Thursday, 1 March 2018

American Christians and Gun Control

Speaking as someone who lives in the United Kingdom, one topic that makes news headlines here with distressing frequency is mass shootings in the United States.

It seems rare for more than a few months to go by without the top story again being an incident of tragic gun violence in the US. And whenever this happens, there are also interviews with people who have been affected by it. Every time, some of them say that American laws on gun control need to change radically, while others are opposed this.

Quite often some of the interviewees are specifically identified as evangelical Christians. And from what I have seen, American evangelicals are usually opposed to gun control laws being significantly tightened.

In view of all this, I am convinced of two things. First, gun control laws in the US should be made much more restrictive. And second, the attitude of American Christians who oppose greater restrictions is helping to put people around the world off the Christian gospel.

In what follows I will make a case for these points.


I need to say at the outset that I am not an American citizen. I am a British national who lives in Britain. So I suspect that some who are reading this might think that I should not intrude into what is an American matter.

However, I believe strongly that it is appropriate for me to comment on this issue. There are several reasons for this:

First, if it is true, as I believe firmly it is, that lives are needlessly being lost and that people are needlessly being put off salvation in Christ, this far outweighs any issue of national identity.

Second, the ties that bind Christians go far deeper than the ties that bind people of the same earthly nation. We Christians are the children of God. So since I believe that some of my brothers and sisters are making a terrible mistake about something, it is reasonable for me to try to persuade them to change their views.

Third, my motivation for writing this article is only to make constructive criticism. I am not trying to judge anyone. 

Fourth, I think my own country probably has more failings in God’s sight than the US. That is my sincere opinion. So I am in no way writing from some imagined position of superiority. 

Fifth, if American Christians were to write constructively criticizing the church in the UK, and if the criticism were justified – which it is not difficult to believe it would be – then I would be the first to say “Amen.” I would actually warmly welcome writings of this kind.

In view of these points, I hope that American readers of this article will agree that it is appropriate for me to give my views on this topic. In fact, I hope that some might even welcome the perspective of an evangelical living outside America.


From what I have seen, those who oppose significantly restricting gun laws in the US use the same few arguments repeatedly. In what follows, I will begin by referring to what seem to be the main ones and give what I believe are good answers.

Then I will turn to consider what influence this issue has on people’s attitudes to the Christian faith.


Those American Christians who want to keep gun laws more or less as they are often appeal to freedom to try to make their case. It is frequently said that America is a free country and that restricting the ability of people to own guns of any kind would contradict this.

This thinking is very misguided.

A free country

Importantly, when Western people refer to a certain country being a free country, what they typically have in mind are freedom of speech and the freedom for people to practice the religion of their choice. America, of course, has a long tradition of having and supporting these things.

However, gun control is not remotely in the same bracket as these types of freedom. It is an issue of public safety that involves situations where people get caught up unwillingly in life-threatening danger. And in such cases, it is reasonable for a government to potentially deny freedoms, so as to protect people.

Furthermore, as Christians, we recognize that it is often good for the law to deny people a freedom. For example, the freedom for a person to commit suicide is a bad one. And in this case, God surely wants American law to deny people this freedom. We could think of many other examples too, where it is good for the law to deny people the freedom to do something bad.

It is a big mistake, then, to think that the more freedoms a country allows, the better. That would be nothing other than anarchy.

A scale of weaponry

When considering the issue of guns and freedom, it is also important not to treat guns in isolation from other weapons.

We can think of weaponry on a scale from the least deadly through to the most deadly. Low down the list come knives. Higher up are single-shot guns and then repeating guns. Even further up come rocket-propelled grenades, tanks and jet fighter-bombers. And right at the top are nuclear weapons.

Of course, this list is far from exhaustive, and there is some room for debate about where on the list each item should stand. But the point I am making is simply that each kind of gun would be at some place on a scale of deadly weapons that includes weapons other than guns.

It is important to recognize that every country in the world allows its citizens the freedom to possess some items on this list and denies them the freedom to possess other things. Nowhere in the world are people denied the freedom to own a small knife. And nowhere allows private citizens the freedom to own a nuclear weapon.

At present, the US allows its citizens to possess weapons that are much higher up the list than most other countries. But, like all other countries, it draws the line somewhere.

