Why gun violence is a Christian issue

(George Frey/Getty Images) A suicide by shotgun in the City of Fairfax, following closely on the heels of the Navy … Continued


(George Frey/Getty Images)

A suicide by shotgun in the City of Fairfax, following closely on the heels of the Navy Yard killings, has rocked many members of my congregation. As I counsel them, I struggle to find words to bring comfort and guidance in a time of trauma. I also realize that my church, and the larger religious community, has offered a terribly muddled message on gun violence.

Perhaps this is no surprise, since most congregations include both gun control advocates and gun owners. The clarity of the message “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is not lost on me, nor is the fact that the headquarters of the National Rifle Association is located just a short distance from my church.

But the religious community needs to unite around a message that will keep guns out of the hands of people who will use them to do violence to themselves and others, whether they are depressed young people, delusional shooters, or children who stumble across guns in the home. I’m not talking about new gun control laws, but instead a new consensus on the proper place of firearms in our society.

At a recent Faith and Media Conference sponsored by Odyssey Networks in New York, religious journalist Lisa Miller suggested that guns are a “stumbling block” for both the mentally ill and children, and our moral obligation is to remove them from the hands of such people. She cited the work of Rabbi Marc Katz of Brooklyn, who points to the command in Leviticus 19:14 to avoid putting “a stumbling block in front of the blind.”

What does this have to do with guns? Rabbi Katz says that the rule speaks not only of a physical barrier, but anything that creates undue danger or harm. Guns are a “stumbling block” for children who don’t comprehend their deadly power, or for mentally ill people who don’t have the ability to keep their emotions under control. It is the responsibility of the community to avoid putting stumbling blocks in front of people who can easily fall.

The Christian faith has a similar concern, expressed by the apostle Paul in a discussion of whether it is ever appropriate to eat meat that has been offered to idols. Paul has no particular objection to this practice and says, “We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:8-9).

To defenders of the Second Amendment, I would follow Paul’s lead by saying, “Yes, you have the right to keep and bear arms. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” With every right comes a responsibility, and I do not believe that we, as a society, have lived up to our responsibility to keep guns out of the hands of people who will hurt themselves and others.

From biblical times to the present day, people have had to strike a balance between individual rights and societal good. Gun control legislation tends to curb individual rights, while unfettered freedom to bear arms has a terrible social cost. But we can work together to expand mental health services, support legislation that improves gun purchase background checks, and encourage a focus on safety among gun owners. We can also summon the courage to intervene when a gun owner
is spiraling into depression, and take steps to make sure that he or she does not use the firearm for suicide. No law can force to make such an intervention, but our faith demands it.

I hope that the religious community can formulate a clear statement on guns as potential “stumbling blocks,” one that is grounded not in politics but in our deepest religious convictions. If we don’t, there will be blood on our hands the next time a weak person stumbles across a firearm and uses it to take a life.

Henry G. Brinton, pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church in Virginia

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  • epespinoza43

    I think it’s because there are so few Christians and so many professing christians.

    I seriously doubt there are that many Christians with guns.

  • Hermit1951

    And I doubt that you are correct, esespinoza.

  • williamhuxtan

    No, espespinoza43 is spot-on. Too many “convenient Christians” pushing their brand of religion when it suits their power and/or money addictions, not realizing the spirituality that Jesus professed forewent both.

  • junkhacker

    why would you doubt that many Christians have guns?
    it is the duty of a Shepard to protect the flock
    is it unholy to be prepared to protect yourself and your fellow man?

    and that’s ignoring how often a rifle puts food on the table

    violence and suicide are most certainly social issues, not the fault of objects

  • Hermit1951

    Pastor Brnton,

    For a long time this Country housed the insane in asylums. The bleeding hearts made so much ruckus about it being inhumane that (and I forget the date, but sometime in the 90’s) the asylums were boarded up, the patients were handed some medicine and set free on the streets. Violent crime sky rocketed.

    Today we are involved in a heated debate about “affordable health care”, but not one peep is being uttered about the criminally insane, the effects of strong psychotic medicine on children, or the failure of the courts to vigorously enforce existing gun laws.

    You speak of children who stumble upon a gun which leads to a tragedy. How many times have you seen or heard of the parent of that child charged with murder. It was, after all the parents responsibility (not mine) to keep that gun out of reach.

