Gun Ownership As Civic Virtue

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A few posts ago, I mentioned in passing that gun ownership was not a sin, not a vice, and was in fact a virtue. This generated a few questions, which I thought I ought to address in a separate post. So here goes.

The first issue concerns what is meant by “virtue.” Do I mean to say that it is a sin not to own a gun? Well, I certainly do not mean that gun ownership should be added to the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, or fortitude. Neither should it be ranked with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. By virtue I mean something else.

I want to say that gun ownership is a virtue in the same way that having and keeping a job is. Hard work is a virtue, but we have all met hard workers who are jerks. A man can hold down a job, and his family should respect him for it, but there is more to the virtuous life than that. Gun ownership is the same kind of thing. Taking one thing with another, a self-reliant populace will (generally speaking) be armed. It is a good thing. So it is not a sin to not have a gun, but it is a good thing if you do.

So what does the Bible teach about gun ownership? The subject could be discussed on two levels — total pacifism would of course mean that gun ownership is out, for both cops and robbers. But someone could reject pacifism and still want to limit private ownership of armed means of defense. In what follows, I am going to assume the fallacy of utter pacifism, and just deal with those who believe in the need for weapons, but who want them largely out of private hands. I want to defend an apple pie approach — a red-checked tablecloth, and a Winchester over the fireplace.

There are three basic arguments here. There is a theological error with those who would take our weapons away from us. Second, there is an exegetical error — a failure to see that the Bible makes explicit room for self-defense. And third, nature itself teaches us that self-defense is every creature’s prerogative. Let’s take them in order.

First, the perennial temptation we face as a race of responsibility-evaders is that of blaming our sin on inanimate objects. We blame alcohol for drunkenness, computers for porn, cars for a frenetic lifestyle, gold for avarice, and guns for crime. But stuff doesn’t make us sin — sin seeks out stuff to sin with, and sin will always find it. When Cain murdered his brother, he was not hindered by the absence of guns. The material for sinning is always ready to hand, and a central part of our sin is pointing away from ourselves. Every politician calling for gun control is (in principle) a Pelagian heretic.

Second, we find the exegetical considerations. In the Old Testament, if a porch climber were coming through your house at night, an Israelite had every right to blow him back down the staircase. “If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him” (Ex 22:2, ESV). In the aftermath of such an incident, when the jury refused to convict the home-owner, that refusal to convict would not have been because the jurors were all from Texas. They would all have been from Israel, all of them living under the law that God gave to Moses.

What about the New Testament?

“Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors: for the things concerning me have an end. And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough” (Luke 22:36-38).

Let me first deal with the argument that Jesus was speaking ironically here. For those who don’t like armed Christians, dealing with this passage by assuming ironic detachment is way too convenient. What my net don’t catch ain’t fish. And second, even assuming that Jesus meant something cryptic, the fact that two of the disciples were already packing (after three years of traveling with the original flower child Jesus) would seem to me to be kind of odd.

Jesus was not telling His disciples that the Great Commission will be fulfilled by means of the sword. This is far more pedestrian than that. He includes this comment along with requirements to now provide for themselves as they travel by taking a pack, and money, and a sword to defend yourselves against brigands.

Simply defending yourself against lawless violence is not a biblical problem at all. “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked” (Prov. 25:26, ESV). Not giving way before the wicked is going to be a lot simpler if you are carrying.

There is also the matter of the militia, or the common defence. Gun control is something that tyrants always want.

“Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel: for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears: But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock . . . So it came to pass in the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people that were with Saul and Jonathan: but with Saul and with Jonathan his son was there found” (1 Sam. 13:19-20,22-23).

When political rulers are eager to disarm the general populace, it is not paranoia to suspect that other issues are in play. When those political rulers are overbearing What power-grabber worth his salt wouldn’t want strict gun control? What lover of liberty would ever consent to that as being a good idea?

And last, we have countless examples from the very nature of things that instruct us on the propriety of self-defense. And given the nature of the current technology, it is not possible to grant the right to self-defense without simultaneously granting the means to self-defense. You don’t want to say that someone has the right to defend himself against a home invader, but that he may only do so by getting into the medicine chest in order to throw cotton balls at the intruder.

It is not the job of the police to defend us against any random crime in progress. There is no way to assign them that job without making it necessary for their presence to be constant and tyrannical. It is their job, obviously, in circumstances like a hostage stand-off, but for random robberies, muggings, attempted rape, etc. a far more effective deterrent would be a lot of concealed carry going on. Remember, for most crimes, when every second counts, the police are only minutes away.

Some might lament the lack of faith I am displaying in our elected officials. Doesn’t our civilization depend on us learning how to centralize all the firepower? Someone might ask, don’t you trust them? No, I don’t — in countless and very creative ways, they have shown themselves to be incapable of decent governance. Trust them with my guns? After what they have done with everything else? They are, taking one thing with another, poltroons, miscreants, malefactors, mountebanks, skunks, recreants, offenders, rascals, scamps, felons, evil-doers, and congressmen. I don’t think I need to develop this any further.

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10 years ago

I agree with the interpretations you offer here, as with the ones offered at (from whence I found the link to this post).

I long to see this supplemented with thoughts about religious persecution. While in agreement with your post, I find the Bible’s (and church history’s) response to religious persecution to be of a different nature.