Gun Rights and Christian Grace

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.” 

In Matt 26:52-54 and John 18:11 Jesus orders Peter to put away his sword. “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Some believe that this statement was a call to Christian pacifism, while others understand it simply to mean in a general sense that “violence breeds more violence.”

While Jesus did tell Peter to put his sword in its place, He did not tell Peter to throw it away.  Peter still needed his sword to protect the lives of the disciples, not the life of the Son of God who was fulfilling His role on earth. Nowhere does the Bible forbid Christians from bearing arms. But wisdom and caution are of the utmost importance if one does choose to bear a lethal weapon.

We are in a political season filled with drama and suspense; its like a mystery thriller and we can’t wait to see how it ends. At the center of the presidential electoral season for the Democratic Party is the question of gun control. Bottom line is that almost all of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for President, insinuate that they intend to implement extremely strict gun restrictions in the name of gun control, including mandatory gun confiscation.

During the Democratic Debates on the evening of 13 Sep 2019, most of the candidates stated their intent to institute a gun buyback program for certain caliber weapons, which to be real, would be a mandatory gun confiscation initiative. I am not sure that there is a more significant hot button single issue item with many conservatives than their 2nd Amendment Rights. In their view, a mandatory gun buy back and confiscation program is not logical as they did not buy their weapons from the government and would be a violation of their Second Amendment rights – at least that is how they would view it, how they argue it, and how they would fight it.

Beto O’Rourke is probably the most vocal and most critical of guns when he says “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”  To many gun owners, this statement is received as a threat and an infringement of their “unalienable rights”.  One legislator from Texas responded to Beto by stating “My AR is ready for you” – presumed to be a death threat by some and a great example [to gun control advocates] of why these weapons need to be confiscated. For this article, I will leave the debate about definitions of AR and “weapons of war” to you as this is not at the heart of what this article is about. I will also not discuss the argument that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”.

What I will do is share what I have gleaned from Scripture about the right to bear arms and what it means for those of the Christian faith. I will also share arguments and points about the Second Amendment itself and the two Weapons Acts (1934 and 1994) that added restrictions to the types of weapons a citizen can own.

So, what does the democratic debate about gun control and gun confiscation mean as it relates to the Second Amendment? If a law is eventually passed mandating that we turn in all, or some, of our weapons, do you as a Christian adhere to this law? For the record, I am a gun owner of a few hunting rifles and handguns, including an AR-15. While I am one that approves of some added gun control measures (not the Red Flag Law), my emotions do rise at the thought of mandatory gun confiscation. Nonetheless, as a follower of the Bible and what it has to say, I must adhere to what the Lord tells me in His scripture.

Secondly, there are many Christians who hate Trump (see my articles  Why Do Some Christians Hate Trump  and Trump Is Not My Savior) but they are also gun toting NRA Card carrying members of our society. If these Christians honor their commitment to do whatever it takes to get President Trump out of office, are they willing to sacrifice everything they recognize today as law abiding gun ownership rights by voting in the eventual democratic candidate who wants to repeal the Second Amendment? 

I once worked for a boss, a very dedicated Christian who absolutely, without a doubt, hated Donald Trump. Trump just managed to push his buttons and you could see his heart race even by the very mention of his name. He swore that there would be no way that he would ever vote for Trump and celebrated the attempts to oust President Trump from office. As someone (meaning me) that reluctantly voted for Trump in 2016, he would roll his eyes in disappointment when we would discuss this topic. On a similar token, he was also a card carrying, gun toting, member of the NRA. This man loved his guns. While he possessed a lot of guns, he did not have an AR to the best of my knowledge but he did own small arms and small caliber rifles. I wonder if he is willing to sacrifice all of his guns if this will get President Trump out of office? What means more to him? 

So, a fair question for arm bearing Christians; if a Democrat takes office and a law is passed that we must turn in all or some of our weapons – do you and will you?  We will address this question after we dig into the Second Amendment for a bit as well as a biblical understanding of the right to bear arms.

The Second Amendment

“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.”

The Second Amendment to the Constitution was written to protect the individual right to keep and bear arms. It was ratified on December 15, 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights. It was described as an auxiliary right, supporting the natural rights of self-defense and resistance to oppression, and the civic duty to act in concert in defense of the state.

The wording of the amendment is admittedly strangely phrased and its meaning is somewhat murky. Legal analysis, political scientists, and historians have long debated whether the first two clauses of the second amendment, “a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,” modified or limits the straightforward declaration of the last two phrases, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” If the first two phrases do modify and limit the second two, then perhaps we only have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms consequent to militia service. But if the first two clauses of the 2nd amendment do not express limits, then the right to keep and bear arms is much more solid.

Nonetheless, the debate appears to have been partially answered in 2008 when the Supreme Court decided 5 to 4, in District of Columbia v. Heller, that “the second amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditional lawful purposes, such as self defense within the home.” Based on this decision, we do have a right to bear arms irrespective of militia service.

