An Armed Society Is A Polite Society

by Gabe Ruff

When we come to the debate over guns we all have ideas that we bring to the table. For the span of this argument we must all put aside our preconceived notions about the gun control debate because, at the end of the day, we as Christians are all arguing for one thing: peace. All of our arguments do not differ in the ends but rather the means. So please, for just a moment, forget about what you now believe and let this thesis show you the facts. Hopefully these facts will point us all in the direction of peace even if our paths still differ slightly. Within America as a whole there is a spectrum of beliefs on the great gun control debate. Through this thesis I intend to prove where we, as Christians, should fall on this spectrum. On this spectrum I do not believe there is an exact point where all Christians should fall but rather a specific section. I do not take a radical approach but rather force you to go forward with fresh eyes and an enhanced perspective. The gun control debate has only recently become a large topic of discussion in America as it arose in the late 1980s and early 1990s and so there is yet to be a correct answer to solve the issue of peace.

American’s second amendment rights must be preserved. Taking away the ability to purchase and carry guns is an infringement on Americans’ constitutionally established rights and will not decrease crime rates, however there are times when certain restrictions should be put on guns, such as keeping them out of the hands of certain people and making it mandatory to go through a background check and waiting period when trying to buy a gun. Those who have been convicted of any crime should not be able to purchase a gun nor should anyone who is mentally disabled or unstable. This is not through prejudice but for the sole purpose of attempting to keep guns out of the hands of anyone who have demonstrated reckless judgement and impaired thinking. Owning guns is a right that has been given to Americans but we should not willingly put guns in the wrong hands. The system will never be perfect but we must attempt to do the best we can. By taking the ability to own guns from unfit people, we are taking steps to ensure that the majority of guns are owned by people who will use them correctly and not for illegal purposes. This, however, does not take into account the guns that people acquire illegally. A gun law is any law that restricts or expands citizens’ rights to bear arms. In desiring to uphold peace, as the Bible teaches us to do, restricting guns is not the answer. In order to prove these things I will analyze three of the largest disagreements within this debate: what is the intention behind the second amendment?, would taking away guns decrease crime and violence?, and how can we best promote peace?

To answer the first question we must dive into who the founding fathers were, how they acted and spoke, and what they said about guns in the second amendment debate. Ultimately, it can be concluded that the founding fathers intended for the second amendment to solidify the rights of American citizens to bear arms. We also have to dissect the exact wording of the second amendment and look at how it relates to the rest of the Constitution. To answer the second question we must consider crime rates in America in relation to gun law statistics. Along with these statistics we must analyze the statistics of other countries around the world which have been in this same conundrum in the past and assess what happened to the crime rates in their country after the actions they took to eliminate guns. The analysis of the gun laws of our country and others will prove that restricting guns will not reduce crime rates or increase social stability, and in fact it is possible that doing so has the opposite impact. Most importantly, scripture will answer how we should bring peace rather than violence. It will explain that self defense is not against the mandates of God and peace must sometimes be acquired through the use of righteous force.

The Intentions of the Founding Fathers

The right to bear arms in America dates back to before it was even a country. “Beginning in 1774, when the British army occupying Boston began confiscating the inhabitants’ firearms, the American Revolution confirmed what the founders had learned from their studies of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as from English and French history: the possession of arms was essential to the retention of political and civil rights.” This idea is built into the foundations of America, but as this quote shows the idea really dates all the way back to ancient Greece and Rome. The founding fathers were very diligent in their studies of Greece and Rome; they incorporated kept those ancient cities in mind when they created the government we know today. The right to bear arms has been essential to the retention of rights since the beginning of western civilization and yet it recently it has become an issue that is debated in America.

The founding Fathers made it clear that they intended for citizens of America to have rights that protected them from oppressive government. This was the entire reason for the bill of rights. Near the top of their list was an individual’s rights to bear arms. Recently, many people debate the original intentions of the founding fathers in their writings, but their works and their words ultimately prove that they bestowed the power of government to the collective people, not those with political status. They clearly believed that the rights of the individual were the best way to preserve the republic and to proceed with success because many of them said so openly, and it is clear through the laws they made and documents they produced. George Washington stated in his first annual address to congress, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” A necessary tool of war in our country is the gun. To be prepared for war is to have the proper tools, or guns, and to be ready to use them at any moment. Washington does not say that we must go to war and seek out the use of our tools but rather use them passively to preserve peace. In America we must not restrict guns for law abiding citizens because doing so would increase rates of violent crime, open the door to the rise of tyranny in the government, and create an unstable society. Most importantly it would be an infringement on our second amendment right to bear arms and protect ourselves from the violent crimes that happen everyday in our country.

The founding fathers’ intent for the constitution was to create an unshakable foundation that would keep the government from becoming too powerful. James Madison said, “Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.” Preserving individuals’ rights to keep and bear arms is one of the most powerful ways to keep the government from becoming too powerful. As a whole, the wording of the constitution supports the individuals’ rights. “The people” means individuals in the 1st, 4th, 9th, and 10th amendments. This fact is not debated at all in the amendments, however, when it comes to the second amendment, people question if this wording is speaking about individuals or the people as a whole. The precedent has been set clearly. The founding fathers wrote everything in the constitution with the utmost care and attention to detail and it seems counterintuitive to assume that they would not keep their meanings of phrases consistent throughout the entire document.

