Christians and Guns

by Carlo Stagnaro

August 30, 2002

“Shoot, shoot, shoot,” Father Giorgio Giorgi said from the pulpit of his church in Retorbido, near Pavia, Italy, during a sermon about a year ago. These words stirred up trouble, because a Roman Catholic priest has hardly dared to speak in such a way in the last few decades. Yet Father Giorgi merely said that every man, being created in the image of God, has the right to life and thus the right to defend life. “[Confronted by a criminal] I might let him kill me – he added. Indeed, if I killed a bandit, I should presume to send him to Hell, because he’s not in the Grace of God. So it would be better for me to die, because, theoretically, I should always be in the Grace of God, given my job. But the father of a family is not a priest. He has the right, and before it the duty, to defend his wife, his children, and his property.”

Perhaps, rather than turning the other cheek, one should close an eye and aim well?

Most ecclesiastical authorities have declined to point out this line of argument; for whatever reason, they have been reading the Holy Bible from a pacifist’s, coward’s, weakling’s point of view. Yet, it should be clear that embracing gun control implies the denial of the basic principle of individual responsibility.

“The problem is not six-shooters; the problem is sinners. Eliminating guns won’t solve that problem.… The proximate (civil) solution to gun-related violence is stiffer (biblical) penalties for harming humans and property – whether by guns, knives, axes, spray paint, or computers. The ultimate solution to gun-related violence is the transformation of individuals by the Gospel of Jesus Christ…. The ironic solution of liberals is to lock up the guns and liberate the criminals after a mere wrist slap,” wrote Andrew Sandlin in The Christian Statesman, Vol. 140, No. 1.

In reality, while inviting people to love and mercy, Jesus never said that individuals have no right to defend themselves. Even less did he say they should not defend their feebler brothers when such are in danger. A person might decide to offer no resistance to aggression if he risks only his own life, but he can’t shirk the moral duty to help others. As Jeff Snyder has written, “Although difficult for modern men to fathom, it was once widely believed that life was a gift from God, that to not defend that life when offered violence was to hold God’s gift in contempt, to be a coward and to breach one’s duty to one’s community.” (Nation of Cowards, Accurate Press, 2001, page 16.)

The belief is deeply shared that a Christian should always stand and be ready to sacrifice, and that guns are evil means that should never be used nor owned. However, a gun is merely an object. It has no soul, no brain, and no wishes. It does nothing, but its owner does. An evil person will use his guns to do evil, and a good person will use his guns to defend himself and others. It is people who are good or evil, not guns. Of course, those who deny this implicitly affirm that guns are magical things with the power to change people’s mind. That is obviously an absurdity.

In any case, many Christians like to cite Jesus’ words: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:38-39.) According to many researchers and theologians, Jesus intends to condemn useless or exaggerated violence, not the use of lethal force against aggression. Thus, rather than contradicting the words of the Holy Scriptures, Jesus is cautioning his disciples not to misunderstand the Bible. In fact, a few lines before this statement, Christ says, “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5: 19.)

Jesus says love is better than hatred, and that vengeance can never be the solution. On the other hand, He doesn’t say self-defence is bad. This would lead to the rule of the stronger over the weaker, of the bully over the gentle person. And, while inviting us to turn the other cheek, He doesn’t invite us to turn the other’s cheek, which precisely is the effect of gun-control laws.

Christ suggests to his followers that they arm themselves: “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a sack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one” (Luke 22: 36.) Later, as he is taken away, Jesus rebukes Peter, who has just cut the ear of an aggressor: “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?” (Matthew 26: 52-54) – from which we can see that some of the Apostles (two of them) were armed.

As Larry Pratt [of Gun Owners of America] notes, “While Christ told Peter to ‘put your sword in its place,’ He clearly did not say get rid of it forever. That would have contradicted what He had told the disciples only hours before. Peter’s sword was to protect his own mortal life from danger. His sword was not needed to protect the Creator of the universe and the King of kings” (“What Does The Bible Say About Gun Control?”, in Chalcedon Report).

Years after the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, Paul writes to Timothy: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). “This passage applies to our subject because it would be absurd to buy a house, furnish it with food and facilities for one’s family, and then refuse to install locks and provide the means to protect the family and the property,” Mr. Pratt wrote.

This also recalls another quote from the Bible: “If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed. If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed. He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft” (Exodus 22: 2-3.) He who steals into another’s home bears the responsibility of his criminal action. Self-defence is not a crime.

