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I originally wrote most of this in 2009. I updated it in 2015. The warnings and advice here are tragically illustrated in this terrible attack. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims in Southerland Springs, and our admonition go out to all.

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Imagine the following scenario: At church this Sunday, while reviewing the list of announcements and upcoming events for your church, your pastor adds, “Oh, and don’t forget: on Sundays we have our regular target practice. Make sure to bring your guns. Make sure to bring your pieces to church.”

Absurd, right? Not so. It used to be the American way. For example, a 1631 law in Virginia required citizens to own firearms, to engage in practice with them, and to do so publicly on holy days. It demanded that the people “bring their pieces to the church.” Somewhere along the line we have lost this mindset. Today the ideas of church and arms are assumed to be at odds, as if loving your neighbor has nothing to do with the preservation and defense of life and property.

But the idea of Christian society and an armed, skilled populace actually have deep historical roots. Alfred the Great codified the laws of England in the 9th Century, often resorting to biblical law in order to do so (where he departed from biblical law, the integrity of his famous law code is quite poor). Alfred applied the Deuteronomic laws of kings that forbad a standing army (Deut. 17), and as a result developed a national defense based on militia:

By the Saxon laws, every freeman of an age capable of bearing arms, and not incapacitated by any bodily infirmity, was in case of a foreign invasion, internal insurrection, or other emergency, obliged to join the army.…1

This required and encouraged an armed citizenry:

Every landholder was obliged to keep armor and weapons according to his rank and possessions; these he might neither sell, lend, nor pledge, nor even alienate from his heirs. In order to instruct them in the use of arms, they had their stated times for performing their military exercise; and once in a year, usually in the spring, there was a general review of arms, throughout each county.2

Imagine! Imagine the government poking its nose in every year not to register and license weapons for possible future confiscation, but to ensure that each house indeed possessed weapons. Imagine that instead of imposing fees for licensing schemes, the government levied fines for not owning a firearm. This was the case in Massachusetts in 1644. The state required that “every freeman or other inhabitant of this colony provide for himself and each under him able bear arms a sufficient musket and other serviceable piece” as well as “two pounds of powder and ten pounds of bullets.”3  Those who neglected this duty could receive fines up to ten shillings (for laborers, roughly a day’s wages).

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