Next, we can look at what the founding fathers actually said and this will show that they had every intention of providing the people with the right to keep and bear arms. Patrick Henry said, “[tyrants] mistrust the people and therefore deprive them of their arms. The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able (to use it for defense of self and nation) may have a gun.” One of the most memorable speakers in America’s history, Patrick Henry, explains the importance of giving every able citizen the opportunity to arm themselves. He concluded that the great object is that every man be armed for the defense of himself and of his nation. The word “may” that he uses is important to make note of. He does not say every able man must have a gun but rather may have a gun. This leaves us with the choice to do what we see fit without restricting any of our rights. While this is strong evidence, there is more to backup the fact that the founding fathers sought to arm individuals. Thomas Jefferson was a huge advocate for the right to bear arms. He translates Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria speaking about laws that forbid the carrying of arms saying, “They disarm those only who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.” The restrictions that prevent law abiding citizens from owning and carrying guns only encourage assailants. If someone seeks to harm someone else and he knows that that person has no firearms to protect himself, he is much more likely to actually hurt that person than if he believes that the person has a sufficient means of defending himself. This may lead to injury of the assailant instead. Self preservation is a part of human nature. If the assailant is confident that he can carry out the nefarious deed without harm to himself or putting himself in danger, he is much more likely to act out.

Finally, Thomas Paine gives a description of why we must preserve the right to bear arms that has a very similar connotation to a catchphrase that pro-gun advocates have adopted:

This ‘standard model’ view of the amendment is supported by the Founding Fathers’ own stately words expressing the same ideas as today’s gun lobby slogans. Compare ‘When guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns’ to Thomas Paine’s: ‘The peaceable part of mankind will be continually overrun by the vile and abandoned while they neglect the means of self-defense. The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand, arms like laws discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world. The balance of power is the scale of peace. All would be well if evil men would disarm, but since some will not, others dare not lay them aside. Horrid mischief would ensue; the weak will become prey to the strong.’

Thomas Paine urges that people must not dare give up their right to protect themselves. He says that by giving up your gun you are purposefully making yourself weak and the weak always become prey to the more strongly armed. He calls it a willing neglect of ones best means of self defense. This is a founding father who stated that were men to give up their second amendment right to bear arms they would allow themselves to be overrun by the vile plunderers. This implies that even if you give up your arms in an attempt to be peaceful the criminals and invaders would not give up their means of attack. They would plunder and invade all the more if they knew that they would be successful. One man’s means of attack is the same as another man’s means of defense against that attack. Having a means to self defense discourages an attacker from committing an act of violence or crime against you. As you balance the power you create peace but if you give up all of your power the opposing side will trample you and increase its own power by doing so. Yes, it would be amazing if all men could lay down their arms and we could all live in peace. However, because sin is in the world, we know that not everyone will act peacefully so we must not dare to be first. This does not only apply only to a personal level but also on a large scale. If America as a country was to abandon all means of self defense who’s to say that our adversaries would not come in and immediately conquer us. We would be willingly subjugating ourselves to another power by making ourselves weak. If the power in the world is balanced, there is peace, but if the power shifts too far in any direction, peace will be forcibly taken away.

The Bill of Rights is the foremost effort of the founding fathers to ensure that the rights of the individual are preserved. The founding Fathers wrote this document to support individual rights and make it abundantly clear what their intentions were. It is certain that they valued the rights of individual citizens because they wrote an entire document to legally bind the government to giving the people their rights. Also, within the Bill of Rights the founding fathers included the 9th and 10th amendments which say that rights not specifically mentioned in the constitution are protected for the people and anything not specifically given to the government in the constitution is reserved for the people. At that time no other country had done this. Power was given to the people by ensuring the government could not take those rights away. To restrict guns from the citizens of The United States of America is an infringement on the 2nd amendment. All evidence makes it clear that the founding fathers wanted to give rights to individuals, including the right to keep and bear arms in the second amendment. “The Framers correctly intuited that in a bill of rights, the last thing the reader should have ringing in his mind’s ear is the absolute prohibition on the infringement of the natural right to own guns.” James Madison passionately said, “Let us not insult the free and gallant citizens of America with the suspicion, that they would be less able to defend the rights of which they would be in actual possession, than the debased subjects of arbitrary power would be to rescue theirs from the hands of their oppressors.” The founding fathers clearly saw that the people were capable of defending themselves and their tool for doing so was the right to bear arms.

The second amendment states, “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.” When it comes to the debate over whether we should restrict guns in America, this amendment is at the heart of the discussion. Some would say that there is no way we should infringe upon American’s rights, while others say it was simply a product of the time and can be cast aside because we are past the times of militias. These two sides have emerged though the debate and they are called the individual rights view and the collective rights view.

The individual rights view says that the 2nd amendment specifically refers to the rights ascribed to Americans individually. Most people who see it this way believe that some gun restrictions should be accepted (like for convicted criminals and terrorism) but for any law abiding citizen guns should be permitted. The collective rights view disagrees, believing that gun ownership should be regulated like a drivers license and should be considered a privilege. The people who believe this say that the rights of the whole should be preserved in order to keep people safe. They nearly always believe that the restriction of guns is a good thing and that only a very select few should be allowed to carry firearms.

