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Guns, Evangelicals and the Bible; Some Uncomfortable Truths.

This weeks column in Christian Today

Guns, evangelicals and the Bible: some uncomfortable truths

el paso shooting

Police lead shoppers to safety ater a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 3, 2019.(Photo: Reuters/Jorge Salgado)

Another week – another couple of mass shootings. Many outwith and within the US struggle with the regularity and seeming normality of these shootings. After each event the usual cries go up and the usual solutions are offered. Sometimes our reactions are rather kneejerk and reflective more of our own prejudices and cultures.

This was seen in the various reactions to the shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas. I could tell what someone’s personal politics were by the articles they tweeted in response. Those who tweeted that it was because of Donald Trump’s racism and white supremacy (the EL Paso shooter claimed as one of the reasons for his actions his hatred of Hispanics) conveniently chose to ignore that the Dayton shooter expressed extreme far left views.

The El Paso shooter complained in his manifesto about human beings “destroying the environment and creating a massive burden for future generations”. He was an extreme eco-terrorist (like the New Zealand mosque shooter) who wanted to help in de-populating the planet. I find it strange how those who (rightly) condemn President Trump for injudicious remarks that feed the fantasies and prejudices of white supremacists, keep silent about the extreme eco-terrorist views.

Others tweet about mental illness, thus demonizing further those who suffer from mental illness. Others blamed drugs. But the big topic is always guns. If only there were more gun control laws then there would be less massacres. If only more people had guns then they would be able to prevent such massacres.

In such a confused world it is always helpful to get some facts – not all of which fit the narratives we are fed by the various sides. Joe Carter from the Gospel Coalition helps considerably by giving us some of these facts.

Here are some facts that both intrigue and inform. The number of mass shootings (defined as those where four or more people have been killed by firearms) is slowly increasing in the US over the past two decades. So far, there have been five in 2019 (although some would argue that it is 17).  Mental illness is not a primary factor in most of these shootings (only 20%, for example, of mass shooters were psychotic). The rates of mental illness in the US are no higher than in most other countries in the world. The vast majority of shooters faced trauma and violence in their childhoods.

But the most fascinating statistic of all is that of the 857 million civilian-owned guns in the world, 393 million are owned in the US. There are 1.2 guns per person in the US. In other words, the US has less than 5% of the world’s population and yet has 46% of the world’s guns.

At first glance it would seem obvious that if access to guns is reduced then there would be fewer gun deaths. I realize it is not as simple as that, but nonetheless even if one asks the question, you are met with a barrage of outrage from some evangelicals who seem to regard denying the ‘right to bear arms’ as an equivalent heresy to denying the Trinity (and likely to get a more vehement reaction!).

The ‘Christian’ Case for guns

One Presbyterian pastor gave me the three basic arguments used for not having more gun control:

1) guns don’t kill people; people do. People are sinful.

2) More massacres occur in Europe because the police are not armed.

3) An armed population is necessary to preserve democracy, prevent dictatorship and enable freedom of worship.

The first argument can be used to justify drugs, pornography and anything that can be misused. It is precisely because we believe in human sinfulness that we think sinful humans should have restricted access to guns.

The second point is false.  Most police in Europe are armed and homicides by firearms are far lower in Europe.

But it is the latter point that is most disturbing. It illustrates the danger of conflating conservative theology with conservative politics. The two may overlap at times – but they are not to be equated.

It is absurd to think that democracy is preserved in the US by the citizens being able to take on the US military and State through having guns. Why just guns? Wouldn’t we need tanks, rockets and nuclear weapons as well?! It is not only ‘armed people’ who can free themselves from dictatorships. Democracy in Western democracies is not preserved because citizens have guns.

Democracy is better preserved by the Bible than the gun. When a population has a basic Christian ethos and values, it results in education, liberty and equality before the law. Guns can take away democracy – they can be used to defend it, but ultimately they cannot ultimately preserve it.

In no circumstances is it justifiable to promote or defend Christianity by violence. The idea that the only thing stopping Christians being imprisoned is the fact that we have guns is bizarre. Paul was hardly organising militias to ensure freedom of worship in the Roman Empire.

