by Neal Whitlow
A couple of years ago, I had a job training people to sell cars for a large used car retailer. This companyís policies included insisting that a salesperson accompany every customer on every test drive, and banning all firearms from their property even in concealed carry states like ours. One day a successful saleswoman hurried over to me, obviously concerned, and said that a customer outside was loudly insisting that he be allowed to take his handgun along on a test drive and she didnít feel comfortable going. I told her that it wasnít a matter of her comfort level, it was a matter of enforcing the companyís rules, but that I would speak with him. He was already a little agitated when I arrived in the parking lot and he resisted gentle attempts to diffuse the situation (ďWhere exactly are you planning to go on this test drive?Ē Insert name of stereotypically violent neighborhood, chuckle uncomfortably). He said he understood that we didnít want guns in our store, but said he wanted to be protected while driving around our moderately sized city. I explained that our vehicles are our property as much as our building and we werenít willing to allow our employee to leave the premises in the company of an armed man. He replied, ďIf I canít take my gun, Iím not going.Ē
He was becoming steadily louder, first offering to show me his concealed carry license, then setting a case containing his gun on the trunk of his car to show me that it was ďjust a little gun.Ē I tried showing sympathy, saying that I was sure he was a perfectly responsible gun owner, and as a gun owner myself, I understood his concerns. However, I continued, the safety of our employees is our number one responsibility. Predictably he countered by yelling at me that she was safer with him and his gun than she would be alone. A little snarky at this point, I told him that our policy toward guns had been 100% successful over the life of our company in protecting our associates from gunshot wounds. In response he began to scream that he didnít need a gun to be a danger to our saleswoman, that we couldnít keep him from taking his fists along everywhere he went. Giving up, I told him that his chances of taking any sort of test drive with us were rapidly diminishing. His hand reached for the gun case and hovered an inch from it. He stared at me in rage, the look in his eyes not convincing me that he was totally in control. After several tense seconds, he threw the gun case into the car and sped away.
I donít talk about gun control very often. For starters, I think itís necessary to admit from the beginning that this conversation mostly belongs in the arenas of opinion and expedience rather than scripture. Secondly, I simply find the whole question of violence and gun control pretty confusing. It brings up wildly conflicting emotions in my heart. I feel that my mission as a disciple calls me to be a man of peace. I also know that sometimes my calling will require me to be a warrior, albeit usually without the use of literal weapons.
Maybe Iím just a walking contradiction. I am the owner of a half-dozen firearms, but Iíve never purchased one. I donít hunt very often, but I enjoy the occasional trip to the shooting range. I grew up in Kansas, where the presence of guns in a home is about as normal as the presence of a hammer or screwdriver. I am not, however, a member of the NRA or an enthusiastic supporter of gun rights. I approach the entire subject with a great deal of ambivalence.
Modern weapons and an individualís right to possess them are not dealt with in scripture. All the texts dealing with warfare donít seem to apply. However, there a few principles from the New Testament that inform my thinking on the subject.
1. It is not the responsibility of Godís people to overwhelm the darkness by force of arms.
We use other tools to fulfill our mission. Our weapons are truth, faith, patience, love, forgiveness, and hope. Do I take this to mean that a Christian can never use a gun to defend against an attacker, or even possess one as a deterrent? No, but we must understand that violence has no redemptive power and offers us no solutions for the problems of our world. Even if guns have a place in the lives of believers, they will never be the answer.
2. Godís people defend the defenseless.
If firearms have a place in our lives, this should be their main purpose. Evil is real and Christians must be willing to stand before the onslaught and protect the innocent. Again, this will almost always occur in situations that donít involve violence, but sometimes evil uses guns. If we are not willing to sacrifice in any number of ways for those who canít protect themselves, then our world will remain unredeemed.
3. Jesus calls us to abandon our compulsions of power and control.
Letís face it. A big part of the reason that Americans canít let go of our guns is we are enamored with the feelings of power and invincibility they give us. They feed our desire to be seen as macho and manly. The presence of a gun inevitably shifts the balance of power in any given situation and we are always looking for ways to be stronger and more dominant, to take control. Deep down we feel that if we have a gun, then we will never again be a victim, that we canít be taken advantage of. Perhaps we can avoid all the worry and pain of the world if we just have a way to ďdefend ourselvesĒ, which all too often is a pretense for the ability to lash out. One of the great themes of Jesusí life (and especially of his temptations in the desert) is his deliberate rejection of humanityís obsession with the pursuit of power (Philippians 2:6-11). We are always seeking ways to control the world around us instead of submitting to his will and his plan. Our love affair with guns can be defended as constitutional, but Iím afraid if we are honest we will have to come to terms with our less noble motivations.
There will always be criminals. Criminals will always want weapons. There will also sometimes be crackpots with a license, who have no business carrying the guns the government allows them to have. Policy has its place but it isnít enough. Criminals, guns, and violence will always be chaotic and unpredictable and impossible to keep fully in check. I wish I had an answer. I wish I was wiser. But Iím still somewhat confused and confounded. And so I will turn to the One who has the answers, who holds the future, and who can ultimately redeem our violent world. I will turn to my faith, to my Lord, not to the guns tucked away in a closet, for the answers that I seek. And I trust. I trust in his plan, his control, and in the fact that for His people, no matter what happens, eventually everything turns out alright.
Neal A. Whitlow lives in Augusta, KS and is married to his church camp sweetheart, Jayme.† They are lucky to have three terrific children and zero pets.† He is not a minister but he used to be, and he still loves talking about Jesus.† Now he works in the blessedly stress-free but thoroughly unexciting world of wholesale tires. You can reach him at [email@example.com].