One of the most controversial subjects over the last few years has been “gun control” and whether or not the government should regulate the use of weapons in the United States of America. There are good people on both sides of this argument. This is a complicated issue because there are various types of weapons. There are also two extremes that we must avoid; yet sadly, too many people place themselves within one of these groups:
Extreme Group #1: All guns should be banned…just let the police and military protect us.
Extreme Group #2: Every kind of gun and weapon should be legal to use.
With this in mind, let us look for the truth in this complex issue. In this article, we will first look at what the founding fathers have to say about “gun control” and then we will take a look at what the Bible has to say about “defending” yourself. Also, let me state that this is not a comprehensive study. All your questions will probably not be answered.
Those who argue for the right to “bear arms” often say something like: “It’s my second amendment right to carry a weapon!” What does the second amendment actually state?
“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.”
Over the last two hundred years, most United States’ citizens have interpreted this amendment in a straight-forward way. Most citizens believe that this amendment ensures that one can defend themselves against any kind of illegal force that comes against them, whether that is from a neighbor, an outsider, or even from your own government.
Richard Henry Lee (1732–1794) was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He helped frame the second amendment in the First Congress. This is what Mr. Lee 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…”
Yes, life was very different back then. Most people had guns. Hunting was more of a necessity back then. And there wasn’t a developed police force to protect people. Yet, part of the freedom the signers of the Declaration of Independence were envisioning was the ability for every free person in this country to be able to protect himself or herself from evil. This should always be our vision as a country. We have gotten to the point where we want everyone else to protect us. But that is not always possible. If we truly live in a free country, we must give people the right to “bear arms” to protect themselves. Therefore, it appears that our founding fathers saw freedom as the ability to protect yourself from evil.
Does the Bible say anything about the right to bear arms? Obviously, the Bible does not specifically address the issue of gun control, since firearms like we use today were not manufactured in ancient times. But accounts of warfare and the use of weaponry, such as swords, spears, bows and arrows, darts and slings were well-documented in the pages of the Bible. I’d like to make four statements based on biblical truth.
Statement #1: A weapon can be used for good or evil.
You have probably heard the statement: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Guns are not the issue here. The heart of mankind is the issue. When someone is determined to murder someone else, he or she will use whatever weapon is available to succeed in the evil plan. For example, the Bible doesn’t tell us what kind of weapon the first murderer, Cain, used to kill his brother Abel in Genesis 4. Cain could have used a stone, a club, a sword, or perhaps even his bare hands. A weapon was not mentioned in the account.
Weapons in the hands of law-abiding, peace-loving citizens can be used for good purposes such as hunting, recreational and competitive sports, and keeping peace. Beyond self-defense, a person properly trained and prepared to use a firearm can actually deter crime, employing the weapon to protect innocent lives and prevent violent offenders from succeeding in their crimes.
Statement #2: The Israelites were expected to have their own personal weapons.
Every man would be summoned to arms when the nation confronted an enemy. They didn’t send in the Marines. The people defended themselves. Each man had a sword in this passage:
David said to his men, “Each of you strap on your sword!” So they did, and David strapped his on as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies” (1 Samuel 25:13).
Could you ever envision the United States in such turmoil that citizens need to be able to protect themselves from terrorists who infiltrate the country? “No way, that would never happen,” you might say. But just look at other countries. It is happening. Go to the movie theater. It seems that countless movies are based on this premise. And look to the news. It is happening on a small scale in our country. What makes any of us think that things are going to get better before they get worse?
Statement #3: Weapons were used in the Bible for the purpose of self-defense.
Weapons were never forbidden. In fact, we see clear commands in the Bible for people to defend themselves when someone is trying to attack them.
If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed (Exodus 22:2).
From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked (Nehemiah 4:16-18).