    You speak of the insane committing horrendous acts, while we Christians do not have a clear statement about guns, and the blood being on our hands. The Navy Yard killer made it grotesquely clear that he was not in full control of his mind, when he reported to law enforcement his delusional frame of mind. Was there a competency hearing? No. Was the old man that kidnapped that small boy in Alabama, holding him in a bunker, taken in front of a competency board when he had previously brandished a weapon and threatened them? NO.

    So, no Pastor, don’t lay the blame trip on me. I have no blood on my hands. You want a clear statement from Christians? Try this one: Take some of the billions of dollars this country squanders on non sense every year and pump it into Mental Health initiatives. Start by requiring that courts, require that they hold mental competency hearing on people like the Navy Yard shooter, and at least temporarily get the guns out of THEIR house until they are competent. When a person is convicted of a felony, or spousal abuse, go immediately to their house and confiscate THEIR gun.

    I’m not the bad guy, because I want to keep and bear arms.

  • John Faden

    First of all, that picture. Let’s start this mission of salvation by saving that shooter’s left thumb. Tell that shooter to align his left thumb with his right, and not cross it over his wrist like that. That hold is a great way to have the slide come back and liberate his thumb from his left hand.

    Secondly, if your message is about responsibility more than laws, I’m with you, but he Navy Yard shooter was not ‘blind’…he was a man with a history of violence. Our laws are built to stand in the way of his getting a gun, but they failed, because they were not enforced properly. Please do not put that on gun owners.

    Your point is still well received, however. Thanks and God bless.

  • TB_One

    Why would you be surprised. It is no sin to own a firearm. Did not Jesus tell His disciples to sell their coats and purchase a sword when he sent them out the second time to witness? Did Peter not have a sword with Jesus consent in the garden when he cut off the ear of Malchus, the slave of the High Priest?

  • John Faden

    I know what point you are trying to make, but Christianity and gun ownership are not mutually exclusive. The many missionaries, priests and pastors throughout the world that own guns can attest to that.

    There was one story of a pair of missionaries who were speared to death while firing their guns into the air, because they thought it better they die and go to heaven than to send the unsaved to hell. While that speaks to your point, keep in mind that to fire guns in the air, they must have owned them in the first place.

  • Hermit1951

    LOL……..just thought of an analogy:

    Billy gets down a glass and drinks some water, and places the empty glass on the counter. Johnny, while recreating a “Star Wars” fight, swings his light saber, striking the glass and knocking it to the floor.

    Is “the blood” on Billy’s hands because had he not put the glass on the counter, Johnny would not have knocked it off?

    As Chef Ramsey would say “Come on………………….”

  • Hermit1951

    Why would they have guns in the first place, and what prompted them to shoot them into the air? If you start shooting a gun around me, and all I have is a spear, guess what’s going to happen next?

  • John Faden

    @Hermit – The storyteller’s point was that the missionaries were there to save souls. They knew they were saved, and their aggressors were not. Therefore they decided to sacrifice themselves rather than to send their attackers to hell.

    It is a very courageous, poignant, Christian sentiment. Most people I think would have shot back, that’s what makes the story so powerful.

    The point is, though, that even some missionaries that are that certain of their own salvation carry. You can be Christian and armed or Christian and unarmed. Your choice.

  • CCNL

    Gun violence as it played out in the Colorado movie theater:

    Accomplice 1-

    The Colorado state government which still does not have strict and enforced gun ownership laws.

    Accomplice 2:

    The movie theater management which apparently had no security and/or no manned security cameras. Said nut job propped open an emergency exit door and re-entered with his weapons and garb. Why didn’t this activate alarms? Or did it activate a silent alarm and what security was present did not respond?

    Opening up an emergency exit door apparently is a typical way to allow non-paying friends into movie theaters. This is done as the paying customers are leaving the normal exits. A friend walks out the emergency exit and his/her friends walk in giving them immediate access to any movie playing in the typical modern multiplex movie theater. Observing this scenario once, I followed the non-paying person to the lobby and reported him to the manager. There were no security personnel there that I could see as they were my first choice.

    I highly recommend reviewing the security at your movie theaters before going again.