The Australian Example

Critics say that a reduction in the number of guns would not work. In Australia it did. After the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania in 1996, in which 35 people were killed, the Centre Right Prime Minister John Howard set out a programme which banned all automatic and semi-automatic guns.

These guns were already in existence and so the government set up a buy back scheme. This resulted in the Australian government and States buying back over 650,000 civilian guns. Over 20% of the guns in Australia were destroyed.

It worked. In 2011 a study was done which showed that the restrictions on guns resulted in a 50% drop in firearm homicides, and a 74% reduction in firearm suicides. In the 18 years before the Tasmanian massacre there were 13 mass shootings in Australia. In the 22 years after, there was one.

I realize that the US and Australia are different – but surely there are lessons to be learned? In the US there were almost 40,000 firearm deaths in 2018 – of which 75% were suicides. Maybe as Christians, we should put the lives of these people before our own political views?

David Robertson is Director of Third Space at the City Bible Forum in Sydney, Australia. He blogs at The Wee Flea

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  1. It occurred to me the other day that if all Americans insist on owning guns, why do they not shoot back at the shooters? They seem to run, hide, scatter and cower in terror while the gunmen cause death and destruction. So my point is that if they are permitted to own guns they should be trained in their use – and well trained – with tests and assessments every five years or even less. No training, no licence, no gun. Fail test, no licence, no gun.

    1. Actually, that does happen. It is less reported in the media, however, as it does not fit the “narrative” reflecting the media’s ideological agenda.

    2. You appear to think that every gun owning citizen of America wears their gun in a hip holster. That was some time ago and was called the wild west.

      I’d be very interested to see how you would behave if were are a student going about your academic day and suddenly found yourself the potential target of an individual with an automatic weapon – may I be so bold as to predict that you would “run, hide scatter and cower in terror”?

  2. “Democracy is better preserved by the Bible than the gun.”

    I agree 100%. Gun control will never solve the problem of the heart. I will never accept it that it’s ok to teach that everyone is a purposeless, meaningless, cosmic accident and then expecting them to be kind to others. What people need is to know that everyone is created in the image of a holy and loving God; absolute morals exists; and that there are eternal consequences for our choices.

    1. And drug control, or pornography control, or any laws will never solve the problem of the heart…but that does not mean we should not have them!

      1. True, we still need laws. But if humanity as a whole was able to turn back to God, we would need a lot fewer laws because the Bible would be our foundation and the Spirit would be our Guide. Drugs, pornography, etc. would still exist (unfortunately), but they wouldn’t be as widely accepted or embraced as they are now.

  3. David, it is indeed absurd to think that democracy is preserved by armed citizenry. In your article you pose the – I suspect rhetorical – question “why just guns? Why not tanks, shells and Ballistic missiles?” Terrifyingly, on Thursday evening, I was in a conversation on FaceBook with an American friend, and somebody else joined in bemoaning the fact that he “can’t buy a tank at Walmart, nor 35mm shells from Amazon”. He said “what use are handguns against a government with ICBMs”. It’s a strange and unreal world.

  4. Responding on mobile is difficult, but…

    Respectfully, you use the kind of sleight-of-hand that is tiresome, and disingenuous. Sure, if you somehow reduce the number of firearms in a location you may reduce crime with firearms, but here’s the critical point: what about the overall crime rate? Several studies, internationally, have suggested that while firearm crimes are reduced, the overall incidence of violent crime increases, markedly. The most harmed victims in those studies were women, through sexual violence, but aggravated assault on everyone also shows a big rise.

    On the question of why people don’t shoot back, you’re simply not paying attention. First of all, the best outcome is that a defensive use of a weapon means no one has to shoot. In most incidents the mere presence of a good citizen with a firearm is enough to prevent or stop crime.

    Even our own government studies in recent years (and government studies here are virtually never accused of being overly friendly to such things) have shown that firearms are wielded by “good citizens” one million to three million times–every single year in the United States.

