Killing Kindergartners (and Why I Still Don’t Carry a Concealed Weapon)

[When I first became a judge, the Sheriff’s Sergeant in charge of courthouse security offered to qualify me on the shooting range for a concealed weapon permit and to help me pick out the right weapon to buy as well. He said the same went for my wife. We’ve never taken him up on the offer in the 17+ years I’ve been on the bench.

The killings in Connecticut last Friday brought this to mind. A lot of people argue for gun ownership on the basis that lawful citizens who train properly can prevent these types of tragedies. This article is not an attempt to support or refute those arguments. This article is my explanation of why I do not carry a firearm to protect myself, despite the fact that I have access to top training and have a job where there are reasons at times to fear for my safety.

Only Kill the Bad Man first appeared last May at The Radical Journey, a blog I wrote for as a member of a team of writers.]

***

Only Kill the Bad Man?

            I watched Witness the other day, the old Harrison Ford movie about the Amish boy Samuel who witnesses a brutal murder and is then himself in danger from those who carried it out. Ford is the cop who moves in with the Amish family to protect Samuel, and by living with them brings new ideas – the ways of outsiders like him – to the family. At one point Samuel finds Ford’s handgun in a drawer, and his grandfather Eli Lapp talks to him about the discovery:

Eli Lapp: This gun of the hand is for the taking of human life. We believe it is wrong to take a life. That is only for God. Many times wars have come and people have said to us: you must fight, you must kill, it is the only way to preserve the good. But Samuel, there’s never only one way. Remember that. Would you kill another man?

Samuel Lapp: I would only kill the bad man.

Eli Lapp: Only the bad man. I see. And you know these bad men by sight? You are able to look into their hearts and see this badness?

Samuel Lapp: I can see what they do. I have seen it.

Eli Lapp: And having seen, you become one of them? Don’t you understand? What you take into your hands, you take into your heart.

Grandfather Lapp’s words make me wonder: If I faced a threat to my life, would killing the other person be a proper response? How can I be assured that it is better for me to live and for the other person to die?

You are able to look into their hearts?

When I was a kid there was a local radio station that would air shows from the 1930s and ‘40s during the summer nights, including The Shadow. The title character was a crime fighter with the ability to cloud people’s minds so they could not see him. The opening announcement always included the line “Who know what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”

That would be the answer to Grandfather Lapp’s question, right? Just become as good at reading people as that Shadow guy and – presto – you can see into someone’s heart. But the Bible says seeing into the heart is God’s job:

            A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart. (Proverbs 21:2.)

            I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind. (Jeremiah 17:10.)

So the right answer to Grandfather Lapp is that we do not know what is in someone’s heart, what their intentions and thoughts are. Samuel Lapp knew that too. That’s why he said he would rely on what he saw people do in order to choose whether to kill. Grandfather Lapp questioned that too.

Into your hands, into your heart

“Having seen, you become one of them,” the grandfather says. There is some truth to this since the Bible tells us, “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Corinthians 15:33.) But it has to be more than just seeing it, right? Just seeing someone sin does not necessarily mean that you’ll become just like them does it? Frankly, I think this question puts it backwards. The real issue is whether you are an unredeemed and unregenerate sinner, not whether they are. Paul warns people who live like this:

            They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. (Ephesians 4:18-19.)

God, Paul says, allows such people to continue pursuing what is in their hearts and taking into their hands whatever they like. Not so with those who belong to him, though. He heals – sanctifies – those who belong to him.

            May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:23.)

God chose you as first-fruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13.)

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. (Ephesians 3:16-17.)

God has given us himself, and that is what is in our hearts.

We are in God’s hands

Jesus gave his followers (including us) a powerful promise:

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10:28-30.)

God “is greater than all”. That means he is certainly more powerful than “the bad man” Samuel Lapp spoke of. But Jesus’ promise is not that we’ll live forever as we do presently, avoiding death and decay temporally. He spoke of our eternal destiny. And in this eternal sense, I don’t know what God has planned for anyone else. I don’t even know God’s temporal plan for “the bad man”.

So what would I do if my life were threatened? What I’d do if ever put to that test is just speculation. Maybe I would try to defend myself and end up killing the other person after all. I can’t say, though, that the Bible teaches me to do so. And I don’t know that I am the one to take matters into my own hands even if confronted with a threat to my life.

It’s like I said above, God gave me himself and took me for his own. I think it’s best to let him take matters into his own hands.

