Why Christians must compromise on gun control

The gun-control discussions that emerged after the Connecticut school shooting a month ago will test our ability to engage in compromise and civil discussion. As a Christian, a gun owner, a public-policy analyst and a Constitutional scholar I think the debate has been poorly framed. I believe there is common ground to be had if we are all willing to step back and consider what is driving our own perspectives on this issue.

When I travel the country talking with Christians about public policy and what it means to engage in civil disagreement one concern is always raised: “If Christians know how God wants us to live in the world, how can we compromise with those we know to be wrong? Can we compromise on God’s word?”

I believe that compromise can be part of Biblical engagement on public policy, but it depends on what we mean by this. It also depends on what we believe to be the purpose of government. If we believe that government is the tool by which God’s rule is to be asserted on earth, then compromise is difficult. But, if we believe that the church and the government have different tasks, then our understanding of what God wants our government to be changes.

Both the Old and the New Testaments encourage us to think about government as under God’s authority, but they also suggest that the purpose of government is to pursue public civic justice in what we know is a broken but redeemed creation. With this approach, compromise with others is part of the tact we take in figuring out what justice in different circumstances might require.

Many people who see gun control as an answer to school shootings have little experience with guns. Those who view gun control as the first step to government quashing of the Constitution, however, have little experience with public policy. Neither perspective, alone, is helpful in thinking through how to reduce violence in our country. Both sides are going to have to try to understand resistance to their perspective if any sort of progress is going to be made.

I grew up outside of Chicago in the 1970s and at that time I didn’t know anyone who admitted to owning a gun. When you live in a dense urban area, the idea that tempers frayed by heat, traffic or crowds could lead to people pulling out their weapons is terrifying.

But when I moved to the northwest, owners of firearms suddenly were my neighbors and the people I went to church with. At first I thought they were all crazy, but as I talked with people who see their firearms as an extension of themselves, my perspective started to change. Then, a former student taught me how to respect and handle a gun. I learned to shoot and I discovered how very good at it I am. I am still a city kid at heart, but I also believe that everyone should understand how a gun works, should learn to shoot and should understand that the ability to defend one’s home against intruders is an integral part of how some people see themselves.

But, those who claim the Constitution as a defense against gun control misunderstand constitutional history. The Second Amendment, like all Constitutional rights, is not absolute. Historically, every Constitutional right has been limited under certain circumstances. Free speech, religious freedom, equal protection - government restricts all of these rights when there is a great, compelling social need. It is absolutely true that we must all be on guard against the power of an unrestrained government, but this is why the Constitution makes public policy so hard. There are so many layers embedded in policy construction that slow down the process because, as James Madison said, “men are not angels.” Power must be pitted against power to keep one group from taking over. 

Our system is set up for compromise, and compromise does not have to be a dirty word. In my experience the best public-policy solutions will evolve when everyone at the table tries to understand the perspective of the other side. If we do this, then what seems like compromise actually becomes a more fully developed understanding of the complexity of public policy issues.

Comments (6)

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Read the entire article but did not see any suggestions of what a reasonable compromise might be. If we, as Christians, believe at the core that so much violence is really a spiritual warfare issue, shouldn't other issues be the major part of the discussion?
One approach would be to suggest a Constitutional Amendment process. The 2nd Amendment and the historical record around it are clear. The right to arms was to ensure that the people could protect themselves from tyranny. If we believe that the time has come to revisit that, then the only legal way to do so is to amend the clear language of the amendment. That is the honest way of dealing with the issue. Anything else is a refusal to submit to the rule of law as instituted by the citizens.
http://www.darianburns.com
This is such a thoughtful column, which is so rare when anyone is talking about this issue. Thanks for giving me something to think about today.
Professor Stronks, I have a rather irreverent question about the Second Amendment. If it is predicated on the importance of a militia - to allow us to go into battle -how come the weapons regular folks get to possess are things like handguns? I wouldn't last long against a tank with a handgun. I'd rather own the tank. Or a fighter jet. Or perhaps a fully equipped aircraft carrier, assuming I can swing the financing.
Compromise is admirable, no doubt. But, what of consistency? As a Christian I hold firmly to the sanctity and value of all human life. This means I'm against abortions and the death penalty.
The 2nd Amendment is often an open door for protected, socially acceptable forms of violence: injuring or killing an intruder, for example.
How can we stand firmly for the right-to-life of the unborn sinner and so quickly walk away from the right-to-life of one caught in sin?
Surely 2nd Amendment freedoms don't supersede the consequence of exercising them without restraint.
The best argument for sane restrictions on gun is the Constitution itself. As the preamble makes clear, the purpose of the constitution is "to insure domestic tranquility." A professor at Biola University lays out the case pretty well. Pretty convincing--and controversial from the comments. He has a couple posts on the subject. Here's the link to the first post if anyone is interested: http://thegoodbookblog.com/2013/nov/18/seek-the-welfare-of-the-city-the-biblical-argument/

 

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