However, very few Americans would say that because America is a free country, a private citizen should be allowed to own and use a weaponized fighter-bomber. But why would denying people the ability to have one of these not contradict America being a free country while denying people the ability to have a machine gun would contradict this? That would be inconsistent. The only difference is that a machine gun and a fighter-bomber are at different places on the list.

Those who agree, then, that American freedom doesn’t mean that people should be allowed to own a weaponized jet or a nuclear weapon, are being inconsistent if they say that denying people the ability to own any kind of gun would contradict this freedom.

Self-defense and freedom

I think in response to what I have just said, some might want to argue as follows:

It is too simplistic to view all weapons as being on a single scale. Instead, there are two scales: weapons that can be used for personal self-defense and weapons that can’t be used for personal self-defense. For people to be denied the ability to own and use any weapon that can be used for personal self-defense would contradict America being a free country.

The reasoning here, however, is fundamentally flawed. It should be clear that any weapon can at times serve for personal self-defense, whether by actually using it or by threatening to use it.

For example, if a man is threatening your family, you could tell him in no uncertain terms that unless he stops, you will use your aircraft to drop a bomb on his house!

It is reasonable, therefore, to see all weapons as being on a single scale. And the point still stands, that if someone agrees that denying people the ability to have a fighter jet or a nuclear weapon fits with American freedom, then it would be inconsistent to claim that denying them the ability to have any kind of gun would contradict this freedom.

Summing up

Appealing to the issue of freedom, then, when opposing restrictions on gun ownership in the US, doesn’t make sense. In fact, this issue says nothing about whether or not American gun laws should be changed.


Another argument that is used by those who oppose restrictions on gun ownership appeals to the second amendment of the US constitution. This amendment famously refers to “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”

I don’t claim to be an expert on American history. However, as far as I can tell, when this amendment was first introduced it served a useful purpose by giving people who needed it the ability to defend themselves.

Taking account of 18th century weaponry

We need to understand clearly, however, that guns were very different in those days. Today, the number of rounds that can be fired in a given space of time is vastly greater than it was back then. And it seems highly likely that if the weaponry that now exists had existed in those days, the amendment would have gone into more detail about what sorts of weapons a private citizen would be allowed to own.

Times change

Importantly too, the US has changed in many other complex and interlocking ways over the last two and a third centuries. So even if granting people the right to bear arms did more good than harm in the late 18th century, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the same is true today. Similarly, even if granting people the right to bear arms still does more good than harm today, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is good to grant them the right to bear any kind of arms.

It is wrong to force a model that was devised centuries ago onto a very different situation that exists today.


From what I have seen, some American Christians seem clearly to be guilty of idolatry in this area. They treat the US constitution as an object of false worship.

Incidentally, as a Brit I know all about this sort of idolatry. Here it is the monarchy and the queen that are idolized by many. For people of this mindset, the British constitution is something set in stone that must never, ever under any circumstance be changed. It is treated as an object of religious worship.

However, whenever we exalt any man-made system higher than we should and begin to worship it, we are committing a grave sin. Instead, we should always hold on to human institutions and constitutions loosely, with a willingness to modify them if it makes sense to do that.

Summing up

Appealing to the constitution, then, as a reason why tougher gun control laws should not be introduced is mistaken. This issue is another that really says nothing about whether or not American gun laws should be changed.


So far I have argued that the issues of freedom and the US constitution say nothing about whether American gun control laws should be significantly changed or not.

Now I will move on to give an argument in support of radically changing US laws in this area. I am convinced that it is a compelling argument.

The right to defend oneself and one’s family

Probably the most commonly used argument by those who want to keep American gun laws more or less as they are appeals to the ability of people to defend themselves and their families. Many Americans, including Christians, are outraged by the thought of having their ability to defend themselves taken away. They want to be allowed to buy guns so that they can stop evildoers from harming them. And they therefore want the current laws to remain the same or almost the same.

Confusing two things

There is some seriously flawed reasoning going on here. Let’s think this through very carefully.

To begin with, having seen many interviews with people who use this argument, it seems clear to me that they are confusing two things. First, they want to maximize their ability to defend themselves and their families. And second, they want to minimize the likelihood of themselves and their families being killed or injured by bad guys with guns or other weapons.