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44 Responses to Killing Kindergartners (and Why I Still Don’t Carry a Concealed Weapon)

  1. Jeannie says:

    Thank you for this post. It immediately reminded me of LOTR (what doesn’t?) when Frodo speaks to Gandalf of his contempt for Gollum:

    Frodo: “He deserves death.”
    Gandalf: “Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

    But thankfully God can! I also think your comment “The real issue is whether you are an unredeemed and unregenerate sinner, not whether they are” is good for us all to remember.

  2. janehinrichs says:

    I so understand your position Tim. And I totally respect it. And I myself won’t carry a gun (though I was in the Army for four years and did then). But my husband does and he teaches cops how to use guns. South Dakota is a gun carrying state. At least a third of our revenue comes from the hunting industry (I think). Even if guns were taken away the ones who want to do harm with them would find a way to get them. If my husband would have been a teacher there in the school and was carrying a gun he would have shot the shooter. That shooter needed Jesus too — I totally understand this. But what if the children could have been saved?

    It is a hard one. I pray comfort for all those moms and dads who lost their babies. My heart breaks for them — I can’t imagine the horror they are reliving day after day and I just pray they all find peace in Christ.

    • Tim says:

      Good points Jane. This piece is solely about whether I would use deadly force to protect myself. If I were in a position to use it to protect others, my analysis would be different.

      • janehinrichs says:

        That’s where it gets me too. I tell you if it was between me and one other person let that person take my life (though my husband and kids may have a different opinion), but when it involves the children…..things flow into that gray area.

  3. I so value your perspective, Tim, and the others, Jeannie and Jane. Gun control is an issue that goes deep into the fibre of the American nation. As a Canadian I cannot completely understand but recognize the right to bear arms is a huge issue. I am impressed with the grace and thoughtfulness this blog is offering and hope that likewise government and individuals around the nation will come together to address the issue in a constructive way. I also pray that underlying problems that run through the youth will up uprooted and healing will take place. A huge move, a wave of restoration is needed for the youth so that conscience and spiritual hope is restored.
    Larus Press = Sarah Tun

  4. michellevl says:

    Thoughtfully stated, Tim. I’ve reposted on my facebook page. Thank you.

  5. Mary Anne says:

    Tim, though I (respectfully) disagree—we have guns and I think I’d use them if someone invaded my home—I understand your position and appreciate that you’ve thought this through and have good reasons for your stance. So many don’t.

    Someone at Pemberley posted about feeling sad while listening to “The Coventry Carol,” because there’s the verse about “Herod King, in his raging.” I replied that the slaughter of the innocents is one seasonal tradition we can certainly do without. I’ve been thinking this over in light of a lot of the seasonal music that I’m hearing, and several songs/carols/hymns stand out, like these lines from “O Holy Night:”

    Truly He taught us to love one another;
    His law is love and His gospel is peace.

    That one resonates for me right now, along with one that my father likes:

    Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
    “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
    The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
    With peace on earth, good will to men.”

    But we don’t see much sign of that right now, do we? “Hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men . . .” That’s why my favourite hymn ever, at this time of year and every other, is one I keep repeating to myself when I hear such news:

    O come, O come, Emmanuel,
    And ransom captive Israel,
    That mourns in lonely exile here
    Until the Son of God appear.

    O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
    Our spirits by Thine advent here;
    Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
    And death’s dark shadows put to flight

    O come, Desire of nations, bind
    All peoples in one heart and mind;
    Bid envy, strife, and discord cease;
    Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.

    There will be no peace on earth, good will to men—wrong shall not fail and right prevail—until He comes. Evil is real and earth is not Heaven. I’m frequently in despair because of this, and can only keep repeating to myself “Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

    May it be soon.

    • Tim says:

      Mary Anne, those are beautiful words you’ve shared here this morning. As Paul said, maranatha.

    • janehinrichs says:

      Mary Anne, I have so been thinking of those boys who were killed because of Jesus’ birth — because of Herod’s raging lately — because of the children dying in Connecticut. This is sure not a part of the Christmas story we all wanted to relive (and I say that humbly because I am “reliving” it only from afar). Maybe it …I don’t know. Something to think about. Maybe it is we have made it so “Sweet” for so many centuries that this horrible situation no one could have comprehended brings home the true sacrifice the First Family (Mary, Joseph and Jesus that is) made for us all.

      • Mary Anne says:

        Good point. There is much sweetness in a lot of those songs like “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night” and the others that dwell on the infant Christ—we forget about Herod having babies murdered and the fact that Israel was occupied by the Romans, etc. It’s no wonder that some people hoped for a Messiah along the lines of King David, one who would sweep the enemies out of the land and establish His kingdom on earth right away.

