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For the Love of Students

In defense of wisdom vs. gun rights

Published on:
February 22, 2018
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4 min.
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In the wake of the seventeen people gunned down on February 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, David Hogg, Emma González, and Cameron Kasky emerged as the face of a new national movement of teenagers who want our government to take action to keep students in school free from gun violence. These students are asking for reforms to guns laws including measures for banning assault rifles, stricter background checks, and so on, because, as Cameron Kasky said, “We feel neglected.”

Conservative Christians can show the government when talking about firearm bans that loving our neighbors is a matter of wisdom, not merely a matter of rights.
Anthony Bradley

There’s much to be debated about the effectiveness of gun law reform, but what should be said is that conservative Christians have an opportunity to lead in both legislation and at an even deeper level: wisdom. Conservative Christians can show the government when talking about firearm bans that loving our neighbors is a matter of wisdom, not merely a matter of rights.

The Wisdom of Loving Our Neighbor

The reasons for Christians to love wisdom are unending. Here are a few that show us how valuing wisdom over rights puts us in a position to lead on issues of safety in our communities and in our country.

First, wisdom puts Christians in a position to lead because wisdom is a preeminent virtue. It is the virtue that orients the other virtues like justice, courage, and temperance. The Catholic Catechism defines wisdom as “the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.” The practice of wisdom takes courage and should not “be confused with timidity or fear, nor with duplicity or dissimulation,” according to the Catechism. The love of wisdom helps us achieve good and avoid evil. 

Second, wisdom puts Christians in a position to lead because wisdom accounts for human nature. What Christians believe about human nature ought to make the purchase of any firearm extremely difficult. Christians believe that the human capacity to make good and wise decisions is severely compromised by all sorts of disordered loves, passions, and unavoidable human weakness. Arming everyone, by extension, is an irrational proposal. Christians believe that evil’s potential needs to be constrained in the best way possible. Should not, then, the purchase of firearms—given the consequence of misusing them—be one of the most difficult things anyone in our culture can do? As a result, perhaps buying a firearm at Walmart, Cabela’s, or Dick’s Sporting Goods should not be possible. Or, perhaps, the sale of firearms should be limited to a small class of retail vendors. Firearms need to be difficult to purchase if for no other reason than the fact that two-thirds of America’s gun deaths every year are suicides.

What Christians believe about human nature ought to make the purchase of any firearm extremely difficult.
Anthony Bradley

Third, wisdom puts Christians in a position to lead because wisdom matters more than individual rights. A government providing the freedom to exercise particular rights does not mean Christians are obligated to exercise those particular rights. I am not arguing for pacifism, but it seems like many Christians believe that the rights granted by the US constitution are inspired rights directly from God when most are not. The right to bear arms, for example, is neither a God-given command nor a divine right, and Christians are free, therefore, to withhold from exercising those rights for the sake of the common good. Moreover, it seems consistent with the principle of loving one’s neighbor—part of the greatest commandment, according to Jesus—that Christians remain open to laying down some rights for the sake of protecting vulnerable populations, like high school students and people struggling with suicidal ideation.

Fourth, Christians have an opportunity to lead because vulnerable people matter more than our personal preferences and recreational choices. High schoolers are asking their elders to choose child well-being over the adult recreation. Christians should be the first to say, “For the well-being of the vulnerable, we are willing to not support the manufacture or sale of certain types of firearms.” Why is this so difficult for some to concede? Why is the conservative Christian resistance to placing greater restrictions on the sale of certain types of firearms so strong? The answer likely has much to do with the idols of individualism and nationalism.

An individualistic and narcissistic culture is a culture obsessed with “my rights.” My “right” to an abortion. My “right” to purchase any firearm I want. My “right” to do whatever I want with my body—as long as I don’t believe what I am doing causes harm to my body or the body others, and so on. 

Christians are just as guilty. In many nationalistic Christian “God and Country” circles, the US constitution has become a confession of Christian faith that leads to all sorts of misguided beliefs about what rights are, where they come from, and why voluntarily limiting the exercise of some rights might be warranted for the greater good of their neighbors. Christians, then, don’t say, “America first.” That’s called idolatry.

Christians, then, don’t say, “America first.” That’s called idolatry.
Anthony Bradley

No one wants a society where teenagers need to hold protests for safer schools or where Christians, giving up certain freedoms for the good of their teenager neighbors, is considered a loss. Christians are in the position to lead in creating the kind of society without those things if only we will choose to value wisdom more than rights.

America’s teenagers are asking for help and nothing would be more tragic than Christians focusing on defending the rights of a secular state instead of emphasizing the self-sacrificing principle of neighbor love oriented by wisdom.

Anthony Bradley
Anthony B. Bradley is an American author and professor of religion, theology, and ethics at the King’s College in New York City, where he also serves as the chair of the Religious and Theological Studies program.


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