Reverend Andrew Sandlin
I haven’t discharged a firearm in twenty years. I have never, if memory serves, shot a handgun. Friends of mine who can best be described euphemistically as gun aficionados (Brian Abshire comes immediately to mind!) classify me as significantly less experienced than tender-foot in my "firearms skills." Aside from Biblically justified killing (for instance, capital punishment and the immediate defense of life), I abhor violence. I am not a member of the National Rifle Association, or even Larry Pratt’s Gun Owners of America, though I would be quite proud to be a member of the latter. My views on gun ownership do not, therefore, spring from any obsession with guns themselves, with their use, or with the damage they can easily produce. I have always found the pen and pulpit more effective weapons than guns.
Nonetheless, I suggest that the 1999 shootings at Columbine, Atlanta, and Ft. Worth reveal a glaring problem in the United States: an insufficient number of citizens carry guns. Crime, of course, is decreasing overall in this country. However, violent shooting sprees on unarmed citizens seem to be on the rise—at least they are getting much greater publicity by a ubiquitous media, hungry for a story of any kind, or perhaps even interested implicitly in championing the gun control banner. Ironically, however, these murders should lead us to think in quite the opposite direction: armed citizens are exponentially less likely to be shot than unarmed citizens; therefore, more law-abiding citizens need guns. This is so simple that only the "deep thinkers" in the secular universities and media could miss it.
The Rationale of Gun-Toting
When you and the other guy are both carrying a firearm, and when you have no particular desire to get shot, it’s quite prudent to avoid assaulting the other guy, whether physically or verbally. This is not, of course, an ironclad rule: Today, Mafia and gang members are not deterred from shooting others of their own kind merely because the latter are carrying firearms. Civilian war is an aspect of their modus operandi, and guns are simply a part of that equation. The problem with these murderous men (and all other murderers, for that matter) is their hearts, not their guns. As long as there are guns, wicked men will find and obtain them. If every last gun on the earth were confiscated and destroyed, wicked men would create them. If wicked men could not create them, they would create other lethal weapons (like bombs) from household items. Murder by firearm is a hamartiological (sin) problem, not a firearm problem. 1
Unless gun-toting murderers are on a simple kamikaze mission, they are not interested in forfeiting their own life simply to take someone else’s. In other words, they do not consider it desirable or inevitable that they be killed in the process of killing somebody else. If they know that the other guy is surely carrying a firearm that can end their life after they pull the trigger—or as they are preparing to pull the trigger—they might have second thoughts about their murderous intent.
Responsible Gun-Toters Save Lives
Take Columbine, Atlanta, and Ft. Worth as examples. If in each of these cases, the adults who were targets or victims of the murderous assault had been carrying firearms, it is almost certain that many lives could have been saved. Responsible citizens trained in the legitimate use of firearms could have wounded or killed the murderers long before each wreaked as much damage as he did. Would this plan have prevented all these murders entirely? Probably not. But a number of individuals would be alive today had responsible adult citizens been carrying guns and been willing to use them in a crisis. (In the case of the Ft. Worth church murders, I already hear the plaint, "What? Carrying guns into church, the sanctuary of worship?" I am reminded of the Early American Puritan settlers, ambling to church with a Bible under one arm and a musket under the other. "But those were different and much more dangerous times. Why, the settlers could have been attacked by savages at any time!" Hmm . . . .)
After the Atlanta shootings, Thomas Sowell perceptively wrote: "When people ask emotionally, 'How can we stop these things?' the most straightforward answer is to ask: 'How was it [sic] in fact stopped?' It was stopped, like most shooting sprees, by the arrival on the scene of other people with guns."
It is the monopoly of guns by people with evil intentions that is dangerous. Some of the most dangerous places in America are places where strict gun-control laws provide assurance to violent criminals that their victims will not be able to defend themselves.
What if every third or fourth person in that building in Atlanta had a gun available at the time? Under such conditions, it is very unlikely that Matt Barton could have shot 22 people before he was stopped....
The one thing that so-called "gun control" laws do not do is control guns. They disarm potential victims. People who do not care about the law can always get guns in a country with 200 million guns and more coming in, both legally and illegally.
We can’t even stop millions of human beings from coming into this country illegally—and a handgun is a lot smaller than a person. That basic reality is not changed by politicians and media loudmouths who appeal to emotions and symbolism by crying out for more gun laws. You can always pass feel-good laws and ignore their actual consequences. In fact, we have already done too much of that on too many other issues.
The biggest hypocrites on gun control are those who live in upscale developments with armed security guards—and who want to keep other people from having guns to defend themselves. Affluent homeowners pay to have private armed security patrols cruising their neighborhoods. Many of them are also for gun control. Of course you don’t have to have a gun yourself when you are paying other people to carry guns for you. But what about lower-income people living in high-crime, inner city neighborhoods? Should such people be kept unarmed and helpless, so that limousine liberals can "make a statement" by adding to the thousands of gun laws already on the books?2
If anybody should be allowed guns, those in low-income neighborhoods should. This is, not coincidentally, the very location about whose "proliferation of guns" liberals howl. We need to get more guns into the hands of law-abiding citizens—wherever they live.
This is not a "solution" to firearm murders. As long as men are not fully sanctified, there are no "solutions," only trade-offs.3 Since limiting or forbidding gun ownership to law-abiding citizens would only assure their vulnerability to law-breaking citizens (and a law-breaking state, for that matter), the best way to diminish firearm murders is to put guns in the hands of the potential victims and teach them how to use those guns responsibly.
The Legitimate Use of Power Protects Life
Simply put, in civil society power is a deterrent to evil. (This is one of John Calvin’s "uses" of the law: it restrains evil men.) Many of the people today calling for the confiscation of guns on the grounds of a proliferation of gun-related violence were the same ones twenty years ago calling for the United States to disarm itself in the face of "nuclear proliferation" with the Soviet Union. They envisioned all sorts of apocalyptic scenarios by which the nuclear weapons of both nations could destroy every individual on earth "seven times over," or some other such idiocy. The fact is, however, for nearly four decades not a single American was harmed by a Soviet nuclear weapon and not a single Russian citizen was harmed by an American nuclear weapon. If, alternatively, the United States had disarmed itself, it would have been vulnerable to blackmail in the face of a regime bent on worldwide communistic domination.
By contrast, I will take "nuclear proliferation" any day. And I will take "firearm proliferation" any day. And so should you.
Deter firearm murder; buy more firearms.
- Andrew Sandlin, "Hamartiology and Gun Control," Christian Statesman, Vol. 140, No. 1 (Jan.-Feb., 1997), 5-6.
- Thomas Sowell, "Gunning for Guns," Jewish World Review, August 5, 1999, http://www.jewishworldreview.com.
- idem., A Conflict of Visions (New York, 1987), 25-27 and passim.
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