According to conservative leader and Wall Builders founder David Barton, the original intent of the Founding Fathers when writing the Second Amendment was to guarantee citizens “the biblical right of self-defense.” Richard Henry Lee (1732–1794), a signer of the Declaration of Independence who helped frame the Second Amendment in the First Congress, wrote, “... to preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them…

Just as the Founding Fathers recognized, Barton believes that “the ultimate goal of the Second Amendment is to make sure you can defend yourself against any kind of illegal force that comes against you, whether that is from a neighbor, whether that is from an outsider or whether that is [from your own government].”  Dave Barton bases his opinion on some of the original writings from the Founding Fathers, too detailed for us to get into for this blog unfortunately. However, it is striking to note that part of our right to bear arms appears to also be intended to protect us from our own government.

However, the Second Amendment DOES NOT indicate what types, nor how many, weapons a person can own. This is why the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934 was enacted.

Current Laws and Impacts

A blog from the Huffington Post in 2013 posits the following:

“The Revolutionary Era militia has been superseded by an Army and Navy, which spawned the Air Force (formerly Army Air Corps), and Marine Corps, now augmented by state and local police – which have their own colonial and pre-colonial predecessors, National Guard and Coast Guard. And in each case those women and men have their firearms supplied by the governments (local, state, federal) that employ them. The necessity met by a “well regulated militia” in the Revolutionary Era and its aftermath is now met without militias. The originating context of the Second Amendment no longer exists.”

The Huffington Post blogger may be partially accurate but the Supreme Court decision from 2008 seems to have already closed the debate about the militia argument. However, what may be a larger legitimate issue emerging in our current times is the lack of definition in the second amendment about the kind of “arms” that people, collectively, have a right to.  At the time the constitution was written, the weapons of choice were muskets and possibly cannons.  Since general citizens no longer serve as part of a recognized militia or army charged with protecting the nation, we have no enshrined right to military grade weapons.  This almost appears to be rational until you consider historical context.

  1. The bible talks about swords, spears and slingshots – not muskets; but this does not make it less relevant about your God supported rights.
  2. In the late 1700’s, the weapons of choice were muskets – not high capacity or semi-automatic weapons; but this does not make the 2nd Amendment less relevant as a right to bear arms.
  3. In the present time, military and law enforcement professionals carry or have access to semi or fully automatic weapons – but the general population does not. 

When we view each era and the weapons available, the weapons of choice for the general public were commensurate with the type of weapons that were a threat to the general public.  In ancient times, citizens carried swords and spears which were also carried by those considered to be a threat to them. In the 1700’s, citizens carried muskets because this was the weapon of choice carried by those that posed a threat to them. In the present, American citizens have access to AR’s, rifles and handguns which are similarly carried by those that pose the largest threat to the general public.  Citizens do NOT have access to weapons of war as is dramatically and incorrectly articulated by many from the Democratic Party.

The National Firearms Act (NFA) was enacted on June 26, 1934. It imposes a statutory excise tax on the manufacture and transfer of certain firearms and mandates the registration of those firearms. The Act was passed shortly after the repeal of Prohibition. This act bans machine guns, short barreled rifles, short barreled shotguns, suppressors, and destructive devices (grenades, bombs, missiles, poison gas weapons, etc). This act is still in force and active today.

The Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act or Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) was a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a United States federal law which included a prohibition on the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms that were defined as assault weapons as well as certain ammunition magazines that were defined as “large capacity”. This act expired in 2004; however, numerous studies have been completed about the benefits, or lack thereof, that the act provided while it was in force:

  1. A 2013 study showed that the expiration of the FAWB in 2004 “led to immediate violence increases within areas of Mexico located close to American states where sales of assault weapons became legal. The estimated effects are sizable… the additional homicides stemming from the FAWB expiration represent 21% of all homicides in these municipalities during 2005 and 2006.”. Is this a sign of issues within the United States or a sign of issues within Mexico?
  2. A 2014 study found no impacts on homicide rates with an assault weapon ban. A 2014 book published by Oxford University Press noted that “There is no compelling evidence that [the ban] saved lives”.
  3. A 2017 review found that the ban did not have a significant effect on firearm homicides.

The evidence shows that bans and laws that restrict access to weapons DO NOT have an impact on crime within the borders of the United States. Nonetheless, in light of recent mass shootings, the right of American people to keep and bear arms has once again come under heavy fire and heated debate. However, ironically, homicides and crimes committed with the types of weapons targeted by the Democratic Party are significantly smaller than homicides and crime committed with handguns and weapons not necessarily targeted by the left. Why? Because the AR-15 is simply more dramatic and gives an appearance of violence that seems greater than a simple revolver or Glock handgun.

Christians that oppose gun rights argue that “Christians should be shrewd enough to view 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.” However, this argument potentially falls flat when we consider that there is a difference between martyrdom (being killed by a bad guy with a gun when you refuse to carry) and having a plan. Is a Christian, killed by a bad guy, a martyr in the cause of Jesus by refusing to carry a gun?
 
