Life, Part 2
A post in the Christianity series.
Thou shalt not kill.
In Life, Part 1 I focused on the beginning of life, the Christian view of life, and the immensely complex and difficult topic of abortion. For Part 2 I'd like to discuss the other end of life: taking it and guns.
Americans have a morbid obsession with guns, much more so than pretty much any other country in the world. This obsession is regularly boosted and fueled by groups like the NRA as well as a fundamental distrust that many Americans have in their own government. Americans also collectively own and possess a lot of guns. It should then come as no surprise that America is also a statistical outlier when it comes to gun violence per 100,000 citizens (more guns means more situations where guns exist which means more situations where guns get used).
Many would claim that there's nothing wrong with this picture, that owning guns is our “God-given right” or at least a right given to us by the 2nd Amendment of our Constitution:
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.
Courts have long debated whether this amendment stands for the collective ownership (e.g. a local militia or guard) of guns or for individual ownership. In the past few decades we have seen a significant push towards towards individual ownership (almost entirely fueled by the NRA). But I'm not here to discuss the political and legal aspects of gun ownership, as that is a quagmire I'm not interested in partaking or capable of navigating.
In following the theme of this series of articles, I'm here to talk about the Christian view of guns and gun ownership.
Lets start at the beginning. First, what is a gun? The most neutral explanation I've found basically says that a gun is a weapon that that accelerates a projectile at high speed, usually through gas expansion (e.g. an explosion). Now, using the word “weapon” does imply that a gun is designed to inflict bodily harm or damage, though some insist that a gun is simply a tool, like a knife or a car (which also kill people). However this line of thinking is wishful at best. What we call a gun was invented by the Chinese as a way to launch spears at opposing armies and since then has had many improvements towards reliability, range, projectile types, etc, all of which serve to make the weapon more capable at its job of efficiently taking life. A gun has no other purpose.
I prefixed this article with the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill” or in other translations “You shall not murder.” Unfortunately, as with the rest of this series of articles, life is complicated. If it was as easy as “don't kill people”, I wouldn't have much to talk about. As Americans, though, we get to read about regular shootings immediately followed by calls that we need more guns, a mentality similar to the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction the entire world lived under during the Cold War. Basically, what many seem to want is a world of fear, a world where when anyone pulls a gun for any reason that will immediately trigger other people to pull their guns, leading to the maximal escalation of even the smallest incident, and a good chance of someone getting shot. And yet, many who consider themselves Christian continue to push this narrative after every shooting event this country suffers and seem to have no difficulty in ignoring the fundamental conflict between such a mentality and Jesus’ commandments on how we are to live.
We can't even stop there though. As I said, life is complicated, but to continue this discussion I need to list out the two fundamental truths in our world and the Christian world-view:
- Guns exist
- We are all fallen and sinful
Neither of these truths are reversible in our universe, and the two make an exceedingly dangerous combination. Because guns exist, anyone with guns will very quickly subdue anyone without them in a purely physical confrontation. This has naturally lead to extensive research and development of more efficient and deadlier weapons across history and around the globe. But even outside of ranged weaponry, humans have been killing each other for our entire known history, including plenty of wars mentioned in the Bible. As such, I would argue that voluntarily disbanding our armed forces would be grossly irresponsible of us. We would lose all ability to protect and serve those who need it the most, and while Jesus does command us to “turn the other cheek” (which has interesting connotations when read within the context of how Romans treated people they deemed lesser than themselves) I feel that there is a Christian calling to be a physical bastion protecting others from evil forces. It is unfortunate that we live in a world where killing is at times necessary, so as Christians we each need to, through prayer and reflection, understand our personal limits and the true consequences of the actions we take regarding the weapons of death.
I'd like to close by saying that I am not personally completely against guns, and I do have respect for our military, particularly because I grew up in the Air Force where my Dad was a fighter pilot and retired a Colonel. I also get to regularly partake in another aspect of gun ownership: hunting. My Father-in-Law is an avid hunter who butchers and cooks up the deer that he kills. I believe this kind of hunting, and this use of guns, is sanctioned by God as responsible usage of the many resources this planet has to offer us. But I feel the need to be clear, this is not “gun as a tool”, this is still killing, albeit taking the life of an animal instead of another human.
But I do not own a gun, nor do I plan on ever owning one, because of the simple truth that once one has a tool, one is always looking for situations to use said tool. As a Christian, the very thought of taking someone else's life is abhorrent to me, even if at times it may be necessary. If you're carrying a gun, then you are always, often subconsciously, looking for a reason to use it (a poignant example: if George Zimmerman wasn't carrying a gun, Trayvon Martin would probably still be alive today). And that is not something I can justify with my faith.