The critical mistake here is to assume that these two things necessarily go together. Crucially, they are actually separate issues.

It is absolutely essential to grasp this point. Increased ability to defend does not necessarily mean decreased likelihood of suffering injury or death at the hands of evildoers. In fact, sometimes increased ability to defend means increased likelihood of suffering injury and death, as I will explain in what follows.

Those who want to attack and defend

Ideally, the American government would prevent those who will use guns for evil from getting their hands on them, but they would allow those who will use them for defense to have them.

Importantly, however, it is not possible to see inside people’s souls to see what they are planning. So when a country makes it easy for defenders to get guns, it also makes it easy for attackers to get guns.

Similarly, when a country makes it hard for defenders to get guns, it makes it hard for attackers to get guns.

Comparing countries

In the US it is relatively easy for people to buy guns. So the upside here is that those who want to use guns for good in defending people can easily get hold of them. But the downside is that those who want to use guns for evil in attacking people can also easily get hold of them.

Compared to the US, in all other Western countries, it is relatively hard to buy guns. The upside here is that it is hard for those who want to use guns for evil to get hold of them. And the downside is that it is hard for those who want to use guns for good to get hold of them.

Which is better?

So in each way of doing things there is an upside and a downside. The question therefore needs to be asked, which is the better system? Is it safer to allow would-be attackers and would-be defenders to easily get guns? Or is it safer to prevent would-be attackers and would-be defenders from getting guns?

The answer to this question is crystal clear. The statistics for gun-related deaths show that there are far, far more of these in the US than in any other Western country.

For example, in the US the average person is 25 times more likely to be killed by gun violence than here in the UK. And other Western countries are also much safer than the US in this respect.

This means that when considering protecting people from gun violence, it is vastly more important to prevent the bad guys having guns than it is to allow the good guys to have guns.

By allowing defenders to easily have guns, US laws unintentionally allow attackers to have guns too. And the harm caused by allowing the attackers to get guns massively outweighs the good caused by allowing defenders to get guns.

So by increasing the ability to defend, people are actually increasing the probability of themselves and their loved ones being killed or injured by gun violence.

To put it bluntly, the system in the US is terribly flawed. The priority is all wrong.

Not a surprise

The statistics comparing gun violence between the US and other Western countries shouldn’t actually cause us any surprise. It is clear that those who use guns to attack have a huge advantage over those who use them to defend.

The attacker always fires first. And it literally takes a fraction of a second to do so.

Nor does the victim even have to see the attacker. The attacker can easily shoot someone in the back.

Furthermore, those Americans who want to have guns so that they can defend their families should realize clearly that most of the time they are not in the same location as their families anyway. Instead, their families are out there somewhere in a country that makes it relatively easy for would-be attackers to possess guns.


If American laws on gun control were to change to match those of other Western countries, many lives would undoubtedly be saved.

It is true that reducing the ability of people to defend themselves would mean that some would be killed or injured who would otherwise live or remain uninjured. But many, many more would live or remain uninjured who would otherwise be killed or injured.

And for each individual person, there would be a drastically reduced probability of being killed or injured by gun violence.

I think the only group of people who would become less safe would be those who at present possess guns, have bullet-proof glass in their windows and almost never leave their house. But virtually no one lives like that.

I am sure that some people, even when confronted with the statistics comparing the US with other Western countries, will still think that they will be safer if they can have free access to guns to defend themselves. They have images in their mind of being able to use a weapon to protect themselves and their family.

I would suggest, however, that this attitude is very unrealistic and shows a high degree of overconfidence. When guns are used, attackers are always at an enormous advantage over defenders. So the key priority should be to make it difficult for attackers to get hold of guns. And because we usually can’t tell who the attackers will be, this will necessarily, and regrettably, mean making it difficult for defenders to get hold of guns too.


Let me say a few words about how this issue looks from my experience of living in the UK.

I own no gun, nor do I know anyone who owns a gun. Military grade weapons are illegal here and so are hand guns. Farmers in my area commonly have shotguns, and a few people have hunting rifles. Background checks for anyone owning any gun are extensive.