People who believe that the second amendment focuses on the collective rights rather than the individual rights often focus on the clause: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state” They say that “Arms-bearing in the well regulated militia was a duty owed to the government, not a personal right to be exercised against government.” What they mean by this is that the well regulated militia, acting as its army, was for the prosperity of the government and to be used by the government to carry out its will. They believe that the well regulated militia was not to be used as an excuse for the individuals to act out against the government. However, this amendment appears in a document that specifically limits the federal government’s power so the facts do not line up. Collective rights interpreters argue that “The individual rights theorists have distorted the words chosen by James Madison in the second amendment.” They say that the second amendment is infused with government interests and was regulated by the government so instead of allowing normal citizens to own guns the government should arm the military. They argue that the individual rights view can become dangerous very quickly because “There is great danger in a constitutional doctrine that…offers a constitutional justification for those inclined to impose their beliefs on the rest of us by violent means.” Collective rights advocates are saying that by allowing people to have guns they will force others to profess beliefs that they do not agree with through violent means.

Some people who believe the collective rights ideas say that the second amendment is a loaded gun held by the people to the head of the government; that this is inappropriate and gives too much power to the people. This belief is called the insurrectionist idea and many collective rights advocates believe that it is a present threat in our country today. However, the entire point of creating a republic was to have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Finally, collectivists say that the second amendment is simply about the militia and because we no longer have a need for a militia we can throw the entire amendment out the window. “The Second Amendment was a product of a different world where a musket, not an uzi, was the weapon of choice of a well regulated militia.” This would be very similar to saying that the 1st amendment is limited to pamphlets because that is what was available at the time. Ultimately they say that gun restriction is allowed and should be done because the second amendment does not hold any weight in our world today, believing it is not safe for ordinary citizens to have that much power placed in their hands.

On the contrary, individual rights advocates believe that the second amendment place a clear emphasis in the right to bear arms and that it is not dependent at all on the militia. They say that “Without the individual freedom to own and carry arms, there can be no militia.” There is absolutely no way to have a militia assembled by the people and run by the people if the people are not allowed to carry firearms. A militia of pitchforks and torches would be completely ineffective against a tyrannical government that had the full support of the national military behind it. “The people’s individual right to be armed ought to be respected and…the resulting armed populace will be secure against tyranny, invasion, and crime.” The right to bear arms naturally brings about protection for the populace from tyranny, invasion, and crime. I will attempt to show that, contrary to some people’s beliefs, it does not actually cause more crime than it protects us from. Some individual rights advocates speculate that “The differences on gun ownership rights that separate the United States from most of Europe are rooted in America’s unique early history.” And if peasants in Europe had been armed all tyranny would have been readily overturned. This speculation does not seem all that far off. In the 200 and some years that America has been its own country we have not had any significant cases of tyranny. What is the difference between America and the countries of Europe? In America we give the people power by arming them and affording them certain unalienable rights.

The individual rights view is the more constitutional approach and has concrete evidence to back it up while the collective rights view seems to involve much speculation. In over 35 cases the Supreme Court has ruled that the second amendment affirms individuals right to keep and bear arms. If the court decides that it should take the individual rights side then there is obviously a sufficient amount of evidence that the individual rights ideas were correct because, in theory, the court is an impartial judge that listens simply to the facts of the law. Additionally, a 1990 case on the 4th amendment says individual rights trump those of the government and a 1996 case says bearing arms is for individual reasons not militia purposes. The court has clearly and consistently ruled that the individual rights view is the correct view. The second amendment can not be disregarded because it is clearly still valid and is not a product of its time but rather transcends time. To better understand the intended focus of the second amendment we could switch the order of the two clauses that make up the amendment. “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security for a free country.” This wording more clearly highlights that the stress of the amendment is not on the militia but rather on the right of the people to keep and bear arms. “Perhaps this version makes Madison’s thought more clear. His sentence implies that the way to achieve the well regulated militia that is necessary to the security of the free state is to recognize the right of the people to own guns.” The only way to form a well regulated militia is for the people to bear arms, thus the the amendment should not be perverted to say that the militia is the primary gain of the amendment and therefore we no longer need guns because we no longer need a militia.

In America we must not restrict guns for law abiding citizens because doing so would increase rates of violent crime, open the door to the rise of tyranny in the government, and create an unstable society. Most importantly it would be an infringement on our second amendment right to bear arms and protect ourselves from the violent crimes that happen everyday in our country.

Analysis of Crime Rates

Throughout the years of debating whether or not guns should be restricted in the United States there has been one argument that has not gone away. Won’t crime rates decrease if we ban guns? Most who support restricting guns stand firmly on the position that if we restrict guns, or maybe even outlaw them, crime will go down significantly. In stark contrast, most who believe we should not restrict guns say that restricting guns would only increase crime rates. There is a middle ground of people, however, who say that if we restrict guns crime will simply stay the same. To discern which of these three stands correct we must analyze what happened to crime rates in other countries when they restricted or outlawed guns. If there is an overall trend seen by the data then it would help to determine how to reduce crime in America through the use or disuse of guns. If the data shows that crime rates will not have any major shift in either direction then we must rely on other proofs to say whether or not we should restrict guns. Some countries that have instituted strict gun laws are Britain, Australia, Japan, Ireland, and Jamaica. Also within the U.S we have seen heavy gun bans in Chicago and Washington D.C.

