nature.” In his Second Treatise of Civil Government he wrote, “I should have a right to destroy that which threatens me with destruction: for, by the fundamental law of nature, man being to be preserved as much as possible, when all cannot be preserved, the safety of the innocent is to be preferred: and one may destroy a man who makes war upon him…” Gun control violates the right to self-defense.
Christians generally agree that genuinely, identifiably dangerous people — terrorists and violent criminals, for example — should be prohibited from owning guns. Unfortunately terrorists and violent criminals don’t care that they are legally prohibited from having guns. Many of them obtain guns illegally and commit crimes with them. We should be able to defend ourselves from them.
For all these reasons, when it comes to regular Americans, it is better to allow us to bear arms and protect ourselves, just as our Constitution guarantees us the right to do.
For additional information, see Ken Blackwell’s law review article, America’s Two First Freedoms: A Biblical Christian Perspective on How the Second Amendment Secures First Amendment Rights.