Many people in the US are asking this question in these grief-stricken days following the Newtown slayings. It’s the question that grieving parents and horrified witnesses are asking of anyone who is listening. It’s the question that my wife put to me recently. It is a question that should be answered. I have an answer for my wife and myself, but not for the grieving families and their friends. I do not offer it to the passionately invested. If you are one of them and have stumbled across this post, please consider not reading it. You see, I’m an expatriate American living at a distance from this tragedy. Consequently, my answer will most likely have an emotional quality which may appear cold, perhaps insensitive. I can see how families of the victims might be hurt or offended by the perceived coldness. It is not my desire to hurt or offend. I can only answer from my point of view.
Need. This is the load-bearing word in this question. It is the concept which tilts the question toward a specific answer. After all, we all know that there are things in life which are needed and not needed. Some things are necessary. Others are unnecessary. There are some who pose this question having already decided that a semi-automatic assault rifle is unnecessary. From them, this is a rhetorical question. For them, it is an expression of dismay and disbelief. I am also dismayed that someone would use such a weapon so perversely. Wickedly. But I am not dismayed that someone would own such a weapon. The are some who pose this question as a challenge, an invitation for justification. What I say in response is not an attempt to justify ownership of a semi-automatic rifle or any other firearm.
At this point in US history, I can not think of any private US citizen who needs such a powerful weapon. That does not mean that no citizen does in fact need one. That also does not mean that no citizen will ever need one in the future. I am open to both possibilities. Whether there is a need or not for private American citizens to own such a firearm is truly a matter of opinion. What is not an opinion is the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. Obviously the Second Amendment was not added to the Constitution as a direct answer to our question, but it is indispensible in answering it.
If the Second Amendment provides an answer to our question, it seems that the answer is for “the security of a free State”. Consider both wordings of the amendment as found on Wikipedia.
A) As passed by the Congress:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
B) As ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Apparently the authors and supporters of the amendment believed that the preservation of their new nation required that US citizens continue to own firearms. Yes, I said continue. People already owned firearms. The objective of the amendment was to prevent future legislation which would disarm the populace. They knew from experience that an armed populace had made it possible to resist King George, whom they saw as a tyrant. Deeply worried about the rise of tyrants, they wrote the Second Amendment. (It’s worth noting that the right to bear arms is second only to the right to free speech, religion, press and assembly.) To their way of thinking: if a State is going to remain free from abusive and oppressive rulers its citizens need to be armed.
So, do private citizens really need semi-automatic assault rifles to prevent tyranny in the United States? I understand why some people think so. I also understand why some other people think not. Whether needed or not, the right to own firearms, and a semi-automatic rifle is a firearm, is protected by the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The choice to own one or not belongs to each citizen.
Since this is supposed to be a blog about my thoughts on God, I want to bring this around to what I think Go would want of me (and all Christians) in the US at this time. First, I think God would want me to choose whether to exercise my Second Amendment right or not. Second, having chosen to exercise my constitutional right, God would want me to use my firearm of choice lawfully and morally. That means I would acquire a legal weapon through legal means. I would submit to the required background checks. If I decided to get a carry permit, I would take a handgun training course. If discharging my weapon would protect the life of my family, my neighbors or any other endangered person, I would hope to have the courage and skill to do so effective. Yes, even if that would mean killing another person. I would strive to use my weapon for good, not evil. And if the time came that the Second Amendment were lawfully repealed (there’s a legal process for repealing amendments) then I would pray for wisdom. It is possible that I would surrender my firearm. It is possible that I would not. If I were to surrender my weapon, I would not do so joyfully or with faith in the government to protect me, my family and my neighbors from criminals…or even from tyranny. I would do so with faith in God to sustain me and with the expectation that dark(er) days were ahead.