There may be a logically consistent argument for unrestricted gun ownership, but this isn’t it

When yet another US school shooting happens – and it is pretty much always a US event – the arguments about guns inevitably come up again. I have no intention of picking a particular fight about that here. I have friends who are pro-gun (guess where most of them live) and others who are not. I do think there are cogent arguments in favour of gun ownership – that is to say, arguments which are logically consistent and make sense within a particular frame of thinking – I just remain deeply unconvinced by them. There are arguments I find more compelling.

But there are some arguments that are so bad that nobody should be making them. Specifically, there is this from Franklin Graham:

First, there is the ‘guns don’t kill people. People kill people’ argument. By this same logic, we might argue for unrestricted Class A drug market. After all, you could pile up all the Class A drugs in Central Park and not a single drug would kill anyone. It takes a human being to plan and execute such drug selling and taking. If this is a legitimate argument for unrestricted gun ownership – even if made on the underlying, unstated principle of freedom – then it is equally a legitimate argument for unrestricted drug usage in the name of that very same freedom too.

Another inference Graham makes is that it is not really guns that are the problem, but violence depicted in video games, films and TV programmes. This argument could be part of the issue. But it will only take us so far. For what it seems to ignore is that other countries around the world also have a lot of violence depicted in video games, film and TV. Indeed, many of the specific films, TV shows and video games that Graham alludes to in his country are literally the same ones exported to other countries around the world. But those other countries, like Britain, are not seeing regular mass shootings.

Whilst it is possible that the entertainment industry might be part of what influences such things, we can demonstrably say it cannot be the ultimate cause of these things because we are not seeing the same things happening in other countries with equal access to the exact same violent media. Something else has to explain why these things happen in the USA with its violent media but not in Britain with the same violent media. As someone adroitly put it on Twitter:

The truth is, all the evidence we have points to one unerring fact. Ease of access to firearms correlates exactly with gun violence whereas restrictions on firearms correlates clearly with a reduction in gun violence. When you factor in, for example, that Britain has the same approach to entertainment – often even importing such entertainment from the USA – and has similar proportions of mental health issues within its population, but has vastly lower statistics on gun violence nor had a school shooting since 1996 (after which considerably tighter gun controls were introduced), the issue seems somewhat obvious. If you can, I would encourage you to look at the evidence presented by @post_liberal on twitter – who in painstaking and interminable detail offers up dozens of articles, studies and statistics all pointing in the same direction on this issue. The link between access to guns and gun violence is so clear as to be close to a scientific law.

The other argument Graham pushes is that only a work of God will transform the human heart. We might want to term this the ‘gospel argument’. Biblically, this has more apparent legs. It is certainly true that unless a heart is touched by the gospel, and changed by the Spirit of Christ, it will not morally change. And it is certainly true that a heart changed by Christ will also change morally, which will necessarily lead to behavioural change. So, without doubt, Jesus working in someone’s life will help regarding moral matters of behaviour for that individual.

The problem is, if the only thing that is necessary or worthwhile is gospel heart-change, we are left wondering why God gave Old Testament Israel any commands at all. Surely, as God’s people, they were sorted? Even if not all in Israel truly believed, and were therefore unregenerate, by this logic, there is nothing anyone could do so we just have to accept there will be some heinous sin against which there is no law. I assume Graham isn’t arguing that for today. I doubt he really believes, because gospel heart-change is the only thing that will work (a matter beyond any of our pay grades) that we shouldn’t enact any laws to restrain evil. Indeed, I know he doesn’t think this because he actively rejects this approach when it comes to the issue of abortion, for example. In that instance, he believes the restraint of evil requires legal restraint, not just waiting on a change by the Spirit that the Bible tells us clearly will not happen for every individual at any rate.

Because total depravity is something the Bible teaches, and we know not all will come to Christ, we have to accept that sinful people will necessarily sin. Given that sinful people will sin, it makes sense to limit their opportunities to sin. This is why God’s people – including the regenerate ones – had laws and restrictions placed upon them. It is the same reason why we recognise the need for any restrictive laws today. For example, we know that sinful people will seek access to harmful drugs and other sinful people will gladly exploit their desire for them. So we, entirely reasonably, seek to place restrictions on people’s access to these things. This is essentially what Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-14 are about. People’s hearts may not change, but the law nevertheless acts as a restraint upon their sinful desires. If we believe total depravity is real – and the bible tells us it is – it makes sense for us to use civil means to restrain their sinful desires when those specific sins will lead to the damage and destruction of others.

Given the prevalence of gun violence in the USA, doesn’t it make sense to recognise that sinful people will act sinfully and therefore place some restrictions on their ability to act in such sinful ways? Unless we want to argue that almost every other Western nation is somehow more righteous and less sinful than the USA (at least as far as wanting to kill people goes) – and I’m really not sure a) how you would measure that and b) it is borne out scripturally on any level – we can only reckon that tighter gun restrictions clearly have something to do with answering the problem because these things aren’t so seriously at issue where such laws are in place.

Whilst I do think seeking gospel change for our nations is absolutely right, the Bible does not let us use that as an excuse for not enacting righteous laws. Clearly many conservative Republicans recognise this as they have been taking the opportunity to roll back some legislation since the Roe v Wade repeal. Clearly there is a belief that restrictions on the unregenerate are entirely right and proper. They are not waiting for heart change and gospel advance when it comes to protecting the unborn (in my view, entirely rightly). They see the need to legally restrain evil in that case, specifically by limiting access to the means of carrying out that evil, which makes me wonder why they are so resistant to doing so when it comes to gun violence?

Let me say again, I think there are cogent arguments (that is to say, logically consistent arguments) for gun ownership that work within a certain frame of thought. Though I do think whatever argument you make will have to come with the underlying assumption that your reason necessarily trumps vast loss of life, an argument necessarily undermined when you (rightly) insist no similar reason exists to trump the loss of life in the unborn. You may well have such reasons that you think are so important mass shootings are a price worth paying. The principle of sufficient reason applied to gun laws, if you like. My plea here is simply to make those arguments, as opposed to the dubious and demonstrably thin ones – that owe more to soundbites than logical consistency or evidence – that Mr Graham makes above. At least that way we can have a discussion about which principle is the greater: freedom (if that is the sufficient reason) or the sanctity of life.