    Those are millions upon millions of crimes prevented, and people spared from being victims (and in numerous mass shootings it has been an armed citizen who stopped the killing, and/or caused the murderer to kill himself).

    Look, I don’t “like” firearms–they’re not a “hobby” for me. But I see them as a necessary tool in a fallen world to protect the innocent from predators.

    Thinking you could confiscate all firearms in the U.S. is a fool’s suggestion–it’s simply never going to happen (and I seem to recall numerous events in Europe–Bataclan, anyone?–where strict gun laws left people totally vulnerable to beasts… just like “gun-free” zones in America, where virtually all of these big events occur).

    Just a few thoughts for the discussion. May God have mercy on us all.

    1. Bob – I can now see why you thought your post would not be published…but don’t worry I permit (occasionally) posts that are rude and disrespectful! It’s probably best not to begin your response with name calling and accusing people of sleight of hand and dishonesty…

      You state that several studies show that when firearms are reduced the level of violent crime increases – especially on women. I would be most interested in seeing these studies as I was not aware of this. Could you share some of them?

      If the mere presence of a citizen with a firearm prevents or stops crime then the US must be the most crime free nation in the world! What are the figures?

      Who is arguing that we could confiscate all firearms? The Australian example given shows that 20% were confiscated. I would suggest that if you are going to argue against something then its best to argue against what is being said – rather than what is not being said.

      1. I don’t know of any studies, but I have heard time and time again cities like NYC and Chicago have some of the strictest gun laws, but also the highest crime rates. I don’t know if he might be referring to this.

      2. But it *is* dishonest (which can be intentional or unintentional) to limit one’s vision on this issue to gun crime, alone. As I mentioned, firearms are used by decent citizens to stop millions of crimes each year in the United States alone. (No immediate promises, but I’ll see if I can dig up some of the international crime stats I once researched. A specific focus was violent and other crimes in the ensuing years following firearm restrictions in England and Australia–everything I gathered was from official stats of those governments, not advocacy groups, so they should be accessible to anyone).

        Your facetious comment about crime in America is another misdirection, with all respect. Again, one million to three million defensive uses of firearms every single year, based on U.S. government studies. It’s clearly far too many criminal events, but we don’t fare poorly against other developed nations who keep crime rate statistics.

        I’m not claiming any utopian solutions. I am merely pointing to another side of reality than the skewed narrative pushed by the most widely quoted advocacy groups with the great help of major media outlets. (And for grins, I’m not a member of the NRA, nor an especially big fan of theirs.)

        I apologize for any offense taken at the way I presented these stats and arguments. I take these matters with all seriousness, and wish there was a set of easier answers. The simple fact is that the increasing dismissal of God and His Word in our society is leading to very toxic outcomes.

        You are correct that the Bible is an infinitely better solution than a firearm. But some of us refuse to put blinders on as to the current reality in our land.

        The second-to-last thing I ever want to do, in this context, is be forced to shoot another human–I would far prefer to get to know them, carry their burdens, and share the Gospel. But the last thing I would ever want in this regard is to watch innocents be slaughtered in my presence with no ability or means to intervene.

        Deeply studying the statistics generally alluded to above, and sociology and human history, has led me to my current convictions. I wish for another world, but it is not here yet.

        Again, forgive me for any offense. I seek to attack arguments, not people. Peace.

      3. No – when we are talking about gun crime it is not dishonest to talk about gun crime.

        You state that firearms are used by citizens to prevent ‘millions of crimes each year in the US’….facts and figures?

        You stated that when firearms are removed violent crimes increase – especially against women. You claimed that numerous studies have shown this. I just simply asked for evidence of this and to see some of these studies. You will forgive me saying that until I see the evidence I cannot accept this. If there have been numerous studies it should not be too difficult!

        Please note that I am not arguing for no guns – just for gun control and the removal of automatic weapons…why does anyone need a gun that fires 100 rounds per minute for self defence?

  5. 66

    1) guns don’t kill people; people do. People are sinful. …

    The first argument can be used to justify drugs, pornography and anything that can be misused.


