03/12/2005: Disaster has struck the Living Church of God at Brookfield, Wisconsin. During a Saturday night service at the Sheraton hotel at which the Church normally meets, a parishioner showed up with a gun, and opened fire on the congregation.
Four–including the gunman–died at the scene. Three others died at the hospital.
As authorities investigate, we will learn a number of things: (1) What set this gunman off? (2) What kind of gun did he use? (3) How did he obtain the gun? (4) Were the victims specifically targeted, or was the gunman shooting randomly?
As usual, we will hear the obligatory call for more gun laws. From a national standpoint, Wisconsin’s gun laws are middle-of-the-road. Wisconsin does not provide reciprocity for my Kentucky concealed carry (CCW) license, and also has waiting periods for handgun purchases. That is actually more restrictive than 37 other states, each of which have “shall issue” laws providing citizen acquisition of CCW licenses.
This shooting spree will also spark a significant debate about which gun nuts like myself do not always agree: should CCW holders carry their guns into church?
At a former church of mine, several of us had our CCW licenses. Some of them suggested that we carry our guns into church; after all, it is perfectly legal as long as the pastor permits it. Our pastor was ambivalent about it: he neither encouraged nor discouraged it.
I’ve only carried my gun to church a couple of times, both by accident (I had come in from an afternoon at the range and simply forgot to take it off). Aside from that, I believe carrying a gun to church is a bad idea for two reasons:
(1) It is impractical.
Currently, I go to Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. I am active in the children’s department (AWANA) on Wednesday nights and attend the singles classes and worship services on Sunday mornings. At a worship service, attendance is in the hundreds. In the Sunday School class, there are about 30 people; the room is fairly crowded.
If a nut case like our Wisconsin friend–or, worse yet–a team of thugs with assault rifles opens fire at such a gathering, there will be pandemonium. The gunman (or gunmen) could easily be fifty yards from my position. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of handguns knows that such a shot–under pressure–from that distance is pure idiocy. Target recongition would already be difficult, and hitting a parishioner from that distance is quite likely.
In the classroom where the singles class meets, everyone is fairly close-quartered. A counter-attack would require pivoting, drawing the gun, releasing the safety, aiming, and firing (without tripping over the persons next to or behind me). If my back is to the gunmen, they will already have me targeted. Worst case: I don’t get a shot off, but draw fire from the assailants, getting myself and the poor folks next to me killed.
At AWANA, it’s even thornier. There are at least 30 kids in my Truth and Training class. Carrying a gun would be risky. What if a curious child snatched it out of my holster and fired it? If it accidentally was made visible, I’d be more likely to scare kids off–or anger parents–than I would be likely to hit a hypothetical assailant.
It’s just not worth the trouble. Even a right-wing nut/gun enthusiast like myself can accept that reality.
(2) Such defense comes with little or no Biblical precedence.
I’m a Biblical fundamentalist. If you can show it to me in the Scriptures with substantive precedence, I’ll support it. If you can make a strong Biblical case AGAINST something, I’m reasonable: I’ll support you.
That said, I see no Biblical injunctive against gun ownership. I support the 2nd Amendment, as it provides a function of keeping the government honest (that’s the purpose of that Amendment) and it provides the citizen the means to defend his or her life and family from grave threats. There is no Biblical proscription against it. In fact, gun ownership–properly practiced–is an integral part of social order. Far from vigilanteism, it keeps the bad guys honest.
In the most substantive research regarding gun violence, John Lott and Gary Kleck have each shown that states with looser gun laws have lower violent crime rates than those with more Draconian gun laws. Lott has even shown that CCW states–after implementing CCW–showed significant drops in violent crime.
On the other hand, I see no precedence–Biblically or historically–for God’s people to arm themselves to ward off attackers during formal gatherings of worship. While Jesus did tell the disciples to get swords (Luke 22:36), He chastised Peter for cutting off Malchus’ ear, warning him that all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. (This is also a warning to CCW holders like myself: use of a gun–even in legitimate circumstances–carries severe consequences. I rationally accept those consequences.)
Other than this one move by Peter, there is no further instance in Scripture of him defending himself for preaching the Gospel. Similarly, there is no precedent for any of the other Apostles–even Paul, taking such action.
Historically, I don’t see Corrie Ten Boom doing it. I don’t see Tyndale doing it. Jim Elliot and Nate Saint didn’t carry guns on their mission trips to the Auca indians. I don’t see Christians in Sudan, Indonesia, Iran, or China doing it either.
An exception to this is a South African Christian I know. He was in the South African Special Forces. He–and a team of believers–stood guard during worship to ward off would-be attackers.
No offense to him, but in the context of a gathering of believers for worship, I’ll take my chances and leave the gun in the car.
Everywhere else, bad guys beware!