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Should Christians own guns for self-defense?

While restrictions and requirements differ from state to state, U.S. law generally allows for the ownership of firearms for purposes of self-defense (much less so in Canada). Whether we as Christians should exercise that right is a harder question.

Jesus said that his followers should “turn the other cheek” when struck by an assailant (Matt. 5:39) and strive to love their enemies (5:44). Because of this, Christian ethics has historically been somewhat skeptical about self-defense for believers. When affirmed, it is usually defended with philosophical reasoning rather than in direct biblical and theological terms.

John Calvin, for example, thought that Christians should be willing to allow themselves to be harmed and their possessions taken rather than retaliating against an enemy. Rather than defending themselves, he said, Christians should rely for their defense on public officials vested with responsibility for the common good (the “sword” of Romans 13, as in just war or just policing). By this principle, it would be hard for me to justify owning a gun to defend myself, but more defensible if I had serious reason for concern for, say, my family members and unreliable access to law enforcement authorities.

In addition to whether self-interest or concern for vulnerable others is the motivating factor, we should also consider whether we want to cultivate the mindset needed to use a deadly weapon properly under duress. We ask soldiers and police officers to cultivate that mindset as a sacrifice for the good of society. The fact that it can be a hard sacrifice is shown by what scholars call the painful “moral injury” that soldiers and police officers sometimes experience as a result of their profession’s involvement in violence, even when doing so lawfully and with moral justification.

Do we want to become the kind of people who are ready—primed, vigilant, suspicious—to harm a potential threat? This might be a sacrifice we are called to make on behalf of those we are responsible for. But if it is a matter of concern for ourselves, Christians have a significant reason to be willing to suffer evil: because we believe in grace and resurrection.

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