The Gun Control Debate: A Primer for Christians

Editor’s Note: The following is Part 1 in a 3-Part series on the gun control debate. We thank the Center for Vision and Values for allowing us to present it to you.
Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan rightly said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” He might just have rightly said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to be confusing.”
The discussion of any matter of public policy is not aided by using language in a confusing manner, and yet people rather routinely do this very thing. One of the most confusing statements one hears regarding firearms policy is this: “We need to get guns off the streets.” I have heard this statement many times for many years, and I still have absolutely no idea what that means. One might as well say, “We need to get purple zebras out of the trees.” There are (to my knowledge) no purple zebras, and there are no zebras of any color in the trees, so it simply would not make any sense to say, “We need to get purple zebras out of the trees.”
Now, I have been driving an automobile for about four decades, and I have seen many things in the streets: I have seen children’s toys left in the street. I have seen children themselves playing in the street. On windy days I have seen trash cans rolling around in the street. I have seen dogs, cats, deer, rabbits, squirrels, and other animals in the streets. But I have not once seen a firearm in the street. Firearms are not in our streets, and so it simply does not make sense to say we need to get them “off” the streets, since they are not on them in the first place.
debateSo, when people say that we need to get firearms “off the streets,” what do they really mean? Well, they could mean a number of things—some of which I would agree with, some of which I would disagree with, and some of which I would be willing to consider.
I would agree with the expression if it meant this: “We need to do what we reasonably and constitutionally can to restrict the possession of firearms by those who will employ them violently.” Yet, our current policies already address this; felons and those who have been adjudged mentally defective (and several other categories) are prohibited by law from possessing firearms, and I largely concur with such laws.
I would disagree with the expression if it meant: “We should prohibit absolutely all private ownership of firearms.” Unfortunately, this is, in fact, what some people do mean by the expression; they simply have not the honesty and/or intellectual clarity to say so. Any policy that prohibited the private ownership of weapons absolutely would be unconstitutional and unwise.
As a third possibility, the expression could mean: “I would like to see the number of privately owned firearms in the United States reduced from 300 million to 250 million.” I would be willing to consider such a statement; and if a convincing case were made for it, I would be willing to agree to the policy. But there can be little progress on the public-policy front if people insist on employing language that is nonsensical (language that simply does not make any sense if taken in a straightforward manner).
If people desire to eradicate entirely the right of citizens to own firearms, they should say so. If they wish (for whatever reasons) to reduce the total number of privately owned firearms, they should say so. And if they wish to try to prevent the private ownership of weapons by criminals or the mentally deranged, they should say that, too. All three make sense; all three are clear; and all three could be discussed intelligently. Let’s start with honest language and then have an honest debate.

Dr. T. David Gordon


Dr. T. David Gordon is a professor of religion at Grove City College and a contributing scholar with The Center for Vision & Values.

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  • B

    I do not see how entirely eradicating the right of citizens to own firearms makes sense.

  • If this is a primer for Christians, it should have some reference to Christianity.

  • I believe Dr. Gordon is saying that the statement makes sense as an openly-defined agenda to be discussed. He didn’t say he agreed with it; far otherwise, in fact.

  • kirk

    If Dr.TDG attempted to convey his opposition to ordinary conversational semantics in reference to legislation aimed at reducing guns in American hands, and he totally missed the point. It almost seems he is trying to confuse lesser minds – keep “us” focused on “incorrect wording” rather than the real issue. the English language has thousands of idioms that speak a reality instantly understood by most reasonably intelligent minds.This columnist did not even mention the real meaning of the offending ‘words” or the current discussion on gun control, i.e. 1) to prohibit the manufacture and sale of assault weapons (except for military use) and amuniton meant to kill many people in seconds; 2) backgound check for ALL gun sales, and 3) more funding for mental health issues.

    Our children should be safe; our malls and shopping centers should be secure; the right to life is not only for the unborn – it is right to life and freedom for the born. And, more to the point – all Americans should not have to worry about gun violence when they leave their homes go to a grocery store, mall, school, or place of worship.
    The Second Amendment does not trump the First Amendment!

  • what part of the first amendment are you concerned about being trumped by the second amendment?

  • John

    The fact is the manipulation of language is a key element in any attempt to alter public opinion or to impose an agenda. I appreciate Dr. Gordon’s request for clarity. Look at the semantic malpractice the abortion lobby has been guilty of for five decades. It has muddied and dumbed-down the debate.

  • MexTex

    Christians should avoid deception, that’s what it means.

  • wbarquez

    Mirabile dictu Dr Gordon! Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own confusion. The first thing we ought to do is to get confusion out of the streets of our minds, so that we may know what to do with the streets of public policy.

  • Gerry mckeveny

    How is this article in any way a primer for Christians?

  • Mike

    What makes sense is a matter of opinion and I do not think that the first two options make no sense, the 3rd yes it does make sense.

  • LarryM

    Kirk, the term ‘assault weapon’ is one of those that deliberately obscures the debate. I hope the author addresses this is in a future post, as this article is not very instructive. Do you mean to ban all semi-automatic weapons? These would include the vast majority of handguns, as well as many rifles that are used for hunting. Is this what you mean by ‘assault weapon’? Or are you referring to automatic weapons? If so, these are already severely restricted, and simply not easily available, and frankly have not been used in the many mass killings that have taken place.

    I would suggest you educate yourself before weighing in on the gun control debate. You need to have an understanding of the functionality of weapons to fully comprehend the implications of banning them. Your use of this term is a red flag that indicates you haven’t done the research. You are merely trotting out the deceptive talking points of the radical gun-control crowd.

  • Kevin Ray

    The right of gun ownership is imperative to protecting our freedom of religion in this country. Armed citizens are the only reason the constitution still exists in this America. Ask our imprisoned brothers and sister in China if they would like to own guns.