Gun control: the time for it came 2000 years ago

Ben Witherington wonders if, following the tragic massacre in Virginia, the time has come for Christians in the USA to support gun control.

From my UK perspective I simply cannot imagine why any Christian could possibly fail to support gun control. This is an idea whose time should have come decades or centuries ago. Indeed it came two millennia ago, when Jesus told his disciples to put away their swords.

Apparently one of the arguments used against gun control in the USA is that there is less gun control in Canada and also less violent crime. But perhaps Americans should compare themselves not so much with Canada as with the UK. Our gun control in the UK has always been tighter than in the USA, but was tightened further after the Dunblane massacre of 16 school children in 1996. Now almost all handguns are prohibited.

I note from UN data that the figure for “Total recorded intentional homicides committed with a firearm” in the USA in 2001 was 3.12 per 100,000 population, whereas the figure for England and Wales was 0.16. (Compare Canada: 0.54.) Go figure!

I note that after Dunblane “public feeling had turned against private gun ownership“. I hope and pray that following the recent tragedy the same will happen in the USA.

0 thoughts on “Gun control: the time for it came 2000 years ago

  1. Jesus also told his disciples to make sure they had swords.

    The real problem with gun control legislation is constitutional. The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms. I think that’s consistent with restricting certain people from owning guns and with making it a little more difficult to get them, but a federal court just overturned the District of Columbia’s laws restricting gun ownership on the grounds that it violated the Constitution. The Supreme Court has avoided this issue, but it’s potentially going to be a big obstacle to gun control short of a constitutional amendment (which is very, very unlikely given that far more states would have to sign on than would plausibly go for it). I don’t hold a hardliner view on that myself, since I think some restrictions are consistent with the Second Amendment, but a great many people who have no moral objection to restricting gun ownership do think the Constitution forbids any such restriction.

    I’ve never been much motivated by this issue. I don’t think banning guns is going to stop anything like the Virginia Tech shooting. That guy planned this way in advance, and he could easily have waited out any waiting period. Even with a basic pistol he could have killed nearly as many people given that no one else in the vicinity had a gun (because it’s illegal to have guns on campus to begin with, another ineffective gun control policy).

    In general, laws against guns make people with guns criminals. They don’t stop them from having the guns. They do stop law-abiding people from having them, and maybe Christians should have no reason to own a gun. But that doesn’t mean Christians should force others not to have guns anymore than we should make lying illegal. If it prevents deaths, such laws should be worth pursuing, but then it wouldn’t be on specifically Christian grounds that we would pursue the laws. I’m not convinced that gun control prevents deaths, though (and it turns out the worst gun violence correlates with places that do have gun control, although the causal order may be the other direction). But even if it did, the reason for gun control doesn’t really come from Christian views.

  2. Thanks, Jeremy. See Ben Witherington’s post for an interesting take on Jesus’ one off command to the disciples to buy swords, the enigmatic Luke 22:36, which is clearly linked with the need in v.37 for a specific scripture to be fulfilled.

    I understand something about the constitutional issues, but, especially given how politicised your Supreme Court is, I tend to think that “where there’s a will there’s a way”. So the real question is, is there a will to control gun crime in the USA?

    Our gun control laws don’t just stop people owning guns, they also stop people buying them or importing them, and have done for a very long time. So there are far fewer guns in circulation here (even per head) than in the USA, and it is very hard for criminals to obtain them. The Virginia Tech guy wouldn’t have been able to buy even a basic pistol, at least not at all easily. Anyway the main concern should not be with an occasional massacre of 30 at a time but with the 9,000 or so per year murdered with firearms in the USA. That’s at least two 9/11s per year. Where is the outrage?

    Of course introducing new laws will have a real effect only after a very long time. Control of ammunition sales might have a quicker effect, and also might not be unconstitutional.

    I take your point about not trying to enforce Christian morality by the force of law. But I don’t think anyone would take that line to the point that Christians should oppose laws against basic crimes like murder and theft. Here we are talking about controlling these basic crimes for the sake of a stable society, not about morality. Sadly, in a world like ours, unrestricted gun ownership is not consistent with a stable society.

  3. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Supreme Court promotes gun law

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