A few days ago, the president of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell, Jr., encouraged his students in a mandatory weekly gathering of all undergraduate students, to enroll in a free concealed carry course, and to carry concealed weapons on the campus.
“I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,” he proclaimed to the loud unrestrained applause of students. “I just wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course,” he said. “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.” (Huffington Post, 12.07.15)
Headlines and editorial pages are exploding, and the Facebook memes won’t be far behind. Both sides of the political and Second Amendment arguments are stridently taking positions, and classifying the opposite side as subhuman, in intelligence level, if not in actual DNA composition.
As usual, my thoughts on this particular incident are complex, and have enough nuances to offend everyone. I wish I were able to condense my thoughts on significant issues to the size of a Tweet, but I work hard to see the complexities and to consider the positions and concerns of all sides of a disagreement. That unfortunately leads to long posts. Fortunately for my readers, I don’t charge by the word.
I am a Christian, and a pastor. A survey of my key theological beliefs would match up well with the Evangelical camp that Falwell calls home, and to which Liberty University caters. I’m also a firearm owner, and believe that properly trained and qualified individuals should be able to carry firearms (more on the qualifiers in a moment).
With that introduction, let me tell you that I have a few problems with Falwell’s statements. As in, I gave myself a bloody nose with the facepalm.
Let’s start with the practical:
- Concealed carry licensing requirements in EVERY state in the US are a joke. I was unable to obtain the details of the free training that Falwell is offering Liberty students, but I did check what is required in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Basically any firearm or hunter safety course, including those that consist only of classroom instruction, or an honorable discharge from the military, suffices to meet the state requirement that the applicant “has demonstrated competence with a handgun.” I’m not a hunter, and have never attended a hunter safety course, but I am retired from the Army, and can assure you that an honorable discharge from the US military in no way demonstrates “competence with a handgun.” Many soldiers will go their entire enlistment without ever even handling a handgun, let alone demonstrating competence.
- Beyond basic weapons proficiency, or lack thereof, the more important issue is that most people carrying handguns today neither train regularly to maintain basic skills, nor do they spend time developing the proper mindset and muscle memory to be effective in an active shooter scenario. Despite the claims of the NRA and most gun rights advocates, most people carrying concealed today are a hazard to those around them, because they aren’t trained well. College students, and presidents, shouldn’t assume that because they’ve hit a paper target, they’re effective gun-fighters, no matter how many video games they’ve played.
- Security at a large institution should not be left to several hundred independent operators. Imagine being a first responding law enforcement officer and arriving on a scene with two bad guy shooters, and 200 good guy shooters–who are your legitimate targets? For that matter, even before the law enforcement arrives, assume you hear shots, draw your concealed weapon, look up and see several people with handguns drawn–who is the bad guy? Most concealed carry permit holders don’t consider these scenarios. Adding more untrained, armed people to the mix won’t help.
- “ending those Muslims before they walk in”– yes, I know he clarified the next day in a press release that he meant the terrorists, but that’s not what he said… This whole phrase is STUPID (to borrow Trump’s terminology). It’s inflammatory, insensitive, and wrong. How about we decide, and state, that we’re going to defend against terrorists, who are the problem, instead of an entire religion?
- “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here”–more ignorant, harmful blustering. I love John Wayne movies more than most, but cowboy bravado has no place in public leadership. Taking lives, even terrorist lives, shouldn’t be about “teach(ing) a lesson.” It should be about defending innocent lives. And it shouldn’t be spoken of cavalierly by the leader of the largest evangelical Christian institution of higher learning in the world. It sounds like high-school bluster.
- IF you feel it is necessary to ignore all the thoughts above, and you choose to run your mouth, and IF you feel it is necessary to announce to thousands (millions, really) of people that you carry a concealed weapon, at least be well-trained enough to know whether or not pulling it out on stage, in front of thousands of people, when there is no imminent threat, is legal!!! (In case you missed it, Falwell said, “Is it illegal to pull it out? I don’t know.”) If you don’t know, you have no business carrying it, and you just acknowledged your lack of competence to the world.
- As the leader of the largest evangelical Christian institution of higher learning, you bear an incredible responsibility to set a good, Christ-like example. Pandering to the audience’s fear, and in so doing, a) encouraging your considerable audience to judge an entire religion by the actions of a small minority, and b) giving further credence to radicals’ claims that Americans, and Christians, are out to kill them, is grossly irresponsible.
Finally, from the Christian perspective:
- Before Falwell, or anyone else who professes to be a follower of Jesus for that matter, starts advocating armed action against others, it would be wise to examine what God’s word says.
- First, throughout much of Old Testament history, we see the Israelites being instructed by God to wage war. Of note is that they were instructed by GOD. In at least one instance where the Israelites decided on their own to take up arms against others, it didn’t go so well for them (Numbers 14).
- Luke 22:36 is the only passage where we see Jesus advocate any form of taking up arms; a passage that Falwell’s supporters are quick to point out. However, in just a few hours Jesus rebukes his followers for drawing their swords (22:49-51).
- More instructive to what Jesus expects from his followers is the following 50 years of history recorded in the New Testament, where his followers are attacked, imprisoned, and even killed, but never respond with violence.
- I don’t believe that Jesus was the pacifist that many want to portray him as; neither do I believe that he wants us to take up arms to defend him, or advance the Christian religion. I do believe that the body of Scripture supports defending innocents against evil. That doesn’t justify a religious war against opponents of Christianity. The Apostle Paul identifies the opponents of Christianity not as humans, but as spiritual forces of evil that set themselves up against God. The weapons Paul proscribes for the follower of Jesus in this fight against spiritual forces are not physical weapons, but spiritual weapons.
- Revelation 19 is pointed to as a justification of physical violence against the opponents of Jesus, but one must interpret the book of Revelation with caution. Even with the most literal of interpretations, the reader must recognize that the followers of Jesus are just that: followers. Getting out in front of Jesus is probably not wise; it certainly isn’t Biblical.
- Given this quick examination of Scripture, I would propose that while it is not imprudent for Jesus’ followers to arm themselves, they should do so with caution, that they not be tempted to take lives cavalierly, or in aggression.
Here’s the deal: I’m not opposed to well-thought out security measures, including appropriately trained private citizens carrying concealed weapons. I’m not opposed to the university president carrying a concealed weapon. But talking smack on a stage in front of thousands of people, who are forming their own political and spiritual beliefs based in part on what you say, is no place to play cowboy. Advocating violence based on a religion (and that’s what he said, whether or not it’s what he meant–and if he can’t communicate more accurately and effectively than that, he needs to find a new vocation) and pandering to the fear and mob mentality of a crowd of college students, is foolish, unprofessional, and not Christ-like.
Falwell screwed up.