Britain has historically had lower violent crime rates than America. However, they still felt it necessary to officially ban handguns in 1997. This ban came after eight long years of gun control laws being passed. Ironically, in the following decade the violent crime rates doubled in Britain. “Britain has the highest rate of violent crime in Europe, more so than the United States or even South Africa. They also have the second highest overall crime rate in the European Union. In 2008, Britain had a violent crime rate nearly five times higher than the United States (2034 vs. 446 per 100,000 population).” By 2001 street robberies were up 28%, violent crime was up 8%, murders increased 4%, and rapes increased 14%. These crimes were mostly committed using weapons such as knives. “This trend continued in the U.K in 2004 with a 10% increase in street crime, 8% increase in muggings, and a 22% increase in robberies.” Guns are no longer being acquired legally and criminals do not respect the laws put in place. “An ongoing parliamentary inquiry in Britain into the growing number of black market weapons has concluded that there are more than three million illegally held firearms in circulation – double the number believed to have been held 10 years ago – and that criminals are more willing than ever to use them. One in three criminals under the age of 25 possesses or has access to a firearm.” Due to the massive increase in people owning guns illegally, “Handgun homicides in England and Wales reached an all-time high in 2000, years after a virtual ban on private handgun ownership. More than 3,000 crimes involving handguns were recorded in 1999-2000, including 42 homicides, 310 cases of attempted murder, 2,561 robberies and 204 burglaries.” Crimes committed using a handgun increased 40% from 1997, before the prohibition of handguns, to 2000. In general, of the top 20 places which have the most restrictions on guns, ten of them have above average rates of gun crimes, while of the the top 20 places that have the least restrictions on guns only two have above average rates of gun crimes.

This data shows that overall when Britain increased its gun restrictions and passed the Prohibition of Handguns Act in 1997 crime rates in Britain soared higher than they ever had before. Murder rates increased severely along with other violent crimes and about a third of all those crimes involved the use of an illegally purchased firearm. If crime rates increased in Britain after it passed a prohibition on handguns, then any country that shared a lot in common with Britain might find itself in the same predicament if it were to abolish guns as well.

Contrary to Britain's failure, Australia is a country that many people look at as a success in reducing crime by restricting guns. This, however, is not true. If you take a closer look at the statistics before and after the gun ban in Australia you will find that they don’t differ from England much at all. In 1996, a year before Britain, Australia passed an act that allowed them to enact a sweeping ban on guns and confiscate many law abiding citizens’ firearms. It is important to note that yes, crime rates in Australia over all have gone down from 1980-2004, however, the most important details come in-between those two years directly after the ban on guns. “Homicides were falling before the Australian firearm ban. In the seven years before and after the Australian ban, the rate of decline was identical (down to four decimal places). Homicides dropped steeply starting in 2003, but all of this decline was associated with non-firearm and non-knife murders (fewer beatings, poisonings, drownings, etc.).” To say that because crime rates had decreased overall the restrictions on guns reduced gun crimes is unfair because with or without prohibition on guns the overall crime rates in Australia, many associated with non-gun crimes, were bound to drop. In fact, if you look closely to the statistics you will see that, “Crime has been rising since enacting a sweeping ban on private gun ownership. In the first two years after the ban, government statistics showed a dramatic increase in criminal activity. In 2001-2002, homicides were up another 20%.” In 2000 in Australia, four years after the gun ban, firearm related murders were up 19%, armed robberies were up 69%, and home invasions were to 21%. This is quite unfortunate because before the gun ban firearm-related crimes had dropped 66% and firearm-related deaths fell 50%. After the gun ban in 2001, crime rates in in Sydney, one of the largest cities, rose 160% compared to the previous year.

The data shows here that while crime rates have decreased in Australia since the 1980s directly after the gun ban in 1996 crime rates surged. Crime rates had previously been dropping significantly but as soon as the gun ban was passed and the government confiscated citizen’s guns, violent crimes that were committed using handguns began to happen much more often. This follows the data that was seen in Britain around the same time. It appears consistent that directly following gun restrictions the crime rates in that country increase significantly.

In Ireland in 1972 a gun ban went into effect. Before the gun ban Ireland had a very low murder rate. For every 100,000 people they had .4 murders occur. That is about one murder every 200,000 people. However, in the years directly following the gun ban Ireland’s murder rate increased substantially to 1.6 murders per every 100,000 people. This is more than triple the amount. It then dropped again to .8 murders per 100,00 people but since then it has increased again to 1.4 murders per 100,000 people in 2006. This follows the trend in Britain and Australia because directly after the gun bans were passed there was a sudden spike in crime rates or murder rates in that country. Even though Ireland still has low murder rates, the relative increase is proportionally massive and can show a definite change in crime rates before and after the gun ban was put into effect.