    Accomplice 3:

    Homeland Security/FBI. The taxpayers assume that part of our taxes are used to track anyone buying large amounts of ammunition. 6000 rounds of ammunition should have raised red flags in all of the government surveillance computers. Why didn’t it???????????????

    Accomplice 4

    Holmes’ parents, apparently both highly educated. Did they not talk to their single, living alone son once a week to see how he was doing? Did they not see some disturbing signs in his demeanor? Did they finance his fantasies? Parenting does not stop when your kids reach the age of 21. What values did they teach their son? How hard is it to instill the simple phrase “Do No Harm”?

    Continued below:

  • plattitudes

    Amen on the thumb. First time I went shooting with a handgun, I positioned my hand very similar to this. after the second shot, the slide grabbed the flesh of my left hand between the thumb and index finger, and pulled it forward to be pinched in the mechanism. I had to (very quickly) discharge the next couple of shots in order to get my hand out. Hurt like a beast, and since then I’ve kept my thumbs aligned properly.

  • CCNL

    Do not be an accomplice. Report suspicious activities. Pass rational laws and enforce the law if that is your job. Ensure your place of business provides safety for your customers. Check up on your friends and relatives. You will not get any hero badges but together said actions makes us all silent heroes every day!!!!!

  • jarandeh

    It’s mind-boggling watching people try to twist a faith ostensibly based on sacrifice, forgiveness, and ‘turning the other cheek’ into a faith endorsing lethal firearms.

    Just admit your Christianity stops once it comes to guns.

  • Hammers Are Deadly Too

    “unfettered freedom to bear arms has a terrible social cost”, but there is also a huge social cost to citizens being unarmed and facing a comparatively much larger/armed attacker with felonious malintent.

  • Rimfire

    I, for one, will not patronize a business that prevents legal concealed carry of firearms unless they are willing to provide armed protection for it’s patrons. The vast majority of mass shootings have taken place where firearms were not allowed. As such, such places should be avoided.

  • American15

    CCNl is in error with reference to 2. The Theater management set up this disaster because it declared the theater a “Gun Free Zone; the only theater in that area to do this. Therefore the offender knew that he would be the only one armed. you never read about one of these shooters walking into a police station to shoot up the building.

  • American15

    CCNL is in error with reference to 2. The theater management was a figurative accomplice because it posted the theater as a “Gun Free Zone”; the only theater in the metro area to prohibit legally carried weapons. Therefore, the shooter knew that no one in the theater would be able to defend themselves. That’s why he picked that venue!
    You never read about these murderers entering a police station to shoot up the place. Think about it; most or almost all of the massacres took place in “Gun Free Zones”.

  • American15

    @John: Gee. Too bad the Crusaders didn’t follow suit when they went to the “Holy Land” as missionaries and proceeded to butcher many, many hundreds of unarmed Jews along with the Muslims because they were not Christians. I would bet that most of the fine folks in the Southern lynch mobs would have raised their hands if you would have requested a head count of the Faithful.

  • Tom RKBA

    “From biblical times to the present day, people have had to strike a balance between individual rights and societal good.”

    FAIL. That is not the case with the Bill of Rights and the constitutions.

  • Tom RKBA

    DC has all the gun control HCI/Brady Campaign wants and still violence happens. How do you explain the failure of “rational laws” to control those who will not be controlled?

  • AGuyCommenting

    Tom, are you criticizing how back then there was a lack of individual rights for slaves and women?

    Agree with ya there.

  • AGuyCommenting

    Bad analogy. The purpose of glass is to be a container. The purpose of a gun is to kill.

  • ChrisMallory

    The Jews of Eastern Europe would not agree with Katz, but they can’t. The government that murdered them did not have any stumbling blocks in front of it.