  6. Thank you for posting this, Tim. You know how close issues around guns are to my heart and my faith. I find that much of the debate around citizens having easy access to guns assumes that it’s always easy to divide the “good guys” from the “bad guys.” The fact that it’s not always that simple is one of many reasons that I am not convinced that a society of gun-carrying citizens is a safer society. It’s certainly not a less violent society. I’m sharing this post with my readers.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for sharing it and for your insights here, Ellen. Your re-post on your blog on Saturday was a powerful statement on this too, and I also appreciated your reflections today on God’s grace and our feelings when it comes to the safety of our own families.

      On your point about gun-toting citizens roaming around, I wanted to repeat a comment I left at Rachel Stone’s blog today when she brought up a question about the same thing: On your point about some people saying an armed citizenry is the answer, I don’t get that either. For one thing, I don’t trust everyone on the road to drive their cars safely, so why on earth would I trust them all with guns? For another thing, we’ve had the Second Amendment for over 200 years but you don’t see an armed citizenry yet. We’re not like Switzerland where most homes have military firearms in case they need to get out there in the militia to fight foreign invaders. Here we have a minority of individuals who own weapons, and most of that minority do so for their own individual purposes and not for the collective good.

  7. Jonalyn Fincher says:

    Hi Tim,

    Would you consider yourself a pacifist?
    I couldn’t help but recommend this post to you: http://www.corneredcat.com/article/ethical-questions/trusting-god-and-selfdefense/ It gives a good example of how we can both trust God and carry.

    Glad you invite us into your thoughts,
    Jonalyn

    • Tim says:

      A pacifist? Not at all. If it were a matter of protecting others (as I said above) my analysis would be different. In that case, I certainly would not start with the bias against force, although I don’t know that I would start with a bias in favor either.

      Thanks for sending Jackson’s article too. She appears to be talking about passivism (as opposed to pacifism, of course) and whether it is a required stance in order for one to be able to say that they trust God with their lives. Her conclusion is that such a philosophy is nonsense. I never advocated passivism as a means of displaying my trust in God, though. The issue I raised is whether I would – if my own life and no others were threatened – act with deadly force in self-defense. The passages I referred to in my piece give me reason to decide for myself that I might not. I notice that her article provides no Scriptural references for its assertions. It’s not a hard and fast rule of mine, but I tend to discount a priori efforts to take positions without giving any Scriptural reason to agree with them but instead rely on their own efforts at persuasion.

      On the other hand, there was an excellent piece last spring by a young pastor who explained why he carries a firearm (with a permit), trains regularly, and carries it whenever he and his young family go to rougher parts of town. I do not think I can adopt his practice in my own life, but I saw the exegesis that led to his position and cannot say it is faulty. This is certainly an area where Christian minds can differ in the freedom we have in Christ.

      I’d be interested in what other readers here think on these issues you brought up too, Jonalyn. Hoping someone jumps in to join the dialog.

      Blessings,
      Tim

  8. Jonalyn Fincher says:

    What I like best about your post is how you push us all to imaginatively think of what we would do if we were faced with this kind of violence.

    However, I do think we will act much as we’ve prepared for, thought about, bought and trained for. In other words, as we think we’re responsible, we will often act out of that. So perhaps the bigger question is what are we really responsible for?

    I often think of concealed carry as a way I rescue those who are perishing, the marginalized, the orphan, the widow, the elementary child. (Isaiah 1:17).

    What do you think our responsibility is to the marginalized?

    • Tim says:

      I think you are right on track, Jonalyn. We do prepare, etc., in line with our sense of our own responsibilities and how we think we can best meet them. Concluding that being ready to meet physical threats with physical force is one valid way to prepare for that responsibility.

      When it comes to the marginalized, in the most general sense the need is so great and so varied that none of us can prepare for all the ways necessary to meet those needs. Not all of us can train to use firearms, plus go to medical school so we can work in free clinics, plus go to law school so we can represent the indigent, plus get a contractor’s license so we can build low income housing, and so on. What I’m getting at is that we minister to the needs around us with the talents God has provided and in the context of being the people he has made us each to be.

      When it comes to serving others, if someone’s life were threatened and I had the ability to defend them by use of deadly force, then (as I said above) I might just do so. But if it’s just my life on the line, I am no longer in an analysis of thinking about how to serve the marginalized.