Jesus is well-known for his statement about teaching his followers to turn the other cheek when an enemy strikes them. When I was younger, I remember listening to a kind-hearted Christian husband stand up in church and state that if an intruder broke into his house and started to assault his family, he would try to turn the other cheek and allow the intruder to do what he wanted because this is what Jesus taught. Even at a young age, I knew this wasn’t truth. My heart burned with anger at this man’s poor interpretation of the biblical text. Whenever we interpret the Bible, we must take the entire context of the Bible into account. What else did Jesus have to say about weapons and self-defense?
I believe that the “turn the other cheek” principle applies to individuals. If someone wants to harm me, I will try to get away from them, but I will try my best not to harm them. On the other hand, if they are trying to harm my wife, children, or someone else, I will definitely step in and try my best to protect them. And I think Jesus teaches this principle.
Jesus appears to promote the use of weapons for self-defense in a statement he makes right before he is executed. While giving his farewell discourse to the disciples before going to the cross, he instructed the apostles to purchase side arms to carry for self-protection. He was preparing them for the extreme opposition and persecution they would face in future missions:
He said to them, “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. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.” The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” he replied (Luke 22:36-38).
It appears that Jesus is preparing his followers for a revolution. But when Jesus is later arrested by the Roman soldiers, Jesus lives out his “turn the other cheek” philosophy. As soldiers seized Jesus, Jesus warned Peter to put away his sword:
“For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).
Some scholars believe this statement was a call to Christian pacifism, while others understand it simply to mean in a general sense that “violence breeds more violence.” Jesus told Peter to “put your sword back in its place.” The phrase “back in its place” is important here. That “place” would be at Peter’s side. Jesus didn’t say, “Throw it away.” After all, he had just ordered the disciples to arm themselves. The reason was obvious: to protect the lives of the disciples, not the life of the Son of God. Jesus was saying something like this: “Peter, this is not the right time for a fight.”
Here is something interesting: Peter openly carried his sword, a weapon similar to the type Roman soldiers employed at the time. Jesus knew Peter was carrying a sword. He allowed this, but forbid him to use it aggressively. Most importantly, Jesus did not want Peter to resist the inevitable will of God the Father, which our Savior knew would be fulfilled by his arrest and eventual death on the cross. Scripture is quite clear that Christians are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), and to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-40). Thus, any aggressive or offensive violence was not the purpose for which Jesus had instructed them to carry a weapon just hours earlier. This leads me to the last statement.
Statement #4: To allow evil to happen and not do anything about it is morally wrong.
According to the Old Testament Law for the Jews, if a thief is caught breaking in and is killed by the homeowner, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed (Exodus 22:2). But…
If it happens after sunrise, the defender is guilty of bloodshed. Anyone who steals must certainly make restitution, but if they have nothing, they must be sold to pay for their theft (Exodus 22:3).
In this passage God stated that it’s okay to protect yourself and your family. In the dark, it is impossible to see and know for certain what someone is up to; whether an intruder has come to steal, inflict harm, or to kill, is unknown at the time. In the daylight, faces can be seen, weapons can be seen. We can see if a thief has come just to swipe a loaf of bread through an open window, or if an intruder has come with more violent intentions.
To permit a murder when one could have prevented it is morally wrong.
To allow a rape when one could have hindered it is an evil.
To watch an act of cruelty to children without trying to intervene is morally inexcusable.
Not resisting evil is an evil of omission, and an evil of omission can be just as evil as an evil of commission. Ultimately, the decision to bear arms is a personal choice determined by one’s own convictions. As a believer, the use of deadly force would be applied only as a last resort, when no other option is available, to prevent an evil from being committed and to protect human life.
Here are three questions to ask yourself as you ponder this issue:
- If I am placed in a situation where I might need to “pull the trigger,” have I thought through the domino effect of killing another person? The legal battle? The family of the deceased and their reaction? Being convicted of murder and losing my own freedom? The idea of sending someone to eternity when they are most likely not saved?
- Are some weapons (and accessories) just completely unnecessary for the common citizen, or should all weapons be available to us?
- Even though the disciples (Peter, James, John, etc.) all had swords to defend themselves, none of them did, even when they were persecuted and ultimately were martyred by evil authorities. What does that teach us about our high calling of being a peace maker as an individual?