I don’t believe I’ve ever written anything about gun rights or gun control. This doesn’t mean I’m not heartbroken over gun violence—I am; nor does it mean I don’t have opinions about gun control—I do. It’s partly because I have nothing to propose that others haven’t already shared. And, it’s partly because I have stirred things up aplenty on other topics—I don’t need to add to the list.

But, I do have one distinction to add to the conversation about guns.

Our thinking about guns and “gun control” generally gets framed around our rights as US citizens. That’s an important conversation, with life and death implications for thousands of people, but it’s not the only way Christians need to think about guns. As US citizens, we have the right to do and say many things, but that does not necessarily make it right for Christians to do or say those things. For example, we have the right to advocate for racist or sexist policies; but that doesn’t make it right to do so. We have the legal right to commit adultery; yet adultery isn’t right. You could think of many more examples.

Recent Supreme Court decisions (Heller in 2008 and McDonald in 2010) have established the rights of individuals in the US to own and carry firearms. But, that doesn’t necessarily make it right for every Christian to do so. Christians enjoy all the rights our Constitution bestows, but what is right is guided by our relationship with Jesus. We are accountable to God. It is not my purpose here to try to determine when it might be, or might not be, acceptable for Christian civilians to carry guns. That’s a complicated question, on which Christians will undoubtedly disagree. My purpose is simply to shift some of the conversation from what citizens have the rights to do, to what it is right for Christians to do.

We Christians might ask ourselves:

  • What did Jesus say about weapons and self-defense?
  • What are the relative risks and protections of carrying a firearm?
  • Who or what am I afraid of? Who might be afraid of me?

What rights citizens should have with respect to guns is an important question, decided by legal and political processes. Whether it is right for you or for me to carry a gun is an even more important question, decided by spiritual and moral processes. I don’t mean to disregard the former question, though admittedly my input into it is negligible. But I do want to emphasize the latter question, which really is mine, and ours, to decide: what is it right for us to do, as followers of Jesus Christ?

Rights are one thing; right is quite another.