Following massacres like the recent one in Oregon, the topic of gun control always finds its way into the public discourse. This time, however, the pro-life movement has come under fire for its alleged inconsistency in not calling for gun control.
Trevor Noah of The Daily Show charged,
“If pro-lifers would just redirect their powers toward gun violence, the amount of lives they would save would reach superhero levels…[R]ight now, they’re more like comic-book collectors: Human life only holds value until you take it out of the package, and then it’s worth nothing.”
That the pro-life movement would be mocked on television by a self-described “progressive” is hardly news. However, this charge is not limited to the outside world.
In commenting on pro-gun ownership sentiments among both Christian and other politically conservative voices, Laura Turner, who contributes to Christianity Today’s “Her.meneutics” blog opined,
“Why, then, do so many people insist that the right to gun ownership ought to take precedence over the lives of innocent people? They may never say as much, but that is what’s at play when folks like conservative pundit Erick Erickson — who claims to be pro-life — posts a tweet saying “I’m going to go buy more guns this weekend” one day after the shooting in Oregon….If Christians are called to follow the example of the one who laid down his life for the sake of others, we need to start doing so immediately. There were 20 children at Sandy Hook who we could have laid down our lives for, and we did not. There are nine more people dead now. If we don’t, nothing will change. This will play out again and again, and we will mourn for a day or two — if that — before we revert to bitterly divided arguments about rights. My rights don’t matter as much as another person’s life.”
Citing statistics from the FBI, she claims that in 2012 the number of justifiable gun homicides paled in comparison to the criminal homicides, suicides, and unintentional fatal shootings at the hands of guns. From this she concludes “[g]uns in the hands of civilians do us as a society much more harm than good.” She asserts, “a consistently pro-life ethic should include gun control.”
Turner’s conviction is firm, but has she proven that the assertion of gun owner rights is inherently contrary to pro-life sentiments?
If she could supply ironclad proof that more guns always cause more murder that would otherwise not transpire, she would have a strong argument for her position.
However, no such proof exists. For every statistic she brings up against gun ownership, the pro-gun ownership side can bring up occasions in which guns saved lives and invoke examples of gun-controlled cities with horrible gun violence. In fact, they could even argue that the number of criminal homicides would be even higher with greater gun control. Turner’s anger is misdirected. The primary cause of death is not guns, but man’s sinful nature.
Those who have a benign view of human nature are more inclined to think that guns are primarily instruments of fear, mistrust, and violence. Therefore, they conclude that a simple cutback or removal of them will eliminate or at least radically decrease death and murder. For such people it makes no sense that pro-lifers are pro-gun since the latter stance will get more people killed.
Those with a pessimistic view of human nature are inclined to believe that fear, mistrust, and violence come first and necessitate instruments of self-defense such as guns. As former President Ronald Reagan once said when talking about nuclear arms control, “nations do not distrust each other because they’re armed; they arm themselves because they distrust each other.”
According to this school of thought, regulating or abolishing gun ownership would destroy any chance for self-defense, thus increasing death and murder. For these people, pro-life sentiments are compatible with pro-gun ownership positions because they have the same goal and, they claim, the same result: protecting innocent human life.
So which view of human nature does scripture support?
The Bible emphatically declares man to be prone to evil from birth (Gen. 8:21, Jer. 17:9, Rom. 8:5-7). It paints a picture of human nature that is corrupted by sin, rather than the outside world. It is not man’s environment or weapons that bring death and murder, but his sinful nature. Weapons such as knives, swords, and guns can be instruments of murder or self-defense against the worst manifestation of man’s evil.
Jesus, who is one with the Father (John 10:30), implied that self-defense is permissible in Exodus 22:2-3 (NASB).
“If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.”
Therefore, it is not impossible at the theoretical level to be pro-life and pro-gun ownership, provided the impulse is self-defense rather than murder.
This does not necessarily mean that the Bible jumps to the opposite extreme in the gun-control debate.
Rev. Bob Schenck, a long time veteran of the pro-life movement and now gun-control advocate, identifies what he sees as a difference between self-defense and lethal self-defense. “I’m not saying self-defense is never an option for a Christian…I think it is. But there’s an impulse toward lethal self-defense that’s contrary to Christian thinking and teaching.”
Whether Schenck’s observation is correct or not, it must be acknowledged that the scripture has no direct commentary on weapons and how many weapons people have a right to own. It is the duty of nations and states to use the scriptures that speak to self-defense and other indirect connections to weapon ownership to craft legislation that will best praise men who do right and punish men who do wrong on this matter (Rom. 13:3, Deut. 32:4).
In the end, one can be pro-life and pro-gun ownership, just like one can be pro-life and anti-gun ownership. Both can genuinely believe that their solution is the best way to curb the number of lives taken outside the womb and seek to decrease the number of lives taken inside the womb.