Jamaica has always had very high murder rates. In 1974 there were 10 murders per every 100,000 people. In 1975 there was a gun ban passed and just like Ireland, in the following years there was a large spike in murder rates. In 1980 there were roughly 42 murders per 100,000 people. That is quadruple the number of murders that took place right before the gun ban was passed. Similarly to Ireland, after this spike it dropped again to 23 murders per 100,00 people but then grew exponentially until it reached a high in 2005 of 63 murders per 100,00 people. Again, Jamaica has an extremely high murder rate in general but the trend can still be seen. There was a murder rate before the gun ban and then directly after the gun ban there was a massive spike of crime, it then dropped again simply to rise again exponentially.

In Japan there was a gun ban that was successful in the sense that there was not a surge of crime following the law being passed. There was also, however, no decrease in crime. You could make the argument that because Japan passed heavy gun restrictions, they have some of the lowest crime rates in the world. Does it follow that if America passed heavy gun restrictions it would also have some of the lowest crime rates in the world? “In Japan, the total murder rate is almost 1 per 100,000. In the U.S., there are about 3.2 murders per 100,000 people each year by weapons other than firearms.” What this means is that even if America was able to completely eliminate guns from society and no one was able to acquire them illegally we would likely still have over three times the murders as Japan does. And this is only the murder rates. When crime rates in general are looked at, America still has crime rates many more times those of Japan.

Regarding Japan, the point to make clear is that Japan has had a very low murder rate for as long as data is available, and more importantly, the guns were banned by private citizens. Some point to the drop in homicides after the 1958 gun law, but they ignore the 1946 regulations under the Allied Occupation and the 1950 Order that continued “the general prohibition of possession of guns by civilians.” The issue here is to separate out whether it is gun control or something else different about Japan that is important, and unless you can see a change before and after there has been a change in gun control laws it is difficult to infer anything about the impact of gun control laws.

In this paragraph it explains that yes, there was a drop in homicides in Japan after they passed gun restrictions but that that drop may have not been directly related to the gun law itself. The gun law passed in 1958 in Japan was specifically passed by the people, not by the government. They citizens chose to give up their guns rather than the government forcing them too. This speaks to a fundamentally different way of life that is more peaceful. Their culture is simply less driven by violence. As is said, Japan has had an extremely low murder rate for as long as anyone can remember and that shows that they have always been a peaceful people with or without guns. Therefore, it is difficult to discern whether or not gun control had any effect on the population either positive or negative.

All of these countries have put strict bans on guns and all of the outcomes, except Japan, were roughly the same. The effects of gun control seem to be an increase in murder and crime based on the data. We can presume the result would be the same in America. The data shows that restricting guns in any given country increases crime rather than decreasing it as some would argue it should.

America itself has begun to follow this trend. In Washington D.C. and in Chicago there have been substantial laws passed restricting individuals ability to own and carry guns. So far America is no different from any other country that has passed heavy gun bans.

In Chicago, in the years approaching 1983 crime rates were dropping at a fairly steady rate. In 1974 there were 1.7 murders per 100,000 people in Chicago alone. This decreased to .8 murders per 100,000 people by 1982. This is a significant change over only nine years. The murders per 100,000 people was nearly reduced by over half of what it was before. In 1983 the city of Chicago cracked down on guns and instituted some restrictions which included the ban of handguns and concealed carry. After these gun laws the murder rates in the city began to increase again. In 1990 there was a rush of violence just as was seen in the other countries around the world. The murder rate shot up from one murder per 100,000 people to 1.75 murders per 100,000 people in just one year. As was seen in other countries, after this spike the murder rates fell again but then continued to grow as the years passed. In 1998 Chicago had a high of 2.75 murders per 100,000 people, a large increase statistically. The murder rate in 2002 remained high at 2.1 murders per 100,000 people. Chicago followed the same trends that were seen in countries all around the world that chose to put restrictions or bans on guns.

In Washington D.C. the same trends applied but the the results were not quite as drastic. From 1974 to 1976 the murder rate dropped from 1.4 murders per 100,000 people to 1.1 murders per 100,000 people. Then by 1977, after they instituted some major restrictions on guns, the murder rate increased back up to 1.45 murders per 100,000 people. The city of Washington D.C. was gradually improving but when the gun restrictions were passed crime went right back up to what it was before. Then, a few years later, in 1981, there was a spike. The spike was not as large as some of the other countries but it was nonetheless noticeable. In 1980 there were 1.3 murders per 100,000 people in Washington D.C. but by 1981 there were 1.6 murders per 100,00 people. While the increase was not as large as some of the others, after 1981 the murder rate dropped again to 1.4 murders per 100,000 people. This same trend happened in the other countries. The murder rates then increased significantly through the years until in 1987 they had reached the high of 1.8 murders per 100,000 people. Similar to Ireland these do not seem like very drastic increases but relative to the specific country or city they are quite noticeable. The scale is very important when looking at these things because each country has a different baseline, but if the scale is correct the same trends can be traced across nearly all of the countries.

