By Charlie F.
The following is an exchange via social media between the author and an inquisitive, gun-skeptical friend who found out that the author owns a gun.
Friend: Why do you have it?
Me: I carry it in order to take personal responsibility for the safety of myself and my family. I understand the role that the police play in safety, but they can only respond once a crime occurs or by their happenstance presence at the right moment deter or delay a crime from being committed. I do not carry in order to be a vigilante or respond to crime as a first responder. I carry to deter and/or prevent violent actions against me and my family, and in certain situations those in my immediate vicinity . . .
I carry a gun for the same reason you might have a first aid kit or fire extinguisher in your home. When bad things happen to you, the person closest to the problem is YOU. If you have the tools and training to respond, the outcome is much more likely to be positive, or at least the negative outcome will be limited.
Friend: I see that you are making a presumption that people can be dangerous and threats can come at any moment or place, which may be true. I can really relate to wanting to protect my family from these people or threats. I wonder if there are effective and less harmful “weapons” or tactics that could be good alternatives to prevent any accidental or unjustified injury or death. Perhaps pepper spray? Perhaps some self defense tactics, such as using your keys to temporarily debilitate the perpetrator to give you enough time to leave the scene?
Fighting violence with a violent weapon seems counter productive to me. What role can words and prayer play? I’m curious what biblical/theological support you have for your stance? I hope you receive my tone correctly as I know this is a heated subject and I can tell you are quite passionate. I don’t want to argue; I am genuinely curious to know the justification for your stance.
Me: I understand where you’re coming from. It is actually quite refreshing to have these questions posed so thoughtfully, many people tend to come at this with a certain cognitive dissonance (for AND against) that does not allow rational, reasoned discussion.
First of all, let me make myself clear on one point: I’m not making a presumption that people can be dangerous and threats can come at any moment or place, I’m making an observation. It is clear that there are elements in any society that seek to take advantage of others for their own personal gain, and there are elements in society that are simply unbalanced, misguided, or “evil” (however you choose to define that) and commit acts of violence for any number of reasons. This is not debatable, and I think the need for your services as a humanitarian in poverty-stricken, often war-torn lands only serves as an example of this. We could argue for hours WHY this is the case, but we cannot disagree that it is in fact a reality of life. So again, not a presumption, an observation.
You wonder if there are effective and less harmful weapons or tactics that could be employed, and the answer is a resounding kind of. There is a continuum of responses to violent encounters, and generally the effectiveness increases with the lethality. I’m going to assume from this point forward that the option to retreat is not viable in the immediate time frame of the encounter. Personally I’d always choose retreat over conflict, or better yet avoid the chance of a conflict all together through heightened situational awareness or refusing to engage in behavior that may lead to escalation of a potential violent encounter.
So now we delve into this continuum of responses. Pepper spray is an option, but it has very low range and if you don’t hit in just the right spot it will be very ineffective. Physical self-defense tactics are an option, but require a very long learning curve and extensive training to be reasonably effective, and can be nullified by even moderate differences in size between the attacker and the defender. Using your keys as a weapon (and I’m not trying to be rude) is laughably unreasonable unless you’re an expert in martial arts of some type, which brings us back around to the learning curve problem.
A kuboton or other device attached to your key ring is more effective than actual keys, but once again the advantage of such a weapon can be nullified by a larger attacker and is contingent on extensive training. Knives are an option, but once again, outside of slashing and stabbing wildly it takes extensive training to wield properly. The common theme among these options is the need for extensive training, and another common theme of these scenarios require arms-length engagement, which is very risky and something I’d rather avoid.
Then you get to the presumption that any encounter you end up in will allow the use of these less-lethal or non-lethal responses. To sum it up in very simple terms, you find yourself bringing a key ring to a boxing or wrestling match with an oversized opponent, bringing pepper spray to a knife fight, bringing a knife to a gun fight…you get the point.
There is a reason why police officers carry a range of weapons, which is so they can choose the best tool to respond to a violent encounter based on their read of the situation. Police officers generally carry mace, a baton, a Taser, and a gun, often with some more serious firepower in the cruiser such as a shotgun or rifle. I imagine they also have a multi-tool or some other kind of blade. I don’t have the luxury of carrying all of these items around. I can choose one, maybe two tools for self-defense. Given this personal limitation, I’d much rather carry the most effective tool for the job.