  • greg Hopkins

    The issue is not “gun violence” it is self-defense. My new book, “A Time To Kill: The Myth of Christian Pacifism” studies what God says in the entire Bible about legal, moral, and Biblical use of force. I did not just cherry-pick a few verses, I researched for many years to find every relevant verse in the Bible on the subject. My conclusions? 1. God not only allows, but commands us to use legal (including lethal, when necessary) force to defend the innocent. 2. That God does not regard killing in self-defense, war, or law enforcement as murder (King David killed a lot of people, but only got in trouble for the murder of Uriah). 3. Jesus did not teach pacifism, it was a doctrine that arose about 150 years after his resurrection. I explain “Turn the other cheek”, and “live by the sword, die by the sword” in their Biblical and cultural contexts.$. In every instance Jesus could have taught pacifism ,He instead taught that defense of self, property, and country was logical and moral. Check it out on Amazon. The verses quoted in the article are the same verses pharisaical Christians have used through the ages to justify pressuring others with opinions contrary to their theirs to deny their freedom in Christ. With the instrumental music in worship controversy, for instance. Will these advocates immediately give up their organs, guitars, etc., because it causes their non-instrumental bretheren to be offended? I seriously study this issue in “A Time To Kill”. As to my qualifications: I’m a lawyer, former judge, nationally certified legal use-of-force instructor for cops and civilians ,and court-certified expert witness on firearms and self defense. I’ve the Bible to adults for 40 years.

  • MrApple

    “Gun control legislation tends to curb individual rights, while unfettered freedom to bear arms has a terrible social cost.”
    Gun control doesn’t “tend to curb individual rights” that is its sole purpose. The central idea behind all “gun control” is CONTROL, control of the law abiding. Criminals by their nature don’t obey the laws and therefore the laws are to CONTROL the law abiding. Restricting people who are already obeying the laws has nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with controlling people.
    And as for the “unfettered freedom to bear arms”, when is the last time you bought a firearm? In my state, if I buy a rifle/shotgun from an FFL dealer I have to go through a quick (sometimes lasting up to 3 days) NICS background check. No check is needed if I purchase from a private citizen. I don’t just because I like to purchase brand new firearms; I don’t want to inherit someone else’s problems. While to buy a pistol (and the large majority of “gun crimes” are committed with handguns) I need a pistol permit from my county’s Sheriff’s Department (there is a 7 day wait to get the permit). A CCW Permit will work in lieu of a pistol permit, if you have one. The permit paperwork is needed for a handgun, and strangely enough a crossbow, for both an FFL dealer purchase and private purchase. Permits, NICS background check, paperwork at the time of the purchase, and showing ID is hardly “unfettered freedom.”

  • DRJJJ

    Ban gangs, not guns-they’re doing all our gun violence! Hint: look in the no gun zones and you’ll find most our gun deaths!

  • DRJJJ

    Note: Christians aren’t part of the gun problem-see stats, the godless are!

  • Charles Glasgow

    In my prayer request online tonight I asked for help in straightening our communities against the practice of 21st century stoning. I see the use of bullets in a handgun or a rifle or buck shot in a shotgun directed toward humans as a modern form of ‘stoning’ refered to in the Holy Scriptures as a punishment for sin. Yet, the sinners today (all of us sin, but not all of us kill)take their own lives with the weapon which doesn’t reflect our sisters and brothers and elders of yesterday who stoned a ‘sinner’ and walked away. Had they turned on each other and stoned one another after stoning their target ‘sinner’ it would approximate what we face today. It is such an individual act today. A selfish, coward, after killing can deny ‘Cesar’ his justice or the earthly authority its justice by stoning”shooting themselves with the weapon” themselves dead.

    Jesus said to the Pharisees and elders when they wanted to stone a woman who had sinned the sin of adultery; ‘Ye without sin throw the first stone” and backed it up by writing their sins in the sand on the ground or floor of the Temple.

    Alas, Jesus isn’t here yet to do that at an elementary school or in a grocery store or bank where innocents confront a ‘stoner’ of the 21st century variety.

    I have suggested a ‘non lethal’ ammo or bean bags or something that where emotion, anger, and yes, hate, could be exorcised without causing death. Pre-mature death, in my opinion should be in the purvey of The Lord God Almighty or at his instruction through his ‘Word.’ Humans, should not be allowed to kill other humans at all, as per Commandment. I am not in the position to ask God why he does it that way. All I know is that He, like a song artist has sung his songs of human kind and they are recorded on a record (33 R.P.M.) for his enjoyment. The Record Player was our Gifts, Fellowship offerings an Friendship offerings until he bought a record player (His “Son Jesus”) whose needle translates the sound to His liking.

  • Charles Glasgow

    Read my input, it might surprise you.