      Thanks for keeping this conversation moving along, Jonalyn.

      Tim

  9. Lesley212 says:

    Tim- loved this post. One of your best. I appreciate the way you offer both reason and logic with scripture. It’s a great reminder to me that God has given me a brain to think through tough issues, but He’s also given me his word. And this word is good!

  10. arkenaten says:

    Excellent post.

    While I am no advocate of firearm possession – if they are available then the baddies will carry too – there seems a world of difference to owning a 32 hand gun, or ordinairy shotgun, as opposed to a fully automatic assault rifle, or a weapon such as an Uzi : all perfectly legal and relatively easy to purchase over the counter.
    Killing people is big business, although it is wrapped up in the cosy euphermism called ‘defense’.
    The stats (which have parallels in my own country, South Africa) bear out the fallacy that citizens need to carry firearms.
    Obama should make a real name for himself and make possession of automatic/assault weapons, by anyone other than miitary personnel illegal. They are designed or war anyway.
    Someone has to make that first step so it might as well be him.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for coming by, arky. Obama doesn’t have the ability to make laws, under our system of government, but I think a lot of people are looking to him to lead in some way.

      • arkenaten says:

        Yes, I realise this, Tim,and changing such a law would require a huge paradigm shift from congress and the American people.
        Yet he has four years to push for change. Such a push would make much of the world sit up and take notice.
        Worthwhile effort, dont you think?
        Peace

        • I believe an aspect of true leadership is taking the reins and forging ahead into territory that may be uncomfortable but what you believe is right. Others will follow.
          I’m not sure political correctness gives much room for any leadership and hope many leaders will step out of that morass and lead! If Obama be one of them, terrific!

  11. unklee says:

    Here in Australia we have a different culture and strong gun control that allows weapons to those who use them for work or sport, but with careful conditions. Since the new laws were enacted, we have had very few (if any) mass shootings, though we have some shooting between criminal gangs in Sydney at the moment.

    I support the more pacifist leanings expressed here, and I question the idea that more people carrying a weapon will reduce killings (the statistics show it just isn’t true). Sometimes it undoubtedly will, but if the person isn’t well trained, it may well increase the killing via stray bullets (I spent 2 years in the Army and have some understanding of how hard it is to shoot straight, even in controlled conditions, and much worse under stress) and putting more people in harm’s way. And can you imaging the practicality of giving guns to teachers and the nightmare of keeping them secure yet readily available?

    Gun control does not stop criminals and slightly inconveniences those who legitimately use guns, but it has a big impact on preventing those with mental illness or emotional/psychological problems from ready access to fearsome weaponry. Most advanced western countries have a different culture and/or different laws to the US, and manage this issue far better. I think your President’s recent speech was admirable.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks unklee. I really appreciate that you could give us your insights from your own experience with firearms, and about Australian cultural issues too.

  12. For the Believer I think I’d like to risk sounding simplistic and raise one point in two different ways:
    When the crowds wanted to slay Jesus, he walked through the crowd and left. How? Spiritual warfare (John 8)
    When we are at risk and say, “In Jesus’ name I bind you. Put down your gun!” We risk faith that the person will do it and life if we do not. Is the power of God more powerful than a crazed killer with an Uzi?
    I do not post this lightly and I am not seeking to over-simplify. But when Peter used a sword on the Passover night that Jesus was arrested, Jesus healed the one who lost his ear.
    How powerful is our God? And have we got the weaponry to defend?
    Blessings….

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Sarah. For me, the issue of whether to use deadly force in response to a threat to my own life is different from the issue of whether to defend others. In both cases, though, I think there is as much a spiritual component as a physical one at hand.

  13. Bloggers are (rightly) discussing this issue and the devastation surrounding the incident in CT. I haven’t been able to find any words to begin to address it, so I’ve been silent. I just… have nothing… It’s too much for my brain and emotions to articulate in any sort of coherent, helpful fashion.

    We have a lot of friends who carry weapons. We choose not to have weapons in our home or on our persons. I didn’t grow up in a culture/family that were proponents of carrying weapons, so probably based on my conditioning, I just have never given the issue much thought. I feel more comfortable not having a weapon around, but I can’t claim that it’s because of any Biblical conviction I have felt. It’s good to read someone who has a clear conviction about it.

    • Tim says:

      I know what you mean about being overwhelmed at the tragedy in Connecticut, Rachel. I don’t think I have the words to comment on that either. That’s why I went with this piece from last Spring, so that the conversation can go on here but I didn’t have to write something particularly about recent events. I just don’t think I could do them right. (In fact, I wouldn’t even have gone with this one if Ellen Painter Dollar hadn’t encouraged me to re-run this article.)