Under the heading “Unjust aggressor,” the Dizionario ecclesiastico (“Ecclesiastic dictionary”, UTET, 1959) derives the following statement from Thomas Aquinas: “Without doubt one is allowed to resist against the unjust aggressor to one’s life, one’s goods or one’s physical integrity; sometimes, even ’til the aggressor’s death… In fact, this act is aimed at preserving one’s life or one’s goods and to make the aggressor powerless. Thus, it is a good act, which is the right of the victim.” There are three conditions under which legitimate self-defence must lie: “That he who is the target of the force is an aggressor and an unjust aggressor… That the object of the defence is an important good, such as the life, physical integrity or worthy goods… [and] That defensive violence is proportionate to aggression.” Under these conditions, “One is also allowed (not required) to kill other people’s unjust aggressor.”

On these grounds, even a great Catholic author, J.R.R. Tolkien agrees: “The aggressors are themselves primarily to blame for the evil deeds that proceed from their original violation of justice and the passions that their own wickedness must naturally (by their standards) have been expected to arose. They at any rate have no right to demand that their victims when assaulted should not demand an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth” (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 1995, p. 243.) In his well-known novel, The Lord of the Rings, the evil Sauron requires of free peoples that “men shall bear no weapons,” otherwise he will assault them (The Lord of the Rings, 2001, p. 872.)

According to George Crocker “The Word of God does allow and encourage self-defence. In the Scriptures we do not find God encouraging His people to be either “hawks” or “doves” when dealing with self-defence. They are just to be reasonable.” (“Self Defence Or Turn The Other Cheek?“). Mr. Crocker concludes his article quoting Dr. A. T. Robertson: “Jesus protested when smitten on the cheek (John 18:22). And Jesus denounced the Pharisees (Matt 23) and fought the devil always. The language of Jesus is bold and picturesque and is not to be pressed too literally. Paradoxes startle and make us think. We are expected to fill in the other side of the picture…. Aggressive or offensive war by nations is also condemned, but not necessarily defensive war or defence against robbery and murder.” (A.T. Robertson. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. I, p. 48).

Of course, the religion would not be moral, in a deep sense, which required its followers to passively suffer aggressive violence. Actually, rather than Christian, this approach is typical of post-Christian thought, which avoids weighty concepts, including those of individual responsibility or sin. “The far most important principle that was pulled away from Christian policy is the theory of sin. This is not an uninteresting topic of moral theology; rather, it is the precious premise of a realistic and keen understanding of human nature and of its free, everlasting moving to and from Good and Evil,” the late political scientist Gianfranco Miglio said in 1946.

Many years later, Prof. Miglio added: “I can’t suffer, or understand, the ‘social Catholics’. They seem to teach God how He should have made humans. They don’t admit men’s evilness: to them, the culprit is ‘the society’.… They hate America, the free-market, the whole West, that has been created by Christianity.”

Indeed, among Christians’ greatest virtues there is realism; they well understand that men may freely choose to do evil, and even find it sweet. Gun-control laws disarm all men, but only an ingenuous person fools himself into believing that criminals will be law-abiding! Such measures may make crime more difficult to perpetrate, but they make self-defence nearly impossible.

“Consider the situation of a mother in a rough Los Angeles neighborhood, moments after an escaped psychopathic murderer has broken into her house,” suggests David B. Kopel. “The woman has good reason to fear that the intruder is about to slaughter her three children. If she does not shoot him with her .38 special, the children will be dead before the police arrive. Is the woman’s moral obligation to murmur “violence engenders violence,” and keep her handgun in the drawer while her children die? Or is the mother’s moral duty to save her children, and shoot the intruder?” (“Does God Believe In Gun Control?”)

Further, gun-control is the key to tyranny, because a dictator would find virtually no resistance if the people are unarmed. With regard to the motto “Obey God, Serve Mankind, Oppose Tyranny,” Daniel New noted that “A motto can, on occasion, capture a whole philosophy of life, and it can stick with a young person throughout his or her life. The phrase ‘Obey God’ is undoubtedly the most profound part of that motto. No one can serve two masters” (Michael New: Mercenary… Or American Soldier?, p. 34.)

One could hardly make an argument that God gave some people the authority to assault, and some others the duty to be assaulted. Indeed, He gave men the gifts of conscience and intelligence, so that they may decide if an action is good or worthy. So it is very hard to justify, from a Christian point of view, a law whose prime effect is to disarm honest people.

One may believe banning guns is a good thing, and campaign for gun control; nobody has the right to do it in the name of God.

Carlo Stagnaro [send him mail] co-edits the libertarian magazine “Enclave” and edited the book “Waco. Una strage di stato americana.” Here’s his website.

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