    I don’t understand your argument in refutation of argument 1.

    Drugs *are* justified, when prescribed. Pornography is, in theory, also justified, when it is used legitimately, rather than (as you put it) “misused”. What are the legitimate uses of pornography that you implicitly envisage? (I don’t need you to explain how I could misuse pornography. I’ve already discovered that for myself.)

    Presumably, you think that there are no legitimate uses for guns at all and that they are therefore never justified. The world should become free of guns and it doesn’t matter who disarms first, because everybody will disarm eventually, completely voluntarily; the farmer, the hunter, the householder, the poacher, the robber, the target-shooting hobbyist, the policeman and the soldier – at home and abroad.

    I don’t equate Christianity with any political creed, especially not one as utopian as yours appears to be, from your response to the third argument.

    1. Thanks John – happy to help you understand.

      Yes the proper use of drugs is justified….as is the ‘proper’ use of guns. But when the argument is used that it is sin rather than guns that kill people – the logic then inevitably leads to no restrictions or laws on anything because the problem is really sin. And I don’t have a utopian creed….I do think that there are legitimate uses for guns – I grew up on a farm and used to have one. Perhaps it would help not to presume that people hold to stupid arguments? It’s a bit irritating!

  6. The idea of an armed citizens’ militia is not unique to the USA. In Switzerland all men aged 19-34 (or 50) are conscripted and form a militia, if not serving in the professional army. Weapons are kept at home in secure gun-safes and until recently ammunition in sealed containers to be used on lawful command. Switzerland is a very peaceful country and has not had a mass killing by firearm in 18 years. All men in the conscript army are rigidly trained in firearm use and Switzerland treats any sort of gun abuse seriously. Murder by gun is exceptionally rare.

    My point is, a state may choose to protect itself with a citizens’ militia but the way it does it, and from whom it believes itself to be affording the protection, reveal a good deal about the collective mindset of the nation an its commitment to the safety of its people.

    1. Yes, but there was a horrific mass killing 18 years ago! And as this article explains, there are significant differences between regulations in Switzerland and the USA:

      There is something to be said for the cultural values argument but if it is the case that massacres in America are more likely because of the culture, it’s all the more reason to regulate firearms there. Perhaps that is what you are saying?

  7. I’m sincerely curious: Have you determined my comment should not be part of the conversation?

    1. No Bob…I don’t spend my life on the computer – and because I want to keep this blog from descending into the usual internet brawls I moderate comments. I’m sure when I come to review them your comment will be permitted!

  8. With all due respect, fatal stabbings in England and Wales have reached their highest level since records began more than 70 years ago. Why are guns specifically perceived as the problem and outlawed, when in our own locale, London recently surpassed New York in terms of violence and murder? What do you suggest we do about our knife crime epidemic; logically if we were consistent we ought to call immediately for bans on knives? Why is the assumption being made that firearms and mass shootings are a specifically severe evil which demands disarmament of the law-abiding populace? The vast, vast majority of whom are responsible legal gun owners. Why are we, in the UK, disarmed and forced to rely on a Police service which is primarily reactionary and will inevitably arrive too late to protect the populace from serious crime? Why did Christ tell his own disciples to purchase swords for self-defence? You mention U.S. suicide statistics – are you aware that Belgium has more suicide per capita than the U.S. with extremely restrictive firearm laws? Some food for thought.

    1. No London has not surpassed New York for murder rate – I’m afraid that is one of those internet memes doing the rounds . And yes there is a ban on carrying knives in public. Christ did not tell his disciples to buy swords for self defence. There is no evidence of NT Christians carrying weapons to defend themselves or the faith…

      1. UK knife law allows you to carry non-locking pocket knives with a blade length up to 3 inches (7.62 cm) without any need for a valid reason. You are allowed to carry a knife which exceeds these guidelines in public (providing one can make up a good reason to carry it). You can still do a good amount of damage with a 1-3 inch blade and this is precisely the point. We have massive amounts of murder in the UK, despite being disarmed, because folks who want to kill can use anything to kill with – home-made shivs, knives, screwdrivers, sharp-pointy sticks. The only thing such legislation succeeds at doing is creating insane amounts of unenforceable red tape and disarming the law-abiding civilian population. Only in a time of supreme decadence, as we have been living in the West, could we seriously make such a prospect desirable. I can assure you, as an example, the population of Germany circa 1938-45 would have been much better off had they been equipped to protect themselves. Hitler and other tyrants have consistently used draconian gun control to make subjugating their populace easier. Gun control doesn’t remove the problem – it moves its locus from trained civilians to the State.