Biblical Justification of Self Defense

Data, however, is not where we should turn for truth, no matter how helpful it can be. In our more and more secular country, the biblical importance of this debate is not often discussed; however, what this debate really comes down to is how do we best preserve peace? On the matter of peace, the Bible has a lot to say. Peace is the freedom from chaos and violence. Peace comes from the Hebrew word šālôm which means totality or completeness, success, fulfillment, wholeness, harmony, security and well being. This definition is used in the Bible whenever peace is specifically referred to. By taking this knowledge and using it to shed light on the debate on gun laws we will be able to learn what we, as Christians, must support when it comes to the gun law debate in order to best follow the teachings about peace found in the Bible. A question that arises is: Is it sinful to use lethal force to preserve your own life or the life of others?

There is an important distinction of when lethal force is sinful and when it is not. Exodus 22:2-3 says, “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.” An interpretation of this verse is that it shows the distinction between two times when lethal force is used. In this passage there are two separate conditions. The first is when you kill someone who has broken into your house during the night and the second is the same but when it happens during the daytime. If he is killed in the night you are not held accountable for his death. The inference might be made that the defendant in this case would not know the intruder’s true intentions and therefore is allowed to use lethal force to protect himself and his family without being guilty of the criminals death. On the other hand, if a criminal intrudes in your house during the day and you kill him, his blood is on your hands. This comes from the understanding that if the person intrudes during the day you can discern his intentions before acting and possibly avoid the conflict. If he is merely there to steal, as this passage is specifically talking about, then there is no need for self defense and he is not deserving of death. Defending oneself does not include defending your property, it simply entails the preservation of one’s life. This passage does not talk about what you should do when the actions of the intruder are more serious than theft but our other passages support that self defense is permitted when violence is being used on you or your family. The importance of this passage is that there are times when lethal force in self defense is allowed but lethal force is not to be used in all instances. The Matthew Henry Commentary expounds on this idea when explaining these verses:

If a thief broke a house in the night, and was killed in the doing of it, his blood was upon his own head, and should not be required at the hand of him that shed it, v. 2. As he that does an unlawful act bears the blame of the mischief that follows to others, so likewise of that which follows to himself. A man’s house is his castle, and God’s law, as well as man’s, sets a guard upon it; he that assaults it does so at his peril. Yet, if it was in the day-time that the thief was killed, he that killed him must be accountable for it (v. 3), unless it was in the necessary defense of his own life. Note, We ought to be tender of the lives even of bad men; the magistrate must afford us redress, and we must not avenge ourselves.

This commentary makes the important distinction that if an intruder is killed during the day the man who killed him is guilty unless it was done out of necessary self defense. Romans 12:19: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” Vengeance is the Lord’s and the Lord’s alone. It is not for us to avenge any crime done against us by killing the one who committed those crimes. The commentary shows clearly when lethal force is to be used and when it is to be avoided. In self defense lethal force is allowed only if it is necessary to preserve the life of you or your family. However, no matter how serious the crime committed against you it is not your place to use lethal force on someone who has done some wrong to you because even the lives of sinful people are precious in the eyes of God. If any life can be preserved, even one of a horrible person, then we must take every measure imaginable to protect that life.

You are fighting to preserve life even though you are taking lives but you are doing so out of a sense of duty rather than out of desire to cause harm. Exodus 20:13 says, “You shall not murder.” Murder is killing someone in with malice in your heart and a drive to cause harm. Killing, on the other hand, can be done without malice. David is an important example because God specifically commanded him to defeat the Philistines by killing Goliath. He did this single handedly and we praise him for his strength and trust in God. Throughout the rest of his life we see that God favors David and loves him dearly. And yet David had killed a man and led the Israelites into countless battles. David was no stranger to war. However, David did these things in the name of the Lord. The killing that was carried out by David was sanctioned by God. This was because, ultimately, David was helping to preserve the lives of God’s holy people. While these acts of violence were righteous in the eyes of the Lord and not done wrongfully, it is made clear in Chronicles that shedding blood disqualifies “you from certain types of spiritual service”. 1 Chronicles 28:3 “But God said to me, ‘You shall not build a house for My name, because you have been a man of war and have shed blood.’” God will still love you if you are to kill someone righteously but it you must pay the price. You are marked by God and there is a toll that is taken, however, you are not guilty of committing murder. 1 Chronicles 22:8 “But the word of Jehovah came to me, saying, Thou hast shed blood abundantly, and hast made great wars: thou shalt not build a house unto my name, because thou hast shed much blood upon the earth in my sight.” Killing someone is never glorified in the Bible but there are times when it can be necessary and done without malice or ill intent, such as when someone breaks into your home under the cover of night. David fought on behalf of God all of his life and God loved him, but that does not mean he was sanctioned to do whatever he pleased. David killed for the Lord, yes, but even though it was for the Lord it still took a toll on his relationship with God. The same can be applied to self defense. You are allowed, in drastic circumstances, to preserve your own life using lethal force, however, it may be wise to first think of the consequences of that action. It will separate you from God because shedding blood makes you unclean. God will still accept you in the end and you will not be guilty for that persons death but you will be unclean and therefore unfit to do certain forms of services in God’s name.

