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.