        And yes, there is evidence of NT Christians carrying weapons to defend themselves:

        “He said to them, ‘But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.’ And they said, ‘Look, Lord, here are two swords.’ And he said to them, ‘It is enough.'” (Luke 22 v.35-38)

        The disciples’ comment “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” tends to suggest that they were carrying around swords. I’m sure this was simply because they were looking to do Lord of the Rings cosplay using foam swords. But assuming that they were metal swords, we can safely conclude that they were planning on protecting themselves. 😉

      2. Try to avoid the sneering and smart remarks – they don’t you any credit. That is one of the most bizarre and twisted readings of Scripture yet….the two swords were not to take on the Roman army. You are also arguing against what is not being said – no one is saying that we cannot defend ourselves. You are also aware that Peter was told to put his sword away.

        Your historical exegesis is almost as bad as your scriptural. I realise that it is a trope put round that if only the German citizens had had guns during WW2 they could have overthrown Hitler. But anyone who actually reads history (and not just internet memes) knows what a nonsense that is.

      3. I apologize if I came across as sneering. Just poking a little fun, brother. You have to admit, you had a fair amount of snark in your own article though! I’m actually pretty tentative on the issue, but I thought you could use some strong push-back to refine your position. 🙂

        I would say regarding Peter being told to put his sword away, its to do with the timing. Christ told the apostles that he would suffer and die; Peter was acting contrary to this by lashing out offensively against Jesus’ will and was correctly chastised. We both agree that offensively lashing out (especially in the case of Peter) is unacceptable; the issue is indeed self-defence. There’s a lot more that could be said, especially about Nazi Germany (my position isn’t that firearms would have prevented the rise of the Nazis, it was illustrating that its a tyrannical move to disarm people and was negative for individuals and individual groups, such as resistance movements and the Jews who were forced into ghettos). But I’ve enjoyed the spirited conversation!

  9. Wow so some of these comments show the level of almost psychotic denial (and Im a mental health nurse) about the facts which are that reducing guns reduces gun crime. Desperate that so many are suicides. Christians need to have a long hard look at their beliefs and whether they are really from God or just their stubbornness to change. This is serious people. We took action after children were killed in Scotland and it stopped. You can too US. Stop being scared.

    1. And as the stats show, the gun crime converts into knife crime, which we conveniently ignore in the UK because its not as sensational or politically useful as US shootings. As of March 2019, knife crime is at nine-year high. The Ministry of Justice reported a total of 21,484 offences in England and Wales, the equivalent of 59 every single day. And the bad guys keep using firearms – case in point, gun crime was in decline in England up until 2014 but has been steadily increasing since. Between 2016 and 2017 the number of cases rose from 2,193 to 2,542, according to Metropolitan Police data. In tiny little England.

      When it comes to mass-shootings in Scotland, remember that Dunblane stands as an aberration. To my knowledge, there were no mass-shootings in Scotland prior to Dunblane. Should it be surprising that there have been none since? Consider, that we may have sacrificed our right to self-defence for nothing. And yet the number of suicides in Scotland increased by 15% last year, according to official figures. So, please don’t accuse people who disagree with you, from a position of having actually read the data, of ‘psychotic denial’.

      1. Murders in the US in 2018 – 17,000 plus. Murders in the UK 27 plus…. and I was not accusing those who disagree with me of psychotic denial..

  10. Hi David,

    You wrote: “In the 18 years before the Tasmanian massacre there were 13 mass shootings in Australia. In the 22 years after, there was one.”

