Following the tragic events at Sandy Hook, the question of whether or not assault rifles ought to be banned has taken center stage in American politics. Instinctually, I want to defend my constitutional right to have weapons, and keep the federal government from assuming power granted only to states. But my defining characteristic is not my temporal citizenship: for I am a citizen of the kingdom of God. So, let’s think about this whole issue from a biblical standpoint.
First, we need to identify the central issue in this debate. It is primarily a question of the authority of the government. That is, does the federal government have the authority to tell its citizenry which weapons they may or may not purchase. So then, if the primary issue is the authority of the state, then what does the Bible have to say about its authority? For this, we turn to Romans 13. And the very first message we see is this: “Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God.” Now, in order for us to answer this question biblically, we have to put aside the preconceived notions of modern political philosophy from Hobbes onward (cf. Col. 2:8). That said, let us now attempt to discern what Paul is telling us, and how it applies to the firearm issue.
This is a situation in which historical context can help immensely. The government in Paul’s day sought out and killed Christians; the Romans believed that if any of their subjects did not appease the gods, then the state was in danger (see Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church and Green, Christianity in Ancient Rome: The First Three Centuries). Therefore, not adhering to the traditional religion of Rome was one of the worst forms of treachery. And the punishment was imprisonment – if you got off easy – or death. So, Christianity was illegal; but Paul tells the Christians in Rome to submit to the authority of the state (and we know that Paul was arrested – and eventually executed – for being a Christian. So, how do we reconcile this?
The state has a real authority given to it by God “for there is no authority except from God.” And that is key. The state is subordinate to God, since its authority derives from the supreme authority of God. Thus, when a state goes against the commands of God, it is rebelling against its Superior. So primarily, our allegiance and submission is to the authority of God, and from that submission, we submit to the state. But only so long as it conforms and functions under the authority of God. Let’s use an example. Let’s say that you and your older brother are left at home (now, I know it’s a flawed analogy, because God is always present, but the concept is the same). Your mom said that you cannot watch TV. But your brother says that you can. Which do you obey? Or, which should you obey? Your mom. But why? Because your brother’s authority derives from your mom’s, and if he is contradicting what your mom said, you have to obey the greater authority. Therefore, the ultimate question in this gun debate – for the Christian – must be whether or not a ban on firearms is opposed to the commands of God as revealed in Scripture.
I think that the single most compelling argument one could make is in defending the lives of other people. Any other case (hunting, recreational shooting, competition, etc.) including self-defense are not supported in the commands of God (for my argument about self-defense, see Matt. 5:39). Jesus tells us that the law is summed up in the edicts to love God and to love our neighbor (Matt. 22:34-40). And the argument could be made that protecting the lives of others is consistent with that second command. However, we must also reconcile this with the command to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). And I do not think that you can argue that shooting another human being – even one who is an enemy – is loving. It is not a question of which is most important: we must keep both commands. Jesus said: “No one has greater love than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). Preserving life is good, noble, and holy. But we must love our enemies. First and foremost, we are Christians; we are to be Christ-like (Rom. 12:1-2). This supersedes any and all other ties and connections which we have. And Jesus died, and bore the full wrath of God, on behalf of us who hated God, who were His enemies. That is how we ought to act. We can protect life, we can die for those we love, but we must act in love. And so, I do not think that our right to bear arms is founded or supported by Scripture; and should the state ban firearms, it is my duty as a Christian to submit.
Now, this has nothing to do with the legality of banning firearms. The government, in fact, is prohibited from doing so by the constitution, and I fully agree with that. But as Christians, our primary document is the Bible, not the constitution. So, we may oppose a firearm ban on constitutional grounds; but should the state ban weapons, for whatever reason, it is our duty as Christians to submit. After all, we are promised that we would have a constitution. Now, I really think that this raises tremendous questions and implications. For instance, how do I reconcile this with my desire to become a police officer? And what about members of the military? However, we must not forget that our chief duty is love. Paul says this: “Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10).