  14. I first saw Witness only a 9 or 10 years ago (when I was engaged) and cried so much. ahh! So good. I loved the mom. My dad and mom have told me about that radio show you speak of, and I’ve heard portions of it once upon a time. Anyway, I don’t believe guns are bad, but when used on people, I don’t agree with them used in that way. I’m a former NRA member though. I have only ever shot a rifle at a paper target. . .and that would be all I’d ever shoot other than an animal for food to survive if there was desolation and a need to eat. I’m a last resort girl. I’m glad you are able to say what you would do but what the Bible says might not be what you should do. I am very fond of the “turn the other cheek” message, and would die before shooting anyone else. I have seen PTSD in my dad my whole life, just because he spent a year killing people in Vietnam as a sniper in the special forces, and it has always been awful to me. I could never understand why God would WANT us to kill when my dad has spent decades with flashbacks and images of what was done to those around him and what he did to others. . .it isn’t natural other than in a sinful world, so I steer clear from that path. That is why I’m such a pacifist. . .growing up under a Vietnam veteran was not enjoyable at all. I’d totally side with the Amish Eli Lapp. Your article was amazing by the way.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Victoria. I think there is freedom for Christians in whether to use force in self-defense, and to use it in defense of others or as a means of defending the country. For me, I just tend to lean against using it in defense of myself. But as I said, I don’t really know what I’d do if the situation confronted me in real life; I won’t ever know unless I am in that situation, and I hope to avoid ever being in it.

      • to me, all people are worth defending, rather than defense of a particular country, for what if we are killing our brothers or sisters in Christ in another country while defending our nation when we are unaware of their beliefs? Shouldn’t we be more in defense of them than for our nation? This is why I am against war, though I know they are to happen according to Matthew 26 was it?, but I don’t have to like them.

  15. Jaimie says:

    Tim, I found your blog via Modern Mrs. Darcy (very much enjoyed your guest post there today, by the way). This is a very thoughtfully written article, and I appreciate how you got me thinking. I personally would never want to carry a gun, although if I was ever in a situation where I was in physical danger, I would want to try to protect myself and then run away. My husband recently taught me some techniques to briefly incapacitate an attacker, involving hitting them in sensitive areas as a momentary distraction. My husband, if we could afford to buy one, would certainly own a gun–but I think more for the protection of his home and family (just me, so far), than for protection of himself.

    It’s interesting to ponder what I might do in a situation where I or a loved one was threatened. I don’t think of myself as a violent person, but if someone was bent on hurting me or someone I love, I think I would do everything I could in order to protect myself from them. Would that include killing them? I don’t know…but I hope I never have to find out.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for coming by, Jaimie. And I am with you completely: let’s hope none of us ever have to find out. As Victoria said above about her father, even those who are killing others with government sanctioned authority can suffer mightily from it. I have no idea how it would affect me to go through life with that experience.

  16. Dear Tim,
    This is my first encounter with your blog. I want to express my appreciation for the way that you and your readers in their comments share your views with humility, civility and honor for others that might not share your exact views. That is VERY refreshing!

    Self-defense with the use of lethal force is something that I have thankfully never had to face but I want to be Scripturally informed and prepared (as much as is humanly possible) before that situation should ever present itself. My wife and I have spent the last 20 years in China so we feel a bit out of sync with some segments of American Christianity (or at least the “culture” of some churches). I don’t claim to have the answers to this and other perplexing issues but your post was laid out very sensibly and with Scriptural support. As you mentioned above, there are others who handle Scripture carefully and reasonably and yet come to the conclusion that self-defense with lethal force is justified. Thank you for not demonizing those people either. And finally thanks for your example as being someone who could find significant reasons for self-defense and yet choose another way.

    • Tim says:

      Stephen, you are right that I have some wonderful readers and commenters who come along to read this blog. I am so glad you joined us today to add to the conversation here. How do you think the issue of lethal use of force in self defense would play out in an eastern culture?

      • Hammerhead7 says:

        I see a contradiction in viewing lethal force in self-defense as bad yet approving lethal force in enforcing gun prohibition.

        • Tim says:

          Interesting observation, Hh. Have you seen someone argue in favor of lethal force for enforcing gun prohibition? It’s not a concept I’ve run across as far as the debate in American gun policy goes, but perhaps you are referring to another part of the world?

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