Falwell's concealed-permit comments enter gun debate

Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, encourages students to get concealed-carry permits in Dec. 4 convocation comments.
 
LYNCHBURG, Va. (BP) -- It was a volatile spark for the nation's gun control debate: Jerry Falwell Jr. reveals he carries a concealed weapon, urging students (age 21 and up) to do the same at Liberty University, where he is president. Falwell references "Muslims" and the terrorist attack that left 14 people dead in San Bernardino, Calif.

"Let's teach 'em a lesson if they ever show up here," Falwell said during convocation at the Virginia university Friday, two days after the horrific shooting Dec. 2 at a San Bernardino center for developmentally disabled people.

Falwell's remarks were reported by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fox News, CNN and an array of media across the country. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe called Falwell's comments "rash and repugnant." People in leadership positions, "whether in government or education, must take care to remember the tremendous harm that can result from reckless words," McAuliffe said, according to media reports.

But Falwell was speaking biblically, a Liberty professor wrote in a commentary on the university's news website.

"It is sometimes claimed that Jesus never told his followers to arm themselves, but that is patently untrue," Daniel Howell, professor of biology and one of the administrators in the department, wrote.

"In Luke 22:36, Jesus told his disciples to buy themselves swords even if they had to sell their cloaks to afford them," Howell wrote. "Of course, the sword was the 'arms' of their day, as the gun is for us today. The disciples possessed two swords and Peter used one of them to injure a man when Jesus was being arrested. Jesus rebukes Peter and this is offered as proof that Christians should not use weapons (despite the fact that Jesus just told them to acquire them).

"However, Peter was rebuked not for using a sword in self-defense but for interfering with God's plan of redemption," Howell wrote. "We know this because Jesus said it plainly: 'Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?' (John 18:11)."

Part of Falwell's brief convocation comments never made it from the Lynchburg, Va., campus to the news wires, when he spoke of Liberty University reaching out to help the family of Mike Madden, the courageous police lieutenant who rushed from a lunch break and was first on the scene, and Michael Wetzel, one of the 14 fatalities and father of six children.

Then Falwell referenced the nation's gun debate.

"It just blows my mind when I see the president of the United States say that the answer to circumstances like that is more gun control. I mean, if some of those people in that community center had had what I got in my back pocket right now," he said, gesturing the pulling out of his .25-caliber handgun, and quipping, "Is it illegal to pull it out? I don't know," to spontaneous applause across the audience.

Falwell then stated, "I've always thought if more good people had conceal-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walk in and kill us." More applause. "I just want to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course. Let's teach 'em a lesson if they ever show up here." More applause.

A university news story added a qualifier that Falwell had issued to the media and on social media -- "that when he referred to 'those Muslims,' he was referring to Islamic terrorists, specifically those behind the attacks in Paris and in San Bernardino."

Falwell, speaking to the Associated Press the next day, referenced the 2007 mass shooting of 32 people at Virginia Tech, also in the southwest part of the state. "What if just one of those students or one of those faculty members had a concealed permit and was carrying a weapon when the shooter walked into Virginia Tech?" he asked. "Countless lives could have been saved."

Liberty University policy was revised in 2013 to allow faculty, staff, visitors and students age 21 and up to above to carry firearms with a concealed-weapon permit on campus, including classrooms but not residence halls.

The free four-hour gun permit class Falwell referenced in his convocation remarks is taught by Liberty University's police department. More than 100 students called to sign up for the class after the convocation, Falwell told The News & Advance local newspaper.

Falwell, 53, is the son of the late Jerry Falwell, who founded Liberty University in 1971 and, earlier, Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg and the "Old Time Gospel Hour" TV and radio broadcast. Jerry Falwell Jr. became Liberty's president after his father's death in 2007.

Liberty University is one of the ministry partners of the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia state Baptist convention. According to Liberty's website, 14,500 students are enrolled on campus with 95,000-plus students online.

The San Bernardino shootings were executed by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik, both in their late 20s with a six-month-old daughter, who were subsequently killed by police in a street gunfight. The couple is now being investigated for how they were radicalized to commit the massacre. Farook was an environmental health specialist with the San Bernardino County health department. The couple's attack of 65 to 75 rounds from an assault rifle occurred at a holiday party for county employees around 11 a.m. Dec. 2.

Howell, the Liberty biology professor, had noted in his commentary, "Christian antagonists often use Scriptural misinterpretations to lambaste self-defense in general and gun ownership in particular. When unbelievers in his time tried to ensnare Jesus with his own teachings, Jesus replied, 'You are mistaken because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.' I believe the same can be said today of Christians and non-Christians alike who misuse Scripture to deride self (and national) defense.

"Unbelievers and others lacking knowledge about the true character of God sometimes refer to Christ's moniker as the Prince of Peace to conclude Christianity must be a wimpy, defenseless teaching," Howell wrote. "Of course, this is one of many titles for Jesus, another being the Lion of Judah."

Art Toalston is senior editor of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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