A few people have asked me why I’m a gun owner. I live in a safe, suburban, middle-class neighborhood; I stay aware of my surroundings and alert; and I don’t engage in any behaviors (drugs, crime, etc.) that might put me at a greater risk of being victimized. I am a practicing Christian, which is clearly a non-violent religion (when practiced correctly). The county I live in has an active police force and a very low crime rate.

Well, there are a few reasons. One, however, stands out: violence happens everywhere.

That safe, suburban, middle-class neighborhood I live in just made the local news because a woman who lived nearby—in a building I can bike to in about five minutes—was found murdered less than a mile from her home. Based on preliminary evidence, it would appear she was assaulted in her apartment parking lot (motive unknown), stabbed to death, and then driven a short distance away to be left dead in her own car.

Self defense is a right and, indeed, a responsibility. Erika Yancey, the woman who was murdered, apparently tried to defend herself as best as she could as an unarmed citizen. There is evidence that she fought back but, sadly, it was not enough. Perhaps, had she been armed with a gun or even a readily accessible knife, she might still be alive today. (As an aside, it is worth noting that—being committed with a knife—this murder could never have been prevented with gun control, even if criminals were to start caring about gun laws.)

This is why the founders of this great nation enshrined a right to keep and bear arms into the Bill of Rights. The wording about a militia, constantly misinterpreted by those who oppose gun rights as meaning some kind of structured military force, simply means that the most important reason to have an armed populace is so that they may defend themselves and their nation as an ad-hoc force against aggression from without or within. If you read documents from the time this meaning is quite clear as an individual right that can, when necessary, be used collectively. The founders recognized individual self defense as a fundamental, God-given civil right just like free speech and protection from unreasonable search & seizure.

When I say God-given civil right, I’m not just stringing words together. Rights are not created by the Bill of Rights, nor laws, nor anything else created by man. The founders of this country believed, correctly, that our civil liberties come not from government but from God. Government has a responsibility to protect and ensure these rights for its people, but it is not the originator of those rights. They are, in the parlance of political theory, ‘natural rights.’

So, first there’s a practical concern: being armed (safely and responsibly) can protect you from becoming a victim of violent crime—even in nice, police-patrolled neighborhoods.

Second, the right to keep and bear arms is a solemn civil liberty. I find it bizarre when people ask me why I would choose to own a gun, but they would never ask why I express my political opinions. Both are simple exercise of God-given civil liberties, one just as valid as the other. I shouldn’t really have to answer for either (but I will anyway ;-)).

This is all civil talk, but some have asked how I—as a Christian—can be a gun owner. After all, Jesus told us to ‘turn the other cheek’ after we get slapped (Matthew 5:38-42). That may be, but nowhere in the Hebrew or Christian scriptures is there any clear condemnation of legitimate self defense.

On the contrary, in Exodus 22:2-3 we learn that if somebody breaks into your home in the night and you kill him, you are not guilty of murder since you have acted in self defense. In Nehemia 4:17-18, we learn that it was very common for Jewish men to carry weapons (called ‘swords’ in many translations, but most historians believe this was a short dagger that could be easily concealed). In Luke 22:35-38, Jesus tells his apostles to sell their cloaks to buy swords (presumably the daggers mentioned above) since he would be numbered among the criminals. This, in and of itself, doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus endorsed concealed carry of weapons, but it is notable that the apostles were able to produce two of those swords immediately (thus, they were carrying them!) and they were not condemned for it.

One of the most beautiful and informative Christian documents is the Catholic Papal Encyclical “The Gospel of Life” by Pope John Paul II, which is a comprehensive analysis of moral issues relating to life and death (from abortion to euthanasia to self defense to procreation and more). It is well worth the read for Catholics and Protestants alike. Summing up the historic Christian teaching on legitimate self defense, Pope John Paul II explains (note: the English translation of the encyclical uses British-style spelling):

There are in fact situations in which values proposed by God’s Law seem to involve a genuine paradox. This happens for example in the case of legitimate defence, in which the right to protect one’s own life and the duty not to harm someone else’s life are difficult to reconcile in practice. Certainly, the intrinsic value of life and the duty to love oneself no less than others are the basis of a true right to self-defence. The demanding commandment of love of neighbour, set forth in the Old Testament and confirmed by Jesus, itself presupposes love of oneself as the basis of comparison: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself ” (Mark 12:31). Consequently, no one can renounce the right to self-defence out of lack of love for life or for self. This can only be done in virtue of a heroic love which deepens and transfigures the love of self into a radical self-offering, according to the spirit of the Gospel Beatitudes (cf. Matthew 5:38-40). The sublime example of this self-offering is the Lord Jesus himself.

Moreover, “legitimate defence can be not only a right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another’s life, the common good of the family or of the State”. Unfortunately it happens that the need to render the aggressor incapable of causing harm sometimes involves taking his life. In this case, the fatal outcome is attributable to the aggressor whose action brought it about, even though he may not be morally responsible because of a lack of the use of reason.

Indeed, legitimate self defense (whether on an individual or a national level) is not only acceptable under Christian doctrine, but in some cases it is required. When modern aggressors attack with knives and, too often, firearms, firearms are the best and sometimes only defense that stands a chance of working. You have a solemn responsibility to attempt to defend yourself and your family against aggression with whatever means you have at your disposal, up to and including firearms.

All-in-all, responsible (and I emphasize responsible) gun ownership is both legally and morally acceptable for Christian Americans. Obviously, the ideal would be an end to violent crime in which case gun ownership would never be necessary (except for hunting or recreational [target shooting] purposes). Since that is unlikely to happen in our lifetime, firearms are the best and most responsible way to help ensure our safety and our families’ safety. Violence can happen anywhere, and the police cannot be everywhere. We are each our own first line of defence.