I say, follow your heart. If you don’t want a gun, then don’t own one. This is a right that you hold as both a Christian and an American citizen. However, I do not believe that a Christian can judge another Christian that chooses to own a weapon. 
 

What Does The Bible Say?

So, what does the Bible have to say about a right to “bear arms”?  While the Bible obviously does not specifically address the issue of gun control, since firearms did not exist in ancient times, it does make numerous accounts of warfare and the use of weaponry, such as swords, spears, bows, and arrows, darts and slings. In the Old Testament, the Israelites were expected to have their own personal weapons. Every man would be summoned to arms when the nation confronted an enemy. The people defended themselves.

In 1 Samuel 25:13, David said to his men, “Each of you gird on his sword.” So each man girded on his sword. And David also girded on his sword, and about four hundred men went up behind David while two hundred stayed with the baggage. (NASB)

In Psalm 144:1, David wrote: “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle…

In the New Testament, in Luke 22:36-38, Jesus commanded his disciples to purchase a sword and encouraged his disciples to have swords: 

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. For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.”

And we can’t forget that in the Garden, Jesus instructed Peter to put his sword away, not throw it away. Based on these Biblical references, it does seem to indicate that Scripture supports the right to bear arms.

However, Scripture also tells us that we must honor our government and the laws of the land.

Romans 13:1-2, 4 Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished…….The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. 

As Christians, we were saved by grace and the Lord has given us grace as well.

Ephesians 4:7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

James 4:6 But He gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Conclusion

God has given us plenty of wonderful freedoms, including, in our country, the right to bear arms. While the ownership or use of firearms is not commanded by Scriptures, the defense of others certainly is, and at times this will mean the use of force.  A means of defense of others, and of course self, is the proper use of firearms. I am not arguing that “Every Christian should own a gun”, but I am articulating an argument that the Bible gives us a right to bear arms as does the Second Amendment and applicable firearms acts. But, just because you have a right to something does not mean that you need to exercise that right. If you do not want to own a gun, then by all means, follow your heart.

However, what should be at the center of the Christian debate is when it comes to Christian freedom and constitutionally-protected rights, what takes priority in your life? If a law legally passes to turn in our guns, do we follow that law or do we violate the law and face possible law enforcement action?  The bible advises us to honor our laws and the authorities in office. If we do not follow the law, then we might be placing our personal emotions and feelings above the grace and love exemplified in the Bible.

Many people (notably NRA members) have turned their guns into an extension of God, sources of security (supposedly) in any storm. I pray that our second amendment rights are maintained but we should not place guns into a position in our lives that it becomes idolatry.

God’s grace is available to us at all times, for every problem and need we face. God’s grace frees us from slavery to sin, guilt, and shame. God’s grace allows us to pursue good works. God’s grace enables us to be all that God intends us to be. God’s grace is amazing indeed.

2 Corinthians 9:8  And God is able to make all grace abound to you so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (ESV)

Let grace and righteousness be your guiding force.

 

References:

https://www.learnreligions.com/meaning-of-gods-grace-for-christians-700723, accessed 13 Sep 2019

https://www.learnreligions.com/the-bible-on-the-right-to-bear-arms-701963

https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/second_amendment, accessed 13 Sep 2019

https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/07pdf/07-290.pdf, accessed 13 Sep 2019

https://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/blackstone_bk1ch1.asp, accessed 13 Sep 2019

https://www.senate.gov/civics/constitution_item/constitution.htm#amdt_2_(1791),accessed 13 Sep 2019

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_of_Rights_1689, accessed 13 Sep 2019

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-bible-and-the-second-amendment_b_2356432, accessed 13 Sep 2019

https://www.timeofgrace.org/blog/CarryingGuns, accessed 15 Sep 2019

Cal Jilson (2013). American Government: Political Development and Institutional Change, Harcourt Brace College Publishers

Lee, LK; Fleegler, EW; Farrell, C; Avakame, E; Srinivasan, S; Hemenway, D; Monuteaux, MC (January 1, 2017). “Firearm Laws and Firearm Homicides: A Systematic Review”. JAMA Internal Medicine. 177 (1): 106–119

Mark Gius, (2014). “An examination of the effects of concealed weapons laws and assault weapons bans on state-level murder rates”. Applied Economics Letters. 21(4): 265–267.

Lois Beckett, (September 24, 2014). “Fact-Checking Feinstein on the Assault Weapons Ban”. ProPublica. Retrieved 13 Sep 2019

Christopher Koper, (2013). Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis(PDF). Johns Hopkins University Press.

Arindrajit Dube, Oeindrila Dube, Omar García-Ponce, (July 10, 2013). “Cross-Border Spillover: U.S. Gun Laws and Violence in Mexico”. American Political Science Review. 107 (3): 397–417.