Is The Right to Keep and Bear Arms a Christian Principle?
The second amendment of the United States of America clearly states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Yet, today there is clearly a dividing line between those that support and oppose the right of individuals to own and bear arms. Why is this topic controversial and, why as Christians, should we support it?
Exploring this topic from the points of natural law, biblical text and Church teaching could help shed some light on this controversial topic that is the subject of heated debates.
Natural law is a body of law or a specific principle held to be derived from nature and binding upon human society in the absence of or in addition to positive law. It is commonly thought that natural law was a heavy influence on Thomas Jefferson as he penned the Constitution. Natural law, summarized from a Christian perspective, is written on the hearts and souls of men so that they may instinctively know good from wrong doing.
Natural law does not speak directly to the right to bear arms, but it does speak to two primary rights which may point to the right to bear arms. The first primary right is the right to life. Most people would not argue about their own individual right to life. This is why instinctively, under normal circumstances, we are repulsed by murder and fight to survive an illness. The second primary right is the right of self defense. Again, the vast majority of people, in the absence of law enforcement, would agree that every individual has the right to the defense of their personal body from harm. However, natural law does not give us the right to vengeance or the right to attack another person from a position of unwarranted offense.
The overriding question is where should we draw the line on self-defense?
History indicates that humanity prospers in peace. Our own concupiscence fights against peace. In the absence of peace our natural instict is to fight to survive and defend our lives.
Biblical references about defending yourself and/or carrying a weapon are numerous and often tie back to natural law in our right to defend our lives, but that does not extend to revenge and, as stated in Romans 12:17-19, we should wherever possible seek peace.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all. Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:17-19)
Thereupon David said to his men, “Let everyone strap on his sword.” And everyone did so, and David put on his own sword. About four hundred men went up after David, while two hundred remained with the baggage. (1 Samuel 25:13)
He said to them, “But now one who has a money bag should take it, and likewise a sack, and one who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one. (Luke 22:36)
Of course, in biblical times there were no guns and the weapon of choice was a sword. The reference from 1 Samuel follows the passage in which Saul is delivered into the hands of David and is spared. Shortly after sparing Saul, David instructs his men to take up a sword based upon a position of defense. In Luke 22, Jesus has instructed his disciples to arm themselves as they go out to spread the good news. Jesus knew, in dangerous times, a sword was necessary for self defense.
As we look at these two passages we can see two overriding messages. One of mercy and peace whenever possible. The second message wisely directs us to be vigilant in our own defense.
Jesus also warns Peter about the use of a sword in the Garden of Gethsemane. Telling us that we must understand the potential peril of using our arms.
Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)
Do these four biblical passages contradict each other? In reality they work in concert with each other to direct on a clear understanding the use of weapons to defend ourselves while seeking peace and providing mercy.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, an excellent “go to” source for the teaching of the Church because of its precision, states:
2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore, it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:
If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful…. Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.
2265 Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another’s life. Preserving the common good requires rendering the unjust aggressor unable to inflict harm. To this end, those holding legitimate authority have the right to repel by armed force aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their charge.
As demonstrated above, The Church has a long standing position of in favor of an individual’s right to a proportional defense of their own lives and those we are bound by love and natural law to protect. However, a search of papal encyclicals uncovers no magisterial teaching on the personal ownership of firearms.
Where does this leave us? Is the right to bear arms a Christian principal? Is it Christian to own and carry a hand gun?
The Church takes no stand to preclude us from bearing arms. In the absence of specific stance it leaves this to the prudential judgement of the individual.
In the end it would seem to direct us to the actual use and purpose of the weapon.
Is it used in self defense or is it used in the offensive?
If it it used for the purpose of self defense, then mostly likely the answer is yes.
If it is being used as an aggressive too murder and rob, then the answer is no.
JMJ, pray for us.
God is good,