That’s a lot of Cs.
Having recently obtained a permit to carry concealed, I often think about the consequences of actually having to draw a firearm and pull the trigger. For a Christian, what is legal (and the legality of firing a gun that will likely kill another person has nearly as many gray areas as there are possible dangerous situations) is not always right–and sometimes vice-versa. I suppose the following could be taken as an exercise in self-justification. Nevertheless, besides the legality of carrying concealed weapons (firearms, specifically)–which vary from place to place, and the law of the particular jurisdiction ought to be obeyed: can Christians in good conscience carry a firearm which, if it is used for protection, will possibly or even likely result in the death of another human being?
The lines of disagreement are probably set out in advance. I would guess that those who are opposed to the death penalty or to war (“just” or not), or who identify themselves as pacifists, are unlikely to grant the premises from which I am working, and so also the conclusions. These lines have been drawn since the Reformation (at least), and are summed up in Augsburg Confession XVI:
Of Civil Affairs they teach that lawful civil ordinances are good works of God, and that it is right for Christians to bear civil office, to sit as judges, to judge matters by the Imperial and other existing laws, to award just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts, to hold property, to make oath when required by the magistrates, to marry a wife, to be given in marriage.
So if you’re an Anabaptist or one of their heirs, you’re probably not going to grant the first premise about the good of secular government and its protective abilities, let alone the later premises of an individual’s love for his neighbor.
But the state of the facts for Christians is that we have, on the one hand, the command not to murder and, on the other, we have the principle that the government has been given the sword to defend citizens against evil and punish the evildoer (Romans 13:4, particularly). But Romans 13 is not an isolated treatise on the role of government; it belongs within the wider context of “love each other” (13:8), which begins in 12:1 and goes to, at least, 14:23. The love of God for people is exercised through the governing authorities; that is, God protects His creation and His creatures by means of the ruler(s) of a given nation. Obviously, a particular ruler may not rule according to God’s will, and may in fact be the agent of wrongdoing. Even so, the intention of God for government remains. The abuse does not nullify the use.
There is also no room for the individual to exercise revenge. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” God says (Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30).
The Gospel forbids private redress [in order that no one should interfere with the office of the magistrate], and Christ inculcates this so frequently with the design that the apostles should not think that they ought to seize the governments from those who held otherwise…Therefore private redress is prohibited not by advice, but by a command, Matt. 5:39; Rom. 12:19. Public redress, which is made through the office of the magistrate, is not advised against, but is commanded, and is a work of God, according to Paul, Rom. 13:1 sqq. Now the different kinds of public redress are legal decisions, capital punishment, wars, military service. It is manifest how incorrectly many writers have judged concerning these matters [some teachers have taught such pernicious errors that nearly all princes, lords, knights, servants regarded their proper estate as secular, ungodly, and damnable, etc. Nor can it be fully expressed in words what an unspeakable peril and damage has resulted from this to souls and consciences], because they were in the error that the Gospel is an external, new, and monastic form of government, and did not see that the Gospel brings eternal righteousness to hearts [teaches how a person is redeemed, before God and in his conscience, from sin, hell, and the devil], while it outwardly approves the civil state. [Apology of the Augsburg Confession XVI:59-60]
But defense of those under your care (according to your vocation) is not, in itself, vengeance. It could certainly become that (see Taken). Instead, self-defense, broadly construed as protection of your family (and perhaps, in particular circumstances, as defense of those who are being attacked in, let’s say, a movie theater or school), falls under the principle of love your neighbor. Your neighbor is whoever is in need of your help at a particular moment. If you are in a position to render aid to someone, you should do so.
Here is the reason why you should do this: In such a case you would be entering entirely into the service and work of others, which would be of advantage neither to yourself nor your property or honor, but only to your neighbor and to others. You would be doing it not with the purpose of avenging yourself or returning evil for evil, but for the good of your neighbor and for the maintenance of the safety and peace of others. For yourself, you would abide by the gospel and govern yourself according to Christ’s word [Matt. 5:39–40], gladly turning the other cheek and letting the cloak go with the coat when the matter concerned you and your cause.
In this way the two propositions are brought into harmony with one another: at one and the same time you satisfy God’s kingdom inwardly and the kingdom of the world outwardly. You suffer evil and injustice, and yet at the same time you punish evil and injustice; you do not resist evil, and yet at the same time, you do resist it. In the one case, you consider yourself and what is yours; in the other, you consider your neighbor and what is his. In what concerns you and yours, you govern yourself by the gospel and suffer injustice toward yourself as a true Christian; in what concerns the person or property of others, you govern yourself according to love and tolerate no injustice toward your neighbor. The gospel does not forbid this; in fact, in other places it actually commands it. [Luther, AE 45:95-96]
For myself as a Christian, for the sake of property, for the sake of money or anything else like that, I ought to be willing to let it go, and I see no way to use violent force to prevent the taking of those things. But I do not live only for myself; I am a husband and a father. I have a wife and children. I would be forsaking my God-given vocation if I allowed someone to come into my house and violate my family or if I allowed a person to accost my family on the street. In that case, it is necessary to choose which love and which neighbor I will honor. God forbid that it should come to this, but I will choose to defend those whom God has given to me, and not the one He has not given to me. Murder is murder, and fear of what might happen is not provocation enough to pull a trigger. But if it comes down to it, my particular vocation as husband and father demands that I love my wife and children as my closest “neighbors” and not fail to do what God has given me at that moment–not in order to murder someone else, but to defend my family.
This is just a beginning of thinking things through, not from the legal perspective but from the Christian perspective. Thoughtful comments welcome.