On the evening of June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof walked into Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church with a handgun in his pocket. He sat down during Bible study and patiently waited until his fellow parishioners put their heads down in prayer. Roof then stood up, pulled out his gun, and began firing. In total, he killed nine people before fleeing the scene. Roof was sentenced to death earlier this month. The tragedy shook the South Carolina community to its core.
As leaders explored ways to prevent something like this from happening again, the conversation inevitably shifted toward gun policy in the United States. As is often the case after mass shootings, two opposing opinions emerged in this debate. One side argues that stronger gun control measures must be implemented to achieve community safety. They advocate for stricter background checks, more “gun-free zones”, and restrictions on the types of guns/ammo that can be purchased.
The other side contends just the opposite, insisting that such measures would do nothing to stop criminals from getting guns and would only affect law-abiding citizens. Far from being the source of the problem, guns may actually be the answer to it; if someone in the AME church that night had been armed, they point out, the chances of stopping Dylann Roof would have been much higher.
The statistics don’t lie: Americans love their guns. In fact, the number of guns has now surpassed the total number of U.S. citizens. Concealed carry permits have also skyrocketed over the past decade – reaching an astounding 14.5 million last year. That’s a 210% increase since 2007.
We recently posted on Facebook about the findings of a study regarding gun ownership. According to research conducted at Wake Forest University, gun ownership in the U.S. is measurably lower among people who are involved in faith congregations. Interestingly, this suggests that the more religiously involved someone is, the less likely they are to own a gun. Some people were surprised by these findings, for cultural stereotypes often portray religious America as being primarily comprised of gun-toting Christians.
Morality of Guns
Beyond political measures, there exists a fundamental moral debate surrounding gun ownership and use. For example, religious anti-gun activists often cite “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13) as an overarching rule which ought to preclude anyone from purchasing a firearm. In their mind, owning a gun indicates an intent to harm, and indeed to kill.
Pro-gun people of faith, on the other hand, view such thinking as overly-simplistic. Not everyone who carries a gun wants to kill others, they say. However, there are certain situations where self-defense is necessary. If an incident were to occur, gun owners point out that they can fight back. In fact, not doing so could be a sin – they insist that allowing evil to go unchecked is far worse than refusing to stop it if you have the capability.
Does Religion Take Sides?
It seems that there are faith-based arguments to be made on either side of this issue. What is more sinful? The violent tendencies of a gun owner, or the inaction of an unarmed bystander? The director of the Wake Forest study, David Yamane, offered his own conclusion: “It is tempting for groups on both sides of the great gun debates in the United States to co-opt ‘religion’ for their side. But neither side has a monopoly on people of faith in America. That is a very important story this study tells.”
Given the numerous mass shootings that have occurred in the U.S. and around the world in recent years, it’s only natural to seek meaningful solutions. As we’ve outlined, the stark disagreement revolves around what those solutions ought to be. Some folks want more efficient, targeted gun control policies. Others insist that we have plenty of those measures already on the books, and they are not working.
Should we promote more gun control measures, or instead try fighting fire with fire? Where do your religious beliefs guide you in the debate over gun policy?