In a deep irony of timing, I write this on the day one of my Facebook friends announces they’ve taken up shooting as a hobby. Oh well. Here it is anyway:
I hate this bumper sticker. I see it around every so often, or variations on it, and to me, it always looks deeply wrong on a fundamental level.
I’m going to no doubt offend people by saying this, but such is blogging. If not offending people was my primary goal I should never have started this blog.
What this always looks like to me is the cross taking aim at the heart. My Jesus Will Shoot You.
I have problems with this.
Though I now live in the gun-toting state of Texas, I grew up in Britain, and the two parts of the world could hardly be further apart on the issue of gun rights.
In Texas, not only is there a constitutionally-guaranteed right to own a weapon (this being what the Second Amendment is understood to mean) which is considered to be a fundamental right given by God, but you can get a licence that allows you to carry it secretly on your person. This is a truly bizarre idea when you come from a country where “carrying a concealed weapon” is a crime in and of itself. There are few controls on who can get a gun, and those that exist are of dubious effectiveness. In addition, there is a national organisation which exists to promote gun ownership and almost invariably seems to lobby against there being any controls at all on who may own a gun.
In Britain, not only do we not recognise this so-called fundamental right, but it’s practically illegal to own a firearm of any sort. Even the police aren’t armed as a matter of course, though they’ve recently (last couple of decades) introduced special armed units. They’ve never been armed; we deliberately set them up that way to make it difficult for them to be used as a tool of oppression. They don’t use military-style ranks, either, for much the same reason. “See? This isn’t a military force of oppression”.
There’s also an age-old European tradition that priests don’t carry weapons. In the Mediæval division of labour, knights and the nobility carried swords as an expression of the temporal, this-worldly nature of their authority. Priests and bishops carried croziers – ornamental shepherds’ crooks – as an expression of the spiritual, not-of-this-worldly nature of their authority.
And with this as my background, here I am in Texas, where it’s the church and Christians who are some of the staunchest defenders of “Second Amendment rights”. Pastors carry guns. Good Christians have bumper stickers like the one above, and apparently see no conflict between following the Prince of Peace and carrying a gun.
I assume it’s some confluence of conservative political thought. You Christians support all these conservative causes; here, you might like to support this one too.
In my head, owning and carrying a gun is a statement of willingness to use it. If you aren’t willing to shoot someone and kill them if necessary, you have no business carrying one on the streets. Now, I need to say at this point that in my head there’s also a difference between owning a gun for hunting deer or target shooting and owning a gun for personal protection. I have no desire to either hunt or do target shooting, but I understand that there are a lot of people who do. God bless you; I will never understand the attraction.
It’s the whole “guns for self-defence” thing that gets me. Especially its weirder expressions in terms of “to defend the country from foreign invaders” (showing an amazing degree of confidence in the US Armed Forces) and “to defend my stuff from the government” (showing an interesting level of commitment to the submission to earthly authorities mandated by Romans 13).
Anyway, as I was saying, if you aren’t willing to actually use the thing if necessary, you have no business carrying. None at all.
The fact that any random stranger on the street might be carrying the ability to blow my head off secretly on their person is one that I find actively scary if I dwell on for too long, so I try not to think about it. Yet I refuse to arm myself as some gun enthusiasts have suggested. There are reasons for this, and they’re connected with what I just said.
If my country goes to war and initiates conscription, I’ll do my duty. But there’s a big difference between carrying a gun as a member of the armed forces and carrying a gun as a private citizen, and it’s to do with the authority represented by the uniform.
As a soldier, I’m not my own person. I’m responsible to my commanding officer, to my armed forces, and ultimately to the Crown. If I have to shoot someone in the course of my duties, it’s not exactly me doing the shooting. That bullet comes with all the weight of my Queen and my nation behind it. I’m an agent of my country; it’s Britain doing the shooting.
If I as a private citizen shoot someone, it’s personal. There’s no covering fig-leaf of authority of a state or a government; it’s me, in my own person. Big difference.
This is part of why executioners wore masks. The mask was a depersonalising badge of authority; whe wearing the mask of his office, the executioner was no longer acting in his own person but as an agent of the State.
Then, too, as a Christian I’m not my own person either. I belong to Christ and am responsible to Him as my King. I am, according to the Bible, an ambassador of Him and a member of His Body. Shall I take the members of Christ and without authority use them to shoot someone for whom He died? May it never be!
Jesus never carried a weapon. There was no law that I’m aware of that forbade Him to, but it wasn’t what He was about. When He was about to be arrested for having committed no crime other than to make the authorities look bad, He tells the disciples who have brought swords to put them away. The people were lookng for a sword-wielding revolutionary Messiah to drive out the pagan Roman oppressors. Jesus comes riding a donkey and healing the sick, commending tax collectors and Roman centurions (oppressors, in other words) for their faith and calling out the “righteous” religious elite for hypocrisy and blindness. He told His followers not to resist an evil person by force but to love their enemies and do good to those that persecute them. To turn the other cheek when struck, and go two miles when forced to go one.
I just can’t reconcile this with carrying a gun.
I suspect, too, that if I were to carry a gun that my faith would be at least partially in the fact that I have a gun to protect me and not in my Lord where it belongs. Rather, I’ll go unarmed, a sheep in a world of wolves, but trusting in a Shepherd with a long arm.