gun and scriptures

I find it ironic that upon giving a person a Book of Mormon, they will probably in that day or the next read about how the initial central figure of the story is called upon by the spirit to kill another man, impersonate him and steal from him. Peace and love come a little later in the book…

In an attempt to obtain the plates, a drunken Laban appears before Nephi. Nephi goes through a series of practical and philosophical rationale as to why or why he should not kill Laban. This is a short summary:

  1. Before anything else happens, Nephi takes Laban’s sword from its sheath. (Why does he do this?) He expresses appreciation for its fine workmanship.
  2. With the sword in his hand, the Spirit constrains Nephi to Kill Laban
  3. Nephi resists and says, “Never at any time have I shed the blood of man”
  4. The spirit then told Nephi that Laban had been placed there by the Lord
  5. Nephi then lists three reasons why he might kill Laban
    1. Laban wanted to kill Nephi
    2. Laban would not hearken to the Commandments of the Lord
    3. Laban had taken Nephi’s property
  6. The Spirit then spoke to Nephi again, saying
    1. Slay him, Laban has been delivered into your hands
    2. The Lord slays the wicked to bring about his purposes
    3. It is better that one man perish than a whole nation perish
  7. Nephi then rationalises
    1. The Lord had said if he kept his commandments he would be blessed
    2. He could not keep the law without the records which were engraven on brass
    3. The Lord had delivered Laban into Nephi’s hands for that purpose

These are some very interesting arguments. Principles of obedience to God, freedom, rights of the individual vs the rights of many, the end justifying the means and the hope of a better world are all contained to a greater or lesser extent in Nephi’s wrestle with the Spirit and himself. Many of these arguments are relevant to a discussion around gun control and ownership. Interestingly – and obviously –  Nephi was using a deadly weapon during this incident. It got me thinking about how the principles of the Gospel might be related to and affect someones beliefs and actions relating to guns. And I also wondered what position Nephi might have taken on this issue, given these interesting arguments and his ultimate use of a deadly weapon to take someones life.

I live in a country with very strict gun laws. Gun violence, whilst it does exist, is not common. We have a low murder rate and our country is a relatively safe place to visit and live.

In 1996 in Tasmania Martin Bryant went on a killing spree, murdering 35 people. The guns he used included semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. It remains Australia’s (and one of the worlds) deadliest shooting. Following this incident, gun laws were enacted that significantly restricted gun ownership and prohibited many firearms from being owned at all. A summary of our gun laws include.

– ownership of a firearm is granted on establishment of a genuine reason such as being a farmer, for employment, sport or target shooting or a collector. Personal protection or protection of others is not a genuine reason

– machine guns, assault rifles and certain types of shotguns are prohibited

– all gun owners must be licensed

– all firearms must be registered

– depending on the category of firearm, all firearms must be stored in accordance with strict storage requirements

Many Australians, including me, struggle to understand many of the arguments supporting the need for more guns – particularly in places like the USA. I believe I’ve heard most of them. I think it needs to be said that our two countries are so vastly different in this aspect that our solution to this would most certainly not work in the USA.

One of the more bizarre arguments goes along this line.

  1. Bad guys have guns and kill people
  2. Good guys need more guns
  3. If good guys had more guns, good guys would kill the bad guys and/or the bad guys would get scared and not come out with their guns and kill people anymore

This is nicely highlighted in the following statements:

Larry Pratt (GOoA)- “Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to insure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered.”

Wayne LaPierre (NRA) – “The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” he said.

This type of argument makes a number of assumptions:

  • In a flooded gun market like the USA, statistically either nearly everyone has a gun (90 guns per 100 population), or a number of people have a handful of guns each.
  • The checks and balances do not appear to me (an outsider) to be sufficient
  • Where does this argument end – when is enough guns enough? If, for our purposes, all the good guys had guns, would that be the end?
  • Who decides who the good guys and the bad guys are? To the gangsters, the cops are the bad guys and visa versa.
  • Are good guys always good guys – or can good guys do bad things sometimes?

I don’t pretend to have any real answers to what is a very complex, multifaceted situation. As I said, our answer would not work in the US.

When I think about the fundamental differences between countries on this issue, it seems to me that a large part of the rationale for having a gun is cultural. In the USA it seems culturally supported to own a gun – it’s part of the Constitution, it’s therefore socially acceptable etc. In Australia it is not in our culture. Gun ownership is seen as a fringe type of behaviour. It is not in our vernacular to be speaking about the need to protect ourselves if the Government wont. More so in the Church…I would go so far as to say that many church members here would consider gun ownership and church membership incompatible.

The relationship between a culture and a behaviour is fairly well established. What is more interesting for me is the relationship between religious principles and gun ownership. Are principles of faith, hope and charity reasons to own a firearm? Is it that there is an absence of those principles in the world that makes gun ownership necessary? Is the principle of freedom reason to own a firearm? To defend it? To enforce it? Is culture and societal pressure more of a contributing factor to gun ownership and a pro gun stance than belief in and adherence to religious principles? Is the particular history of the LDS Church (for those that live in the USA perhaps) conducive and supportive of owning a gun – ie persecution, protection of family etc??

Would Nephi be a member of the NRA??