The right to carry weapons and defend oneself is not simply a product of the old testament times. Jesus himself, in Luke 22:35-39, speaks to his disciples about the importance of carrying a weapon with you:

And He said to them, “When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?” So they said, “Nothing.” Then He said to them, “But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise a knapsack; and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. “For I say to you that this which is written must still be accomplished in Me: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors.’ For the things concerning Me have an end.” So they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.” Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him.

This passage precedes the passage in which Jesus rebukes Simon Peter for cutting of the ear of the servant of the high priest who had come to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. No other gospel includes this story and so the words given to us in Luke on this matter are the only ones we have. This passage is highly contested between Christians when it comes to the debate over gun control. There are two main interpretations: the literal interpretation and the interpretation that Jesus simply used this so that he could later rebuke Peter for the use of his sword.

The argument made for the literal nature of this passage is this:

Several factors point to the literalness of Jesus’s command. First, the disciples’ response, “Lord, look, here are two swords” (22:38), clearly assumes that the disciples understand Jesus literally. Little justification exists in Luke for thinking that the disciples misunderstand Jesus due to blindness or obstinacy; in calling Jesus “Lord,” the disciples are expressing their obedience, not their disobedience. Second, Jesus’s response, “it is enough”, is further evidence that Jesus understands the disciples literally. As indicated earlier, no linguistic evidence supports interpreting these words as a dismissive rebuke; rather, Jesus’s words should be accorded their natural meaning of sufficiency, especially in a context where numerical quantity is the immediate point at hand. Third, Jesus prefaces his instructions to the disciples by pointing back to an earlier time when he sent them out without purse, bag, or sandals (22:35). If these words had a literal application on their first occasion, why not on their second? Why would Jesus establish a literal interpretive framework in the minds of the disciples (and the reader) only to castigate them for responding with a literal answer? Tannehill admits: “If the instructions about purse and bag are literal instructions for the church’s mission, it is not clear why the instruction about the sword should be interpreted metaphorically.”

Here we see that there is very little justification for the fact that the disciples misinterpreted Jesus’ words and that previous passages in which Jesus commands the disciples regarding the purse have been literal. The literal interpretation says that there is little justification that the disciples misinterpreted Jesus’ words because they call him Lord which expresses their obedience. Also, there is little linguistic evidence to support that Jesus’ words “it is enough” is a dismissive rebuke. Rather than a dismissive rebuke, it is interpreted literally as sufficient. This translation would mean that Jesus’ original command was also literal and He wanted them to arm themselves physically even if the time to use those “arms” was not in the Garden of Gethsemane. Other passages have taught us that there is a time and place for force to be used so perhaps this is a case in which force was not to be used but that does not negate the fact that there will be times in the future when force may be necessary for the disciples. By talking about the “purse, bag, or sandals” Jesus is alluding back to verse 35 where his words have a very literal connotation. If that first statement has a literal meaning why would this one not also? David Matson even includes a quote from a man arguing against the literal interpretation who admits that it would not make sense for one to be literal and no the other.

On the other side of the argument Christians seek to understand how a pacifist Jesus was using these words to teach the disciples. The argument for this is that:

Lukan scholars often seek to neutralize the militaristic implications of Luke 22:38 by appealing to Jesus’s supposed rebuke in 22:51. They assume that, since Jesus rebukes the use of the sword in the latter, he must be doing the same in the former. David L. Tiede, for example, recognizes a limited role for the swords up to verse 51 but then says that Jesus intervenes to “remedy the violence with healing.” Justo González asserts that the swords should be understood symbolically since Jesus later rebukes one of his disciples for literally wielding the sword. Luke Timothy Johnson is even more explicit in wedding the two passages, remarking on Luke 22:38: “Jesus’ exasperated termination of this discussion (enough) here is matched by his chagrin when the sword is actually used (enough of that)!

Here it is explained that Jesus’ words of “it is enough” in this passage from Luke correspond to the later verses when Jesus rebukes Peter for the use of his sword. They carry the same exasperated tone as when Jesus commands Peter to cease the use of his sword in the garden. Because the words are the same they argue that their tone and meaning must be the same and because it is so obvious in verse 51 that Jesus is rebuking Peter he must also be rebuking the disciples here. Jesus then must have meant to purchase swords symbolically. However, He must have expected that Peter would use violence to protect Him from capture and so he used Peter’s outrage to teach a lesson of exchanging violence for peace and healing by undoing what Peter had done to the servant’s ear.

Many Christians argue that the new testament does not allow for one to use lethal force as the old testament does but here we see that Jesus commands his disciples to go and buy a sword. The argument that pacifist Christians make is that Jesus only told them to bring swords so that he could teach them a lesson. This however does not seem to be the case because after Jesus’ death the disciples continued to carry their swords at their hips. Jesus stresses the importance of the sword by saying that it is worth selling the clothes off your back in order to buy it. Also, Jesus did not make the disciples go out and buy the swords at that moment. When they presented him with two swords he replied “it is enough”. The connotation of this response seems to be that it was sufficient for the time being but it does not negate his original command to go out and buy a sword. The swords being talked about here are literal swords and not the word of God as is interpreted in other scriptures. You can not buy the word of God and so therefore Jesus must not be talking about that in this passage. Also, it seems evident that Judas and the Pharisees expected more force to be needed to arrest Jesus:

If Jesus is not expressing exasperation or rebuke, why does he think that swords are necessary? And how many swords do the disciples actually have? Luke seems to indicate that they possess only two (22:38a), but further reading reveals that the arresting party led by Judas anticipates conflict on a much grander scale (22:52). Since Judas was a member of the Twelve, Judas would certainly know the level of threat, if any, posed by Jesus and his disciples. A “pacifist” Jesus of popular cultural imagination… has difficulty accounting for the degree of armed resistance expected by Judas and the arresting party.

