Can You Believe It?

In The Nick of Time
Here’s a news story you aren’t likely to see anywhere else:

MUSKAGOOLA, MISSISSIPPI. A lone gunman opened fire in the Muskagoola police station today, killing thirty officers before committing suicide. The gunman, who has yet to be identified by the surviving authorities, is thought to be a former mental patient. He began his attack at the front desk, killing the dispatcher and two detectives before stalking through the facility and shooting officers at will. As the police scrambled to evacuate the facility, one was heard to remark, “Let the prisoners fend for themselves!” Only when confronted by an enraged grandmother with knitting needles did the gunman bring the rampage to an end by turning his gun on himself.

You will never read this story anywhere else for three reasons. First, no self-respecting paper would publish anything that badly written. Second, no self-respecting police department would let a granny carry her knitting needles in the station. Third, no self-respecting lunatic would be stupid enough to open fire in a police station.

Have you noticed that we get mass shootings in schools and post offices but hardly ever in police stations? There is a reason for this disparity.

Police carry guns.

If someone shoots them, they shoot back. A nut with a gun can assault a police station only for the length of time that it takes the officers to draw and fire. Game over. The good guys win.

That is the way that it should be. It is right for police officers to defend their lives against an unprovoked and deadly assault. But that’s not just true of police officers. It is right for all people to defend themselves against assaults upon their lives, their homes, and their loved ones.

The right to defend one’s life is the most basic human right. Making allowances for the possibility of just wars and for executions after due process of law, no human has the right to deprive another of life. Except, that is, when defending one’s life, home, and loved ones against attack. Under those circumstances, taking the life of the attacker is completely justified.

All other rights build upon the right to defend one’s life. If you have no right to defend yourself, then any other right can be overridden by the simple expedient of homicide. After you’re dead, you can’t petition for redress of grievances.

Some Christians have entertained the conviction that they ought not to defend themselves, even when in peril for their lives. While I question their understanding of Scripture, I do not doubt their sincerity. They may honestly act according to their convictions. What they must not do, however, is to abridge the right of others to defend their own lives.

In some cases, defense is more than optional; it is obligatory. As a husband and father, I have a fundamental duty to protect the lives of my wife and the children who live in my home. It is my responsibility to deal with any attacker who wishes to harm them. Under no circumstances may I rightly shirk this duty. Under no circumstances may I surrender it to others. While some others (peace officers, for example) may also have a duty to protect my family, their duty does not replace my own. At least until a policeman can arrive at the scene, the duty remains with me.

The right to defend one’s life and the duty to defend one’s family imply the right to possess an appropriate instrument of defense. An appropriate instrument is one that is adequate to deal with any foreseeable threat. If the threat includes firearms, then the means of defense must also include firearms.

This implies that laws which deprive ordinary citizens of the possession of firearms are, without exception, unjust laws. Convicted criminals and the insane are not ordinary citizens, and it is just to keep guns out of their hands. Juveniles are not yet citizens in the sense of fully responsible participants, and it is just to regulate their use of firearms. But ordinary people of every stripe (male, female, rich, poor, black, white) have an unbridgeable right to keep and bear arms. This right is recognized in the Constitution of the United States, but it is not created by the Constitution. It is as fundamental as the right to defend one’s life and home.

To be sure, guns will be used wrongly and even criminally by some people. Evil people may do terrible things with firearms. They may even go on killing sprees against the innocent. But we do not deprive the populace of guns simply because criminals use guns to commit evil deeds, for the same reason that we do not deprive the populace of pens simply because some journalists use pens to publish lies (lies that may kill more people than a shooter on a rampage could imagine).

Still, we weep for the victims of the rampages: teenagers whose biggest worry should be what to wear to the malt shop, little Amish girls in their country school, university students full of potential. Can nothing be done to stop this monstrosity?

Yes.

Remember the police station.

Even a lunatic knows better than to start shooting where people shoot back.

Without exception, the mass killings have been perpetrated in places where the perpetrator believed that the victims had been disarmed. No one in these places was allowed to possess the appropriate instruments of defense. No one was present who had the power to defend his life and the lives of those around him.

No one could shoot back.

The solution is glaringly obvious. Ordinary people always have the right to defend their lives. They always have the right to the appropriate instruments of defense. And the laws of the land must recognize this right.

Many (most?) states now have “shall-issue” legislation that recognizes the right of ordinary citizens to go armed. Every state should pass such a law, and every state should require that all public institutions respect it. All adult citizens should be allowed to arm themselves in public places, including government-funded institutions such as colleges and universities.

Laws that prohibit criminals from possessing guns are not necessarily bad, but they are pointless. Any criminal who really wants a gun can get one, even in countries that have draconian gun-control laws. Making a handgun takes about 10 minutes for someone who knows how. Criminals are not likely to give up their guns. Only victims are. That is no solution at all.

A True Hymn

George Herbert (1593-1633)

Joy, my Life, my Crown!
My heart was meaning all the day,
Somewhat it fain would say,
And still it runneth muttering up and down
With only this, My Joy, my Life, my Crown!

Yet slight not those few words;
If truly said, they may take part
Among the best in art:
The fineness which a hymn or psalm affords
Is, when the soul unto the lines accord.

He who craves all the mind,
And all the soul, and strength, and time,
If the words only rhyme,
Justly complains that somewhat is behind
To make His verse, or write a hymn in kind.

Whereas if the heart be moved,
Although the verse be somewhat scant,
God doth supply the want;
As when the heart says, sighing to be approved,
“O, could I love!” and stops, God writeth, “Loved.”

Kevin BauderThis essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
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