The Kentucky House has just passed HB 236, a bill that would allow citizens the right to protect themselves in their homes and cars by use of deadly force before being attacked, when such attack is judged to be certain. It also grants significant immunity from civil lawsuits to a citizen who has had to use deadly force in the protection of life, limb, and property. The Senate version of the same bill, SB 52, is in the committee process.
Currently, a citizen is required to “retreat,” as it were, from any attacker(s) rather than initially exert self-protection measures upon recognition of a threat, presumably somehow guaranteeing that such retreat will lead to a safe result, with no bloodshed accruing to either the attacker or the victim. The obvious fault in this approach is that the victim has had no legal standing to protect himself until it most likely would be too late. HB 236 reflects much of the same philosophy that has been spelled out by President Bush with regard to staying the hand of enemies upon their own soils when they have been determined by the appropriate government agency as certain to attack or otherwise commit terrorism against the United States, rather than wait until attacked and then respond. This lesson was learned in the WTC conflagration on 9/11 and put to use in the Iraq invasion.
The bill, of course, is the outgrowth of the simple use of common sense. If a would-be intruder smashes a window on his way into one’s house, one is better served by negating the intruder’s intent before that intent becomes reality. Waiting for the intruder to make a further move by perhaps running to another part of the house makes about as much sense as standing in the middle of a highway at night and waiting until a car traveling at 70 mph is ten feet away and then running.
The sheer common sense of HB 236 demands its passage into law, but the official position of the Kentucky Council of Churches, headed by the Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Kemper, is that the bill should not be passed. This is the Council’s statement: Our policy statement on "Assault Weapons" (1989) begins with this sentence: "As Christians we are called by our Lord to be peacemakers, to settle our personal and interpersonal conflicts by non-violent means. In our statement on "Violence in Society" (1996), we said: "As Christians, we must acknowledge our complicity in the currents of violence which can be found throughout our society, especially if we do not work to counteract these things which initiate or add to the climate of fear and aggression which leads to violece [sic]. ... God calls the churches to intervene in the spiral of fear, violence, and aggression." We see the "shoot first" bill as a way in which violence becomes the way in which citizens will be encouraged to deal with crime, rather than to first seek to retreat from violent situations, and to seek aid from legitimate law officers. We believe that the "shoot first" bill should be opposed on the basis of its propensity to increase violence in our society.
There may be a time and place for initiating dialogue with a non-peacemaker such as a burglar, potential rapist, or drug-crazed thief, not to mention a child molester. That time, however, is not just as an act of violence is about to occur, unless the KCC and Kemper believe that one should negotiate from a position of already being either robbed, badly hurt, dead, or all of the above. There is this crazy notion among many Christians that Jesus Christ was a wimpy sort of person with long flowing locks and patrician features (resembling the most popular picture of him even hanging in some churches), but nothing could be farther from the truth. The Bible documents vividly a time when he fashioned a whip with his own hands and drove people from the temple (today’s church) because they were sullying the sacredness of the place. To be aware of the grit possessed by Christ, one needs to remember that he was forced to fear for his life while he ministered and that he endured throughout all the actions related to the crucifixion a level of torture and pain that is incomprehensible.
But perhaps the most telling thing to remember occurred at the “Last Supper,” when Jesus spoke to his disciples shortly before being murdered. He told them (Luke 22: 35,36) in no uncertain terms to arm themselves, even if it meant selling part of their clothes in order to buy weapons. He explained that there had been a time when such was not the case and he had sent them out unarmed, but that now the time had come for them to defend themselves. He also taught that those who live by the sword (aggressors) would die by the sword, so he meant for them to take up weapons in self-defense. Far from being a wimp or expecting his followers to be wimps, Jesus was a realist who expected his followers to have the good sense not to be trampled.
So…from a strictly biblical standpoint, HB 236 is something that member churches and their leaders, notwithstanding the official stance of the KCC, should consider carefully. Perhaps some of them, instead of petitioning legislators in behalf of opposing self-defense, as urged by the KCC, will do just the opposite and petition the KCC to reconsider its position.
And so it goes.