Who Would Jesus Arm?

A candlelight vigil on December 3 in San Bernardino, California (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) ( )
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader is uneasy over the growing drumbeat for more gun control:

First off, I am a concealed carry permit holder, own two handguns, a shotgun, and a rifle, all purchased within the last year. I have felt some urgency to purchase weapons and ammunition recently, as I have been worried that public sentiment will shift as more and more shootings occur and gun control will become more stringent. I have two semi-related points to make:

1) As other readers have pointed out, there are vastly different demographics when dealing with gun rights, from rural to urban and from recreational shooters to self-protection gun owners. That is precisely why an all-encompassing federal law is the wrong approach. Gun laws should remain under the purview of each state because those that make the laws—the state legislators—are more distinctly aware of the issues involved and are more directly beholden to voters.

2) There is a general principle that occurs when laws are enacted, with very few exceptions: When a restrictive law is passed, it is much easier to restrict rights even further in the future. I am against any federal gun control legislation because more restrictions now means it will be easier to pass even more restrictive legislation in the future. Rights are eroded inch-by-inch, bit by bit, until they are gone completely.

You can push back on those points here if you like. A very different view comes from a reader responding to Emma’s “prayer shaming” piece in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting:

I’m one of those who criticized the knee-jerk tweets of “thoughts and prayers” and, as a clergy person, I believe I am fully justified in my criticism.

Such offerings from politicians are not, in the least, comparable to the heartfelt cry for prayer from the woman caught in the midst of an outrageously dangerous situation, the woman described in the article’s last paragraph. Instead, they are disingenuous and, worse, they are dishonest.

Saying “our thoughts and prayers are with you” is a lie. The politicians who say it aren’t thinking at all ... if they thought the least little bit, they would think of ways to regulate gun ownership. They also aren’t praying; real prayer leads to action (“Never pray for anything you aren’t willing to work for,” my grandfather taught me.)

The Bible most of them claim to follow says very clearly: “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:15-17)

If a nation is riddled by daily gun death, and one of you says, “I’m praying for you,” and yet you do nothing to end the gun violence, what is the good of that? So prayers, by themselves, if they have no attendant action, are a lie. These politicians cheapen both thought and prayer into meaninglessness.

Another reader invokes Scripture to craft a very different argument:

Jonathan Merritt takes some time out of his day to castigate Jerry Falwell, Jr. and any Christian who feels they have a right to arms or self defense, using broad brush strokes to illustrate that Jesus would rather they didn’t. But to do so, he had to skip an awful lot of the Bible and its remarkably complex nuance on violence.

He references the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ demand that his apostle stop attacking the people who had come to abduct him, but he ignores why that apostle had the sword in the first place—Jesus told him to put it on earlier that day:

Luke 22:36 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. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’[b]; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

“That’s enough!” he replied.

This is Jesus very literally saying “Hey, I’m about to be a criminal and you hang out with me. You probably should get armed.”

Is that a biblical demand that every single Christian carry a gun? No, probably not. But it does show that Jesus was probably disapproving of attacking law enforcement officers on official duty rather than self defense as a concept.

The rest of the Bible is similarly nuanced. Exodus 22, for example, makes it perfectly clear that a person who kills a home invader in the dark when his intents can’t be read is blameless. The Bible is clear that violence has its place—a soldier can kill in war, but a murderer cannot; a man may kill in self-defence, but not for vengeance. Violence isn’t taken lightly by any means, but sometimes it’s taken nonetheless. A simplified version of the Bible may be very comfortable to a leftist Christian, but whitewashing away nuance does not make that nuance disappear; it simply reveals one’s bias.