WASHINGTON – Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land says he would support arming teachers with guns.
In a radio interview Dec. 19, Land also said the “New Testament justification” for owning a firearm is found partly in “loving my neighbor as myself.”
The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) offered his comments in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR) in the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting deaths in Newtown, Conn., of 28 people, including 20 children and six faculty/staff members at an elementary school. The interview occurred the same day President Obama announced an initiative led by Vice President Biden that could include gun-control recommendations.
Responding to questions on the NPR program “All Things Considered,” Land said he has no problem with his grandsons being in classrooms with teachers who are armed and have been properly trained.
“Law-abiding citizens who are armed are the best last-ditch defense against the kind of horror that we’ve just experienced,” Land said. “If there had been teachers who had been trained and knew how to use their weapons, they could have saved a great many lives.
“Gun-free zones are a fantasy, and they’re an invitation to criminals,” Land said, adding, “Gun-free zones assume that murderers and criminals are going to obey the law. They’re not.”
NPR’s Robert Siegel asked Land about the possible restoration of a federal ban on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines that existed for 10 years beginning in 1994.
Land said he has no problem personally with some type of restriction on such weapons, although he knows many Americans do.
“I am not a member of the [National Rifle Association], never have been a member of the NRA. I am a gun owner,” Land said. “But the problem that I have with hanging too much of our concern on [an assault-weapon restriction] is that for the decade that it was in effect it had no influence on homicides.”
Land said he does not want Americans limited to “target pistols and shotguns,” noting, “The Second Amendment didn’t make that restriction, and neither should we.
“We live in an age of worldwide terror. And as we’ve noticed from some of these domestic tragedies, by the time the police get there, it’s often too late.”
Land told about using a handgun when he was 15 years old to turn away an intruder. A man had broken into the garage of his family’s house in Houston, Texas, about 3 a.m. and was trying to break through a door into the kitchen. With his father away, Land’s mother awakened him. Land grabbed the gun and warned through the door he would shoot if the intruder had not left by the time he counted to three. The man fled by the count of two.
Siegel asked Land how he would justify gun ownership from the New Testament.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love your neighbor as yourself,” Land responded.
“If I find that someone is trying to do harm to someone else, I believe that I have a moral and Christian obligation to do whatever I can – with the least amount of violence necessary but, if necessary, lethal violence – to stop them from harming others,” he explained. “That’s loving my neighbor as myself. That’s doing unto others as I would have them do unto me.”
Land called for closing loopholes on background checks “to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals” but to enable law-abiding citizens to buy firearms.
At the White House Dec. 19, Obama said Biden would work with Cabinet members and outside organizations to present reform proposals by January. In urging Congress to act on the reforms in the new year, the president implied they might include bans on semi-automatic weapons and large-capacity ammunition as well as more stringent background checks.
Obama said he “will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies” like those in Newtown and elsewhere. “We won’t prevent them all, but that can’t be an excuse not to try,” he said.
In other developments since the Newtown killings:
Southern Baptist pastor Ronnie Floyd endorsed some changes regarding guns in a first-person column Dec. 19 in Baptist Press (BP). The senior pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas said, “While gun control may not be the ultimate answer to the threatening epidemic of mass murders in our nation, I personally hope some changes can be made. I am not an authority on this issue, but I am one American who is highly concerned with the path we are on. Surely, something can be done.” Floyd also addressed abortion and media violence as factors in a culture that devalues human life. In addition, he called for churches – as well as private firms and government – to assist families dealing with mental health issues.
Shannon Royce, president of ChosenFamilies.org, said in a Dec. 17 first-person column for BP she agreed with these sentiments in an online article by a mother of a son with mental illness: “In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. … It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.” A Southern Baptist, Royce called for “personal engagement” by the church. “We are called as the body of Christ to engage the fallen and broken world with the grace and power of the gospel of Christ. That includes those with mental health concerns,” she wrote. ChosenFamilies.org is a nonprofit organization for families living with hidden disabilities
The sale of firearms has escalated since the Newtown school killings, which Adam Lanza, who later committed suicide, carried out with a semi-automatic rifle. Many Walmart stores have sold out of semi-automatic rifles, Bloomberg News Service reported Dec. 19. While Walmart said it would continue to sell guns, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced the suspension of sales of “modern sporting rifles” in all its stores. Prices of ammunition magazines for some handguns have risen markedly on EBay, according to Bloomberg. One of the country’s largest gun stores – Hyatt Gun Shop in Charlotte, N.C. – achieved more than $1 million in sales Dec. 18, the highest one-day figure since the store open more than 50 years ago, the news service reported.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.)