The right to own lethal weapons

Issue paper www.Christianview.org

Philip Rosenthal

24 August 2000

Introduction
There has recently been much debate, including within the church on the right to carry and own weapons. The right was also debated in parliament with the Firearms Bill in the year 2000. What does the Bible say? Due to technological advance, we are not going to find explicit commands in scripture on the usage of various modern weapons - but we can look for general principles, which can help us. The debate at present seems to revolve around private ownership of handguns. No one is suggesting that private individuals be allowed to own a nuclear bomb and likewise, no one is suggesting that private individuals not be allowed to own a pocketknife - although both can be used to kill. No one (at least in South Africa) is suggesting that the police and military should disarm. No one in South Africa is requiring that everyone be forced to own a lethal weapon - but rather whether we should be allowed to choose to own one. So the question arises - between a nuclear bomb and a pocketknife, what kind of weapons should private individuals be allowed to choose to own in what situations and for what purpose?

Questions
The following questions must be answered from a Biblical perspective:
CAN A CHRISTIAN OWN A LETHAL WEAPON? ...............................................................................................................1 FOR WHAT PURPOSE SHOULD A CHRISTIAN USE A LETHAL WEAPON? ............................................................................1 WHAT SAFETY PRECAUTIONS SHOULD BE PUT IN PLACE REGARDS LETHAL WEAPONS?...................................................2 THE POLITICAL RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH DISARMING PRIVATE CITIZENS .......................................................................2 WHO SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO OWN LETHAL WEAPONS?..............................................................................................3 HISTORICAL SURVEY - THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE SWORD AND PISTOL ..................................................................3 WHAT OF CHRISTIANS WHO DON'T AGREE?..................................................................................................................4

Can a Christian own a lethal weapon? Luke 22:36-38 "He said to them, "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: `And he was numbered with the transgressor's; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfilment." The disciples said, "See, Lord, here are two swords." That is enough," he replied."

The above scripture indicates that two of Jesus disciples were carrying swords. Now a sword is a lethal weapon. If Jesus was against private ownership of lethal weapons, he would have surely said so or disciplined his disciples who carried them. For what purpose should a Christian use a lethal weapon?

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Matthew 26:50-52 "Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus' companions reached for his sword drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. "Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." In the above scripture, Jesus rebukes his disciple for irresponsible use of his weapon. The Jewish authorities had a legal right to arrest Jesus and were acting within their authority to arrest Jesus for trial. EX 22:2-3 "If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed." In the above scripture, we see that killing is legitimate if necessary for self defence [in this instance at night when the burglar could not be seen], but not legitimate simply on the basis that the person is stealing. A few years ago a South African farmer shot dead a chicken thief who was in his chicken coop and was then prosecuted for homicide. Those who kill must be able to justify their use of force. What safety precautions should be put in place regards lethal weapons? Deuteronomy 22:8 "When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof." The above scripture indicates the principle that we must take safety precautions to prevent accidents. Earlier this week a young child found his fathers gun and using it as a toy shot dead two of his cousins. There would thus be scriptural justification for safety regulations to prevent such accidents - for example, a safety law could require that you should keep your gun in a locked gun safe when it is not with you. Another idea would be requiring people to do a course in gun safety before purchasing a weapon. A motor car carries a much higher accident risk than a pistol - yet there are no demands that we should give up motor cars as a result - rather the call is for a clamp down on risky behaviour (e.g. the recent banning of talking on a cell phone while driving). The political risks associated with disarming private citizens 1 Samuel 13:19-21 "Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, "Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!". So all Israel went down to the Philistines to have their ploughshares, mattocks, axes and sickles sharpened. The price was two thirds of a shekel for sharpening ploughshares and mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening forks and axes and for repointing goads." Throughout history, whenever a group was politically oppressed - the first step was to disarm private citizens - as with the Philistines above. For example, under apartheid, black people were prevented from owning private firearms. More seriously, the same occurred with all the political genocides and purges in history - Cuba, Rwanda, Nazi Germany, Lybia, old Soviet Union. The ownership of private weapons would have prevented governments from being able to carry out such atrocities. Now this does not imply that current politicians have such motivation, but it does leave open the country vulnerable to a politician with
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criminal intent - of which the twentieth century including our own continent has had many examples. Who should be allowed to own lethal weapons? Romans 13:3-4 "For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer." The above scripture indicates that the police and army have the right to carry and responsibly use lethal weapons. In the USA, there is debate over the right for teenagers to carry weapons - and some use their constitution to protect this right. Galatians 4:1-2 "What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father." The above scripture would indicate that children do not automatically have the same rights as adults, as they do not have the same level of wisdom - and would seem to justify restrictions on such rights. Historical survey - the difference between the sword and pistol The main issue of debate currently is the handgun or pistol rather than other weapons such as the sword or machete. Interestingly, the historic status of women in society is closely linked to the invention of the pistol, just as the invention of gunpowder heralded the end of the feudal system. In a safe society, the status of women is usually higher as they have the freedom to go where they please and live on their own - without the need for male protection. In a dangerous society, their status is often closely linked to their ability to protect themselves without male help. Most women do not have the strength to defend themselves with a blunt or sharp tool (e.g. a mace or sword) - many wouldn't easily handle a rifle either - they are thus dependent on light weapons such as a blinding spray or a handgun. Historically, the introduction of the women's right to vote happened first in places where handguns first became commonly available (e.g. Wyoming, USA). (The right to vote of lower classes also indecently is usually closely linked with the right to own lethal weapons). In a safe country like Britain, where a woman can wander almost anywhere at all hours of night, this is not much of an issue, but in a dangerous one like South Africa - a singe woman living alone would not have much option for protection other than a handgun. Earlier this month, in Rondebosch, Cape Town, a young woman living alone was surprised by three men who broke into her house - managing to get past her dogs. She produced a pistol - at which point they panicked and fled. She phoned the police and chased after them - until the police caught and arrested the men. Her comment on the experience was that without her handgun, her experience would probably have been very different.

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What of Christians who don't agree? Having said the above, I guess a fair number of Christians are not going to agree. They may believe that owning a gun is against their personal convictions for whatever reason. Unlike for example, the issue of abortion or homosexuality, we don't have an explicit command in scripture for a model gun law - just general principles we can apply to our present situation. Some may interpret things in different ways. Above I have given my interpretation of the relevant principles. In this case, we must resort to the principle of Romans 14 as applied to food - i.e. to accept Christians who disagree with us, without passing judgement on disputable matters. So, if you disagree with me on this one - I still accept you as a brother (or sister) and respect your right to your own viewpoint. Whether you own a gun or not is not going to affect whether or not you go to heaven, but it may in certain situations affect how quickly you get there. For those of you who are wondering: No, I am not a gun owner, but I would like to have the option of buying one if I felt that I would need it for my own safety or that of my family. For more statistical information etc on this subject, go to www.gunowners.org

This is one of a set of papers addressing current issues from a Biblical Christian perspective. Contact the author, Philip Rosenthal at: Tel: (021) 6854500 or Email: Rosenthal@post.com Mail: Postnet 114, P/Bag X18, Rondebosch, 7701

Comments and questions are welcome. Answers will be included in updates of this paper. Please do copy and distribute this paper, provided that the contents are not changed.
Articles, papers and pamphlets on other issues from a Biblical Christian perspective may be requested by email. Many of them can be found at

www.Christianview.org

The right to own lethal weapons5.doc

2 November, 2001

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