    You might want to check the facts on that. There have been numerous mass shootings in Australia since Port Arthur. Most recently, four people were killed in June in Darwin with a shotgun. Seven people were killed in May 2018 in a shooting in WA. Three at the Lindt Cafe in Sydney in 2014. And so on…

    1. Wes – already checked. The one incident is the four in Darwin. Mass shootings usually refer to the shooting at random of four or more people. There has been one since Port Arthur.

  11. If I’m understanding your argument, the statistics cited (assuming they are controlling for other factors such as demographics and trust level in scoietites) that guns are the significant factor contributing to the violence and deaths compared to other nations, and therefore they should be banned.

    Would you use this same standard if statistics could be produced that abortion would lead to less violence and deaths?

    I know from your other writings you would be against expanding abortion rights, and I would agree. My point is that as Christians, we cannot let utilitarian ethics be the standard. Our standard should be the Word of God.

    I think one could make a case using the general equity of Exodus 22:2-3 that self defense and the protection of one’s household is permissible and deadly force should not be intentional, but would not be a crime if it was used as a last resort. There is also Proverbs 24:11 about protecting others. One will not be able to protect those he is charged with protecting if the assailant has a gun, unless he has a gun and uses it responsibly.

    I think as a Christian, the case I would make for guns would be as follows:
    Christians (especially as husbands/fathers) are mandated to protect those God has made them resposnible for.
    A protector will have to use implements that are equal to those who would do harm to those he is responsible for
    In the US (and elsewhere) those who would do harm will use force up to and including guns.
    Therefore, it is acceptable for a Christian to have guns for the protection of those God has given responsibility for.

    This comment is probably already too long, but there is a case to be made about and armed citizenry being a defense against tyranny. That’s probably another thread for another day; I’m just saying you rejecting it outright as absurd is not a compelling argument

    1. Our standard should be the Word of God. Agreed. Where does the Bible mention the right to bear arms as a biblical principle? Your logic would mean that I have the right to have nuclear weapons as the Chinese have them and they could threaten my family…!

    2. @ rt

      I’m just saying you rejecting it outright as absurd is not a compelling argument

      The evidence, however, is firmly against you.
      Furthermore, the 2nd amendment was put in to prevent citizenry being terrorized by a tyrannical government.
      This might have been all good and well in days of Yore when the average firearm was a musket or similar, but you do realise that your government has drones?
      And tanks and f15s, etc?
      So in effect you would be taking guns to a drone fight!

  12. So are Christians allowed to arm themselves for defense of self, family and others? I would have thought so.

    Did the USA have these shooting massacres in the decades and centuries before these last few mad ones? That is one statistic I would be interested in.

    1. Americans have always owned guns but the use, abuse, availability, general acceptance and inevitability of mind-altering drugs has mushroomed in the West in recent decades. That’s another statistic worth checking out.

  13. Using the higher numbers from the Washington Post; < 0.000052% of people in America have used guns in mass shootings, killing <0.00037% of the population. I haven’t done the math on deaths by drunk drivers but I’m fairly certain either alcohol or cars should be banned if you use the same logic.

    1. Is that a fair comparison Gina? shouldn’t you be citing figures of deaths by shootings in total (single murders etc.) to make it fair? Also, to compare accidental deaths caused by stupidity (drink) to deliberate deaths caused by malice or madness (shootings) isn’t fair either. I think you’re grasping at straws.

      1. The article was about mass shootings. “Stupidity” does not justify getting behind a wheel drunk IMHO. Just because the Brits love a pint doesn’t mean innocent lives wouldn’t be saved by banning it.

  14. With regards to the argument about maintaining democracy, some years ago Charles Colson wrote a book called The Body. in it he wrote a number of chapters that dealt with the peaceful transition of eastern bloc governments from communism to democracy. His book was well researched and noted the fundamental role that the church played in those peaceful transitions. The one country where the government had successfully removed an effective church experienced the only violent transition – that country was Romania. The gospel is more effective than the bullet and the kingdom of God will never be established with violence. As followers of Jesus we are called to die for him not kill for him.

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