If someone were to attack me with a gun, I would have no way of fighting back. However, I also know that it is very difficult for people who would want to harm me to get their hands on guns too. And I know that the police and secret services have their ears to the ground to stop people breaking the law in this respect. So the chances of me being attacked with a gun are extremely low.

The alternative scenario, where I have a gun, say a hand gun, and so do many people living in my neighborhood, seems a much more dangerous prospect to me. I am so glad that this is not possible here. It feels far safer for guns to be restricted. And my feelings must be right, because statistical comparisons between the US and other Western countries proves this anyway, as I have noted above.


If the US radically changed its policy on guns, many lives would surely be saved. However, that is not my main motivation for writing this article. There is another, even more important reason why the American laws on guns are so damaging. The attitude of some American Christians to gun control is doubtless helping to put people off the Christian faith.

News spreads quickly and easily

We live in a world where news can easily spread to the other side of the world in a matter of seconds. When something is reported widely in mainstream media, literally billions of people hear about it. So there is no doubt that billions of people, or at the very least hundreds of millions, hear about each mass shooting in the US.

However, many of these people will also see interviews with those affected by the violence. And, as I have noted, many of these state that they don’t want the laws to change, including some who are identified as Christians.

Ignorance of the Christian faith

Something else that should be regarded as a fact is that most people in the world know very little about the true Christian faith. Even in most Western countries, huge numbers of people have no idea what our faith is really all about. And in many other parts of the world the problem is greater still.

Damaging thought processes

Jesus Christ is the only way for people to be saved from eternal judgment. So people desperately need to hear and believe the gospel message.

However, I am sure that the following, or something close to it, often happens:

First, a non-Christian somewhere in the world sees a news report of a mass shooting in the US using military grade assault rifles. A reporter or commentator then mentions that in the US it is legal for people to own these sorts of weapons. The non-Christian thinks to himself or herself that it is a very bad idea for this to be legal.

Second, this non-Christian then sees an interview with someone affected by the tragedy, perhaps someone whose relative has been shot. This person is identified as a Christian and makes it clear that they don’t want the gun laws to be tightened. The non-Christian finds this attitude extremely foolish.

Third, the non-Christian, partly subconsciously, connects foolishness with Christianity, and they are put off the Christian faith.

Of course, many non-Christians seeing an interview of this kind will be aware that a large majority of Christians worldwide agree with them that it is a very bad idea for people to be able to own military grade rifles.

But many won’t be aware that most Christians take this view. Nor will they intend to look into the issue. The fact of the matter is that people often have poor understanding of things and don’t think things through properly. People frequently form superficial judgments on things.

I myself have seen interviews in the mainstream media with American Christians affected by mass shootings, who have said that they don’t want gun laws to be tightened. And If I have seen these, I am sure that at least hundreds of millions of people worldwide have seen the same sorts of interviews. So, given the huge numbers of people involved, there should be no doubt that more than a few non-Christians will reason in the way I have just outlined.


I hope that I haven’t come across in this article as a condescending and judgmental foreigner. That hasn’t been my intention at all. I have only been trying to make constructive criticism. But I do want to speak out clearly on this important issue.

I have argued that the American gun control laws, as they currently exist, are very harmful.

At present in the US, the priority is to allow would-be defenders, the good guys, to get hold of guns.

This, however, is a terrible mistake. Instead, the priority should be to prevent would-be attackers from getting guns. If this were done, the number of people killed and injured in gun violence would certainly be massively reduced. We know this for sure, because this is the priority in all other Western countries and the statistics prove that this is by far the better approach.

I have also argued that the attitude of some American Christians towards gun control is helping to put people off the gospel around the world. I am unsure how extensive this problem is, but I would expect it to be significant. When a Christian who has suffered in a mass shooting appears in the media saying that the laws shouldn’t change, this can only serve to put some people off the faith.

I would therefore urge those of my American brothers and sisters who are currently opposed to radically changing gun laws in the US to reconsider.

It is worth saying too that I am not aware of any other group of Christians anywhere in the world who want American-style gun laws in their country. And that includes evangelicals. This is one topic where evangelicals outside America look at the attitude of many American evangelicals with puzzlement and dismay. To us, it seems so obvious that the American system on this issue is badly broken.

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