Evolving on Guns: Considering the Morality of Gun Ownership Now That I Refuse to Be a Victim

Last week I wrote about my “evolution” on guns during the Boston manhunt:

In the middle of that night listening to the Boston police scanner, I evolved. I realized right then that if I were holed up in my house while a cold-blooded terrorist roamed my neighborhood, I wouldn’t want to be a sitting duck with only a deadbolt lock between me and an armed intruder. There are not enough police and they cannot come to my rescue quickly enough. They carry guns to protect themselves, not me. I knew at that instant if Dzhokhar Tsarnaev showed up at my door while I was “sheltered-in-place” and aimed a gun at my head and only one of us would live, I could pull the trigger.

Once I made the decision that I would not be a victim, I began to research my options for home protection. I plan to share the experience of choosing my first gun in a future post but first I’d like to deal with some of the moral implications of the decision to purchase, own — and potentially use — a gun.

I wrote about one of the reasons I refrained from owning a gun for many years:

The other thing holding me back was my belief that if you’re going to own a gun, you must be willing to shoot to kill…I searched my heart and realized that in the heat of the moment of an attack, I wasn’t sure what I would do with a gun in my hand. I knew that could be more dangerous than being unarmed; it wasn’t worth the risk.

A gun is an inanimate object and as such is morally neutral. Lying on a table, tucked under a mattress, or locked in a gun safe it cannot kill, inflict harm, or protect its owner. However, the fact that a gun is in one’s home creates the potential for both danger and protection depending on many variables, including the training, skill, and temperament of the residents of the home and the mental capacity and willingness of the gun owners to use the weapon, whether in self-defense or to inflict intentional harm.

While I understand that many who grew up around guns accept them as a normal part of life, for me, it’s a decision that requires serious introspection and moral evaluation. Though I passionately support the Second Amendment, I confess that I had never taken the time to earnestly contemplate its practical applications. Perhaps this is because I’ve mostly lived in safe, virtually crime-free neighborhoods and have never experienced violent crime. Whatever the reason, it’s not an excuse to jump into gun ownership without first embarking on this intellectual exercise.

First, I wanted to consider how this morally neutral, inanimate object might change our home. We live in the kind of neighborhood where crime is almost unheard of and people don’t always lock their doors —  and we like it that way. When friends come over in the summer, they’ll tap on the screen door and then walk right in. It’s not unusual for my son’s friends to just walk in at 11:00 p.m., shout “Hello!” and then head down to the man cave. I don’t want that to change, so I wonder if our laid-back lifestyle seems incongruent with arming our home for self-defense.

I don’t want to live in such a way that I feel like I’m lying in wait for an intruder. I don’t want to make the night of the Boston police manhunt a way of life, yet at the same time, I want to be prepared in case something happens. But I can’t imagine answering the front door with a Ruger tucked into my yoga pants. It would seem a profound loss of liberty if I lived like my home was an armed bunker.  I’m not exactly sure how to reconcile safety and freedom at home. I’d be interested in hearing others’ experiences of how they balance home defense with family life.

Another question that I wrestled with is whether purchasing a gun demonstrates a lack of faith in God on my part. Before I became a Christian, fear was a constant companion in my life. I was afraid of everything from fires to tornadoes to intruders to ghosts. Though I had a general belief in God, I didn’t trust that He had any power to protect me from harm or that He had any control of events in my life. All that changed when I became a Christian and began to understand the theology of God’s sovereignty. This doesn’t mean that I am immune from harm or danger or pain because I am a Christian. Indeed, the Bible teaches that I should expect persecution and suffering because of my faith.

Though God created a perfect world and pronounced it “good,” he created man with free will and the ability to choose good and evil, and since the first man and woman chose to sin we all inherited the fallen nature that separates us from God:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. — (Romans 5:12).

For some, that sin manifests itself into heinous acts that harm others; they rape, kill, maim and terrorize. God does not promise to protect his children from the devastating effects of the fall — if that were true, Christians would not die.

But there is comfort and peace in knowing that God is ultimately in control. When Joseph’s brothers treacherously sold him into slavery, God used him in Egypt to save his family and many others from a massive regional famine. After his father Jacob’s death, Joseph told his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive”(Genesis 50:20).

Knowing that God knows the end from the beginning and that He has a purpose in it all brought peace, comfort, and rest from the fear that tormented me prior to my reconciliation to God through Christ.

So why do I need a gun to protect myself if I believe God is in control and “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28)? For the same reason I feed myself and take antibiotics if I have an infection. For the reason I would take radiation or chemotherapy if it would kill cancer that had invaded my body. My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) and when God provides the means to take care of that temple and keep it alive, we should take advantage of it, whether that means protecting it from invading cancer cells or from a terrorist.

In addition to protecting my own body, I must also consider that my act of self-defense to stop a violent criminal could be a way to show love to my neighbors by stopping the invader from harming untold numbers of others. If I have the opportunity to stop this person from committing violence against my neighbors, it seems that I would have a moral imperative to do so.

Finally, I must consider the moral and biblical case for self-defense. Though I won’t take the time to give the complete explanation, Wayne Grudem’s Politics – According to the Bible cites Luke 22:36-38 and Matthew 26:52 as examples of Jesus encouraging or condoning his disciples’ carrying swords for self-defense:

Most of the time, merely carrying a sword would deter a criminal, who would not want to risk being harmed himself. The sword would also enable a person to defend someone else such as a woman or a child or an elderly person who might be under attack from someone stronger. Another reason for carrying a weapon such as a sword is that it could overcome great inequalities in a size or strength between an attacker and a victim…A third reason why people carried swords is that although the Roman officials and local police were able to enforce the peace in general, there simply would never be enough of them to be on the spot whenever a crime was being committed. The sword would provide protection against violent crime whenever a policeman or soldier was not in sight.

In Roman times individuals carried swords for self-defense as an extension of the civil government. As American citizens, we also have the right (and the responsibility) to provide for our own self-defense when the civil authorities are not available to protect us.

Grudem says that since the Bible authorizes the use of self-defense in general and since Jesus encouraged his disciples to carry a sword to protect themselves, it seems “morally right” to use other weapons, including guns, saying that, “A gun is a great equalizer that offsets huge differences in physical strength. .. No other kind of weapon would give a person that ability.” However, he adds that,

The requirement to act in love toward our neighbors, including even the intruder, implies that the least amount of force required to stop the attack should be used, resulting in the least amount of physical harm to the intruder himself.

Now that I’ve worked through some of these weighty issues, I’m more comfortable with my decision to purchase a gun and provide for my own self-defense at home. If you’re a gun owner or if you are contemplating becoming one for the first time, I urge you to spend some time contemplating the ramifications of that decision beyond just barrel length and caliber. Even though the gun itself is a morally neutral object, if you ever need to use it in an emergency you may need to make a split-second moral decision. If you’ve thought through these issues ahead of time, the right decision will come naturally.