Is God Necessary for a People Trained to Arms?


Conservatives love Ayn Rand for her great writing and the moral case she makes for individual freedom, but typically we reject her atheism. Many of us are surprised to learn she was anti-gun, or at least very equivocal on armed self-defense. Relevant Ayn Rand quotes: “I do not know enough about it to have an opinion, except to say that it’s not of primary importance.

Forbidding guns or registering them is not going to stop criminals from having them; nor is it a great threat to the private, noncriminal citizen if he has to register the fact he has a gun. It’s not an important issue, unless you’re ready to begin a private uprising right now, which isn’t very practical.” [Answer to question “What is your opinion on gun control laws?” at Lecture, “The Moratorium on Brains” (Boston, Ford Hall Forum, 1971).] “It’s a complex, technical issue in the philosophy of law.  Handguns are instruments for killing people—they are not carried for hunting animals—and you have no right to kill people. 

You do have the right to self-defense, however. I don’t know how the issue is to be resolved to protect you without giving you the privilege to kill people at whim.”  [Answer to question “What’s your attitude toward gun control?” at Lecture, “Censorship: Local and Express” (Boston, Ford Hall Forum, 1973).] Granted, Ayn Rand did not grow up with American gun culture (though my wife came from Soviet Ukraine and understands well the importance of guns).  Also, she did not have benefit of the voluminous legal and criminological research over the last several decades demonstrating the utility of guns. Yet in noting her surprisingly anti-gun statements it is interesting to speculate on whether her atheism may have something to do with her lack of enthusiasm for armed self-defense. 

Certainly many atheists lead great and good lives and make fine, upstanding, armed citizens.  (I’m no theologian but I believe Ayn Rand, who died in 1982, is no longer an atheist; she’s up there somewhere and God has probably allowed her to rename it “Galt’s Gulch,” or at least “God’s Gulch.”)  I just disagree that atheism works on a grand scale to encourage values we need in a free society.  I believe this is why communists sought to destroy religion and family. In talking with people about armed self-defense, it’s amazing how frequently I hear: “I’m afraid I would shoot someone.” I usually take this kind of statement to mean they are afraid of shooting an innocent person, but as I consider the Ayn Rand quotes above I wonder if in some cases there is a fundamental unwillingness out there even to shoot evil people in defense of innocent life. 

More often, it is probably just an increase in fear due to lack of a theological roadmap. I can talk to them about how the equities are usually pretty clear in the case of a violent criminal attack against a family member, and how firearms training can help you stay within the societal ethics prescribed by law, but people don’t usually make moral decisions of this nature based on what is “taught” by court and legislature (human institutions) – these people are perhaps really at some level concerned, justifiably, about possible deadly hesitation which may result from not having some kind of a theological guide on whether to pull that trigger. Many atheists get good firearms training and do fine with all this; just speculation here, but possibly this basic fear may dissuade the majority of atheists from getting any private training.

As Ronald Reagan said, “Evil is powerless when the good are unafraid.” (And as I said, atheists can of course be good.) If you are going to use lethal force, in matters of life and death, your decision “damn” well better be morally correct.  Not to draw too close a parallel between lethal force and the Holy Eucharist, note Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29: “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 

For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.” Faith is acquired through study and practice, as is firearms proficiency.  It can move mountains, and it can certainly remove deadly hesitation in responding to a violent attack on your family.


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