Judas expected that the disciples would put up much more of a fight than could be produced with only two swords. Judas was one of the twelve and would surely know how many of the disciples carried swords. Judas brought quite a large number of armed men into the Garden of Gethsemane when he came to arrest Jesus so he must have believed that a large force was necessary to capture Jesus and take care of the disciples who would defend their Lord at any cost. Anyone who believes in a “pacifist” Jesus can not easily explain why Judas expected such an amount of armed resistance from the disciples. Because the evidence for the literal translation seems to counteract the ideas that Jesus simply using his command to ensure that he could later teach the disciples a lesson more convincingly than the other way around, I believe that the literal interpretation of this passage is more accurate to the true meaning of Jesus’ words.

While most of the passages I found were from the Old Testament I think that they are still very important for us to consider. We must look at them in light of Christ’s coming into the world but Jesus is the same as the Father and their teachings are the same because God does not change. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” All scripture comes from the same God and we must remember to avoid throwing out one scripture in favor of another but instead use them in light of one another. Jesus made this specifically clear in Matthew 5:17 when He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus works alongside the law of the Old Testament and we must do the same. The words of Jesus and the teachings of the New Testament do not make sense without the Old Testament to back them up. Jesus himself quotes the Old Testament extensively and the rest of the New Testament writers follow His example in this matter. The precedents set by the Old Testament law are still valid after Jesus walked the Earth and we must remember not to throw them away. In Acts 10:9-16 Peter is given a vision from Heaven that tells him the animals that were previously thought of as unclean have been made clean by God and they are safe to eat. Some would argue that this passage shows how the strict laws of the Old Testament are no longer valid because Jesus has died for our sins and times have changed. This, however, is only partly true. Jesus has, in fact, died for our sins and made us clean along with the animals but this in no way negates the Old Testament scriptures. Jesus nuances but he does not abandon the law of the Old Testament.

First and foremost, the Bible teaches that the preservation of life is a nonnegotiable. As Christians we must seek to preserve life. “Or know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God?” (1Co 6:19 ASV) 1 Corinthians here speaks about how God has made our bodies a temple for him and how we must not tarnish them. That is not something to be taken lightly. We do not only preserve life because it is a moral good for humanity but also because God has made us into a temple where he resides. This is why it is so important for us to make ourselves into a place suitable for him to dwell. Any place where God resides is a holy place and to destroy it out of anger or malice would be an egregious sin. We must glorify God through our bodies. Psalm 82:4 “Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” The psalmist here calls these words out to God. Yes, we must protect our bodies because they are temples for God but at the same time there will be circumstances where it is not our place to fight back. This Psalm shows that it is not our job to go out seeking to harm those who harm the innocent. It is not our place to become vigilantes. To rescue the weak from the hands of the wicked is the work of the Lord. This all goes to show that there is a distinction between being allowed to use lethal force and seeking to use it. The first is allowed in dire circumstances and the second is an action done purely through sin.


As we go forward as Christian citizens of The United States of America we must remember the issues discussed through this thesis. Guns themselves are not inherently bad. When used properly they are a tool for peace rather than for violence. If we choose to own and carry a gun we must remember to use it responsibly and never seek out violence. Gun control does not follow the rights ensured to us by the second amendment but instead revokes them. However, that does not entail that there should not be a thorough waiting period and background check before being able to purchase a gun. This is to ensure that anyone who is mentally unstable or has been convicted of a crime can not purchase a gun and therefore make every effort to put guns in the hands of the people that will use them responsibly and keep them out of the hands of those who might use them to harm others or themselves. It is our right, as law abiding citizens, to have the ability to protect ourselves and our families from criminals who have illegally acquired firearms. While gun control might sound like a suitable answer to violent crimes and things of the sort it is not adequate and will not solve the problem. Criminals will have guns no matter the laws and the only way to ensure our ability to defend ourselves and uphold peace is to give us those same firearms. I am not saying we should seek out times to use them. Guns should not be used for acts of aggression. Instead, I am fighting for our right to own guns in hope that the mere knowledge that we have them in our possession will deter criminals from seeking to do harm. And also, that in drastic situations, we will have the ability to defend ourselves. Because gun control would most likely not cause any decrease in crime rates across the country and because it is fundamentally against our rights as American citizens, we must not allow for it to be enforced. The Bible teaches us to uphold peace and not to pursue violence, however, in drastic circumstances it does allow for the use of lethal force.


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Matson, David Lertis. "Double-Edged: The Meaning of the Two Swords in Luke 22:35–38." Journal of Biblical Literature137, no. 2 (2018): 463. doi:10.15699/jbl.1372.2018.350425.

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