SA Voters’ Guide Critique #6: Self Defence

We continue our critique of the Christian Action document Biblical principles for Using Your Vote on http://www.savotersguide.com. The author’s sixth principle is phrased, “Pro Self Defence (Firearm ownership)”.

Is this principle Biblical?
No, it isn’t. This issue is something of a pet rock for the author, and so even though he has chosen only eight issues that apparently circumscribe all the Bible says of importance to politics, he’s managed to find room for guns.

Hammond cites three passages in scripture that purport to convince us that gun ownership is a Biblical political principle. None of them do anything of the sort. Hammond happily interprets 1Timothy 5:8, which is about material provision for needy family members, to mean that Christians must bear arms to defend them. As if one is ‘worse than an unbeliever’ for not owning a gun!

He also cites Nehemiah 4:14. This verse concerns a situation in which returning Jewish exiles began rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem amidst a tense political situation and immanent violent backlash. The Samaritans, who had possessed the Holy Land while the Jews were in exile, were not happy with the Jews trying to reclaim their inheritance, and so they plotted to attack them. In Nehemiah 4, there is an excellent case to be made for parallels between this and Israel’s holy wars of conquest. God wars on behalf of his people to win for them an inheritance. Either way, the focus is upon restoring God’s city, and the battle is won by the Lord: Nehemiah says that the Lord had frustrated the plans of their enemies. In other words, what we can learn from Nehemiah about self defence and firearms is that there was once an occasion upon which the Jews were urged to fight in defence of their fledgling community; that is, we cannot learn very much. The fact that God’s nation was prepared once to go to war hardly serves as a command for us to compile a private arsenal.

Hammond’s key verse is Proverbs 25:26, which says that a righteous man who gives way to the wicked is like a polluted well. One has to wonder how Hammond envisions the application of this proverb to gun law? If ‘giving way to the wicked’ means failing to defend oneself, then is the right thing to do rather to shoot wicked people when they’re trying to get their way? I’m obviously over-stating things, but it is unfortunately the case that verses like this are used as justification for reprehensible behaviour in the name of Christ. The author, Peter Hammond, was involved in a public scandal during Halloween in 2005 in which he and his children went out with paintball guns in order to shoot trick-or-treaters. One child was shot in the face, and later pressed charges. Bizarrely, Hammond claimed that this particular shooting was accidental (surely the kind of accident you’d expect when you’re intending to shoot people), and his wife wrote to the paper defending the act, and claiming that boys with guns is an expression of their God-created nature, and should be encouraged as a fulfilment of their mandate to have dominion over the earth. So, even though this Proverb at a stretch validates courageous self-defence, Hammond’s was an act of violence and aggression against a perceived ‘wickedness’. [http://www.mg.co.za/article/2005-12-01-evangelist-charged-after-counterhalloween-incident; http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?click_id=13&set_id=1&art_id=qw1133527684249B215%5D

So, Hammond’s quoted scriptures do not have self-defence directly in view, and certainly can’t be used to make the further jump that gun ownership is a Christian’s duty.

Is it essential?
I certainly would not argue that scripture is opposed to self-defence. There might be occasions when it doesn’t serve the gospel to defend yourself (such as Peter’s attempt at defending Jesus in Gethsemane), and under such circumstances, we should not take up arms. However, in general, courage is valued, and defending one’s family against attack is surely one’s duty.

But the evidence undoubtedly does not require us to bear arms, and gun ownership is absolutely not an important Christian issue. Then to take it still one step further and insist that Christians ought to base their vote on a party’s opinion on gun ownership is just ridiculous and irresponsible.

Beyond the matter of whether scripture supports it or not, the statistics do not support the idea that gun ownership protects your family.

‘The issue of “home defence” or protection against intruders may well be misrepresented. Of 626 shootings in or around a residence in three U.S. cities revealed that, for every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defence or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides (Kellermann et al, 1998)’ [From http://library.med.utah.edu/WebPath/TUTORIAL/GUNS/GUNSTAT.html%5D

‘New research has revealed that the number of gun-related deaths in South Africa has virtually halved over the past five years. The Institute for Security Studies, an independent small arms researcher (and anti-gun lobbyist), believe that the drop is a result of the implementation of the Firearms Control Act of 2000. The act saw a tightening of regulations and legislation related to gun ownership.’ [From http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?art_id=vn20060819091008950C223116%5D

Whether or not you choose to own a gun is a matter of preference, and if the numbers are to be believed, it is overwhelmingly wiser to keep guns away from your home. There are other ways of protecting your family.

Has the author been fair?
No. The only fact on which he bases whether or not a party is in favour of self-defence is the way in which they voted on the Firearms Control Bill. It is worth noting that this bill does not prevent you from defending yourself, and nor does it even prevent you from owning a firearm (provided you can show that you are a suitable candidate for that responsibility). Hammond has an axe to grind, and nothing more.