Enter the firearm. The firearm is an equalizer. It allows a feeble man of 90 to stop a home invasion by multiple thugs or a young college girl alone in a parking lot to defend herself against a young man in his 20s intent on murder or rape. It has the capability to stop someone intent on harming you from ever getting close enough to have a reasonable chance of doing so. It has more room for error than trying to pepper spray someone right in the eyes or strike with a blunt object (kuboton, etc.) into a specific area of weakness.
The use of a firearm in the hands of a citizen to prevent or respond to a crime each year numbers in the millions using liberal estimates, and even the most conservative estimates by groups who seek to disarm civilians put defensive gun uses (DGUs) in the tens of thousands each year. So once again, it isn’t a presumption that guns in the hands of responsible citizens have an impact on crime; it is an observation that cannot be reasonably denied.
I think the real substance of your question hinges on the moral aspect, i.e., meeting violence with violence, and how I square my outlook with my faith and moral reasoning. I’ll start with another observation, one of those sad truths that none the less we deny at our own peril. Once someone intent on harming others enters into the commission of a violent act, the most effective response is immediate, swift, violent action to stop it. My responding to an armed attacker with a weapon of my own isn’t escalating anything, the person on the receiving end has already taken the situation to a point at which people are going to be hurt or killed, and at that point the only question is how many innocent people will be injured or lose their lives before someone or something puts a stop to the act of violence.
Sometimes we get lucky and a lull in the act allows negotiation or some other peaceful resolution, or perhaps a less than lethal response by the trained authorities. But in the moment, when seconds count, one cannot sit back and presume that the chance will present itself. When a police officer is fired upon, they don’t hunker down and try to talk it out. They shoot back, and call in backup so that they get more guns pointing away from them than they have pointed at them. Sometimes the perpetrators live long enough to see the firepower arrayed against them, take up negotiation, and give up. Sometimes they don’t. But the initial response to malicious violence nearly always needs to be violent. I say this with a heavy heart, but it is true.
Now regarding my faith. As a Christian I have absolute trust in God to carry me through any circumstance and to protect me against all enemies. But just as I recognize that God routinely uses the skills of doctors and the technology of modern medical facilities to heal people (though he does do the miraculous, I have witnessed this myself), he also allows us to participate in our protection. He may step in and miraculously deliver us from evil, as He does numerous times in the Bible, or He may intervene through us, as He also does in the Bible.
My decision to carry a weapon followed serious moral reasoning and, more importantly, much prayer. If I felt that God was telling me that I am not to carry a weapon, I would obey. But I have not felt that call, and so I trust that God will give me the strength and reasoning to make the correct choice in the use of my firearm if ever I find myself in such a situation.
I’ve also explained above that I find all life precious, and I know that God’s arm is never shortened that he cannot save. The young man who robs a liquor store to feed his heroin addiction may very well find himself in a place down the road to accept Christ. But I am not a sage; I cannot discern the future unless God reveals it to me. Should that day come when I’ll need to use my gun to save myself or someone else, I do not relish the thought of potentially ending someone’s life who has potentially (and in this case, likely) not received Jesus. I would need to live with that for the rest of my life.
But perhaps that person, without my intervention, would go on to end the lives of countless other people who likewise did not have salvation. Perhaps God will spare his life, and use the experience to change him in the correctional system. There are a lot of “perhaps” conditions to armed response, but I’ve made the decision that God can handle eternity, I’ll live in the present and respond as I feel led.
I believe that, if I’m walking as I should and I’m receptive to the will of God, that even split-second decisions of the life or death variety can be impacted by His hand, even if in the moment I don’t consciously feel it. I trust God that he’ll help me in such an event to do the right thing. When I die, I will be held accountable for my actions. All will be made clear to me, and in that moment I will understand in an instant all the times I let God down, all the times I failed to live to His standard, to follow His plan. I believe, in that moment, I’ll see far more people I failed to impact spiritually who exit their life on the wrong side of eternity, than the unfortunate one who was lost because I ended his life physically.
OK, so that’s that. Long winded, but you had some deep questions. I look forward to your responses.