The Gospel and Gun Control

What does the gospel say about gun control? Well, nothing specific of course. After all, there were no guns 2000 years ago, when Jesus walked the earth.

However, we can tell from related things Jesus said how he likely would feel about gun control. Here's a couple relevant verses:

You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matthew 5:38-39

Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Matthew 26:52

Verses like these create the basis for the strong and respected strain of pacifism in the Christian faith. The Amish, Quakers, and Mennonites are examples of Christians who generally don't believe in violence -- even in self-defense. I wouldn't say they are wrong. It may well be that Christians should simply trust God to take care of them. If harm befalls the Christian, perhaps God has a greater purpose for that.

On the other hand, support can be found in the bible for the concept of self-defense. There are a number of "eye for an eye" type verses in the bible. However, even the Old Testament law placed restrictions on reasonable self-defense:

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. Exodus 22: 2-3

Most Christians, indeed most people, agree with the idea that guns should be legal, but also subject to "reasonable" restrictions on their purchase and use. The issue is -- what's "reasonable?"

First, we need to know the "lay of the land." Are gun laws in the United States permissive or restrictive when compared to the rest of the world? It turns out they are among the most permissive in the world. That may be good or may be bad -- it depends on the facts that we'll get into in a moment.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a powerful lobby that represents gun manufacturers and owners and advocates for permissive gun laws. The Brady Campaign is an example of an organization that thinks American gun laws are too permissive and there should be background checks to keep guns out of the hands of people with a history of violence or mental instability; restrictions on sales of semi-automatic weapons; fewer concealed carry permits, etc.

So, who's right? Well, just as with health care, it's helpful to look around the world and see which countries have the most successful gun laws. If the permissive gun laws in the United States are working the best, then there's probably little reason to change our gun laws. However, if we are doing badly, compared to other countries, then we should consider what they are doing and try to emulate what works as much as possible. This seems like common sense, right?

So, how do we do in the U.S. in terms of gun-related crime, violence and deaths? Well, unfortunately, the answer is -- terrible. The United States has by far the highest firearm-related death rate of all developed countries in the world. In fact, an NIH study found that:

U.S. homicide rates are 6.9 times higher than rates in 22 other populous high-income countries combined, despite similar non-lethal crime and violence rates. The firearm homicide rate in the U.S. is 19.5 times higher.

On average, about 300,000 Americans are shot every year and about about 100,000 of them die. The National Rifle Association (NRA) and its allies are fond of reciting the catchy phrase:

Guns don't kill people; people kill people.

Well, is it a coincidence that the United States just so happens to also be the most heavily armed society in world with 90 guns per 100 people? Of course not.

If you follow the logic of the NRA, you have to conclude that Americans are simply far more violent than people in any other first world country. And, not by a slight margin. You'd have to believe we are 7 to 20 times more violent. Does anyone believe that? Of course not.

The truth is (as truth usually is) simple: Higher gun ownership rates result in more gun injuries and deaths.


It was found that for every time a household gun was used for self-defense, there were 4 unintentional shootings, 7 criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides. Overall, guns kept in the home were 22 times more likely to be used in unintentional shootings, murder or assault, and suicide attempts than in an act of self-defense.

The study concludes that: "Guns kept in homes are more likely to be involved in a fatal or nonfatal accidental shooting, criminal assault, or suicide attempt than to be used to injure or kill in self-defense."

Now, let's give the NRA the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps there is some benefit to be gained from all the guns floating around. One benefit could be reduced crime. Maybe all these gun deaths are worth it -- if they reduce our crime rate. Maybe. Unsurprisingly, one of the primary justifications gun supporters use to justify making guns easier to buy and use is that allegedly easy access to guns will help Americans to defend themselves from criminals. Guns in the hands of law-abiding citizense deter crime -- right?

You've heard another NRA jingle:

If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns

So, let's take another look at the facts. If the NRA is right, then crime rates should be far, far lower in the U.S. than in other countries, right?

Sadly, they are not. It's difficult to directly compare crime statistics internationally since every country counts things differently. However,

Overall the total crime rate of the United States is similar to that of other highly developed countries. Some types of reported property crime in the U.S. survey as lower than in Germany or Canada, yet the homicide rate in the United States is substantially higher.

In fact, take a look at this list. You won't find any industrialized countries with a higher homicide rate than the U.S.

Unsurprisingly, states with weak gun laws are far more likely to export gun violence (sell guns used in crimes) than states with strong gun control laws. Further, states with higher gun ownership and weaker gun laws lead the nation in gun deaths.

Here's a comprehensive review of gun control studies finding that virtually all studies have found higher rates of gun ownership leads to higher homicide rates: Firearms Availability and Homicide Rates.

So, we've played this issue all the way out, given guns the benefit of the doubt at every turn; yet, it seems that, in the end, there simply is no valid justification for our permissive gun laws. Overall, the large numbers of guns on our streets do not appear to deter crime or prevent it. They do, however, appear to result in many more shootings and deaths; often unintentional; often by inexperienced children or teenagers who make a rash decision that turns tragic because a gun was readily available.

3,184 children and teenagers died from gun violence in 2006. 70% of those who attempt suicide make that decision on impulse and ready access to guns makes that decision far more likely to be lethal.

Most of the mass-murder cases we've seen so many of recently happened because a troubled teenager had access to a gun. One wonders why the focus seems to always be on why the person did what he or she did and not on how they did it? Either answer would have prevented a terrible tragedy.

The bottom line is that our permissive gun laws simply result in lots of bad things (like the shooting of Trayvon Martin) and not many good things.

In the end the gun issue is about the sanctity of life. We know that our permissive gun laws result in many more lives lost than lives saved. So, the Christian position on gun control should be obvious. We should support them because they will save lives.

The NRA likes to talk a lot about the need for guns for self defense. But, that's just not the issue. That's a smokescreen. No one argues people shouldn't have the right to self defense. In fact, no one even argues people should not have the right to own a gun for self defense -- as long as the person is not dangerous. We are simply talking about the kind of reasonable restrictions on gun sales and uses that most other countries have and have proven to save lives.

Gun control is not about gun prohibition. Rather it's about, as the name suggests, gun control. And, in case you thought otherwise, gun control is entirely constitutional.

Here's a hot, and intelligent, debate about Stand Your Ground Laws.

Here's the best article I've ever read about gun control (yes Fareed apparently got in trouble for copying part of it from someone else; nevertheless, the truth of what he wrote stands:

Fareed Zakaria on Gun Control.

The Gospel and Gun Control Articles

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