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9 thoughts on “SA Voters’ Guide Critique #6: Self Defence

  1. Taryn says:

    I knew you would do something particularly good with this one. What I find bizarre is that this guide is being printed all over the place in Christian circles as if it is fact – and good and right at that. Thank you for this critique Jordan – I will be linking your category on my website :)

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      I disagree that he doesn’t have an axe to grind. The more I read him, the more I wish I hadn’t. He consistently abuses scripture for one thing. I particularly liked his quote of Jesus saying, ‘If you don’t have a sword, buy one’, because in the very next verse, the disciples say, ‘We have two’, and Jesus says, ‘It is enough’. Clearly, Jesus is not intending them to understand him literally as get armed (he’s talking about being prepared for a long and dangerous journey, i.e. the church age). This is made crystal clear when Peter does draw his sword in Gethsemane and is sternly rebuked by Jesus. Interestingly enough, in the church age for which the disciples needed to have their ‘swords’ at the ready, they were pacifists, standing by as Christian after Christian was martyred. 1 Peter even urges Christians to suffer silently even for doing right, if it means that the gospel is served. Where were their swords that Jesus told them to take? ‘Our fight is not against flesh and blood’ (2Cor 10)…

      Look, I won’t contest that people should be able to defend themselves, and I’ll even grant that the maxim ‘a well-armed populace is the best defence against tyranny’ may not be entirely false. But South African gun law is stopping the unregulated flow of guns into society, which inevitably sees them end up in irresponsible hands. They are not trying to stop us from defending ourselves, they’re trying to make it more difficult for us to kill one another. It is disingenuous to suggest that certain parties are trying to stop you from looking after your family, and it is irritating that Hammond keeps trying to make his right-wing politics into the rule of faith for everyone else. He’s a very emotive propagandist, but don’t be taken in by him.

      Thanks for writing. J

  2. Brendon Schafer says:

    But South African gun law …. make it more difficult for us to kill one another.
    But what I’m seeing, isn’t what you claim. I see responsible gun owners handing in weapons, whereas criminals have have no obligation or desire to hand their weapons in.
    Then there is always that irritation in the press where the weapon is always made out to be evil, but nothing is said about the wickedness of the human heart. This is where the real propaganda is.
    Jordan, I’m not backing anyone up and I personally and have no intention of doing so.
    I don’t own a firearm, and only minor desire to obtain one, but it does seem that to obtain a firearm, you have to go through a huge money making racket before you can get one. Then you better hope that SAPS doesn’t lose your application form.

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      Hi Brendan. I don’t know; as with so many debates over very emotive issues (i.e. personal safety), both sides don’t play fair with the evidence. The point, I imagine, is this. Government has to do a body-count equation. Are more people dying because there is easy access to guns, or because people are poorly defended when criminals attack? Hammond’s gruesome stories about pacifists watching their children being chopped up and being powerless to shoot back are quite horrific, but according to statistics represents a minute fraction of gun deaths. The vast majority of deaths are from suicide, family murders and gang activity. The reports I read said that police find that the guns being used by gangsters tend to be derived from a family member, or stolen from a home. When a gangster dies, we console ourselves with ‘he deserved it’ thoughts, but when a home is attacked, we only feel the horror, and so for us, fear wins. For government, they see a steady flow of guns into the wrong hands and a huge pile of dead bodies as a result. You can understand why they’re quite keen to have fewer guns in homes. The statistics seem to be bearing it out that fewer available guns has led to a massive reduction in gun deaths, in our case, a whopping 50%.

      Criminals might not volunteer to hand over their illegal guns, but ‘criminals’ tend just to be someone’s punk teenager. He also has to get his gun from somewhere.

  3. Brendon Schafer says:

    according to statistics represents a minute fraction of gun deaths.
    In Rwanda too perhaps? And what about present day Zimbabwe?
    What I’m saying is that there is an over-emphasis on the weapon being used and an under-emphasis on the wickedness of human nature.

    The vast majority of deaths are from suicide, family murders and gang activity.
    These are the people that have disqualified themselves from the privilege of owning firearms. A pity you lumped suicide and family murders together with gang activity. Gang activity is done by people that are criminals.
    In a day an age where we are taught evolution, so there is no God, therefore no ultimate accountability, I’m not surprised that some people want to take the easy way out instead of dealing with their problems. If firearms weren’t around though, any weapon would do (As in the story of Cain and Abel were a stone was used as the murder weapon).

    For government, they see a steady flow of guns into the wrong hands
    And handing them over to government is definitely handing them into the wrong hands. There are so many reports of these firearms just going missing too. Wonder where they surface again? In the right hands? I doubt it.

  4. Brendon Schafer says:

    both sides don’t play fair with the evidence
    So. Who do you prefer to listen to then? A bunch of law abiding Christians with firearms, or a bunch corrupt government officials (untried) who are the same people releasing those stats?

    ‘criminals’ tend just to be someone’s punk teenager.
    Yup. Indeed. The guy that gets the most press coverage. A pity that the real crime stats don’t get published in our country anymore. Wonder why?

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      “So. Who do you prefer to listen to then? A bunch of law abiding Christians with firearms, or a bunch corrupt government officials (untried) who are the same people releasing those stats?”

      I choose not to listen to either until these facts can be verified as facts. Christians have often been guilty of an ‘end justifies the means’ approach to argument (such as a fabricated story of a modern whale swallowing to ‘verify’ the historicity of Jonah).

      I also do not find Hammond trustworthy just because he calls himself Christian. I don’t like the way that he debates, and the entire halloween shooting incident was unchristian, from its lack of love, to its deformed theology, to the attempts to publicly justify it (i.e. not genuine repentance). Hopefully there has been repentance and a change of heart, but I have seen no evidence. So Hammond has been tried and found wanting in this area, IMO.

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