ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The Reverend Richard Land says he was horrified by the shootings in Newtown, especially as the grandfather of three grade school age boys. But on a matter of gun control, the Southern Baptist clergyman, author and broadcaster speaks of his upbringing and that of many conservative Christians. Most of us, he says, grew up in a region where guns were as natural a thing as lawnmowers.
The problem is not the guns, but what people are doing with the guns. He also tells the story about what happened when he 15 in Houston. His father was away. An intruder was trying to break in. His mother woke him and young Land grabbed a handgun and told the intruder to leave by the count of three or he would shoot. At the count of two, he says, the man left.
Richard Land still owns that handgun, among other firearms. With new attention begin paid to preventing gun violence and familiar arguments over gun control, I wondered what the author of "The Divided States Of America" would tell a commission on gun violence.
DR. RICHARD LAND: Well, I would recommend that we close any loopholes that we can in the background checks. I understand that there are some loopholes that take place at gun shows. I've never been to a gun show. But anything we can do to tighten up the requirement so that people do have to undergo a real background check before they can purchase a weapon. And that we do our best to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals, but keep them in the hands of legal and law-abiding citizens who want them.
SIEGEL: Internet sales of weapons is just the modern world or should we tighten that (unintelligible)?
LAND: Well, I think if you buy a weapon over the internet, you ought to have to provide to the person that you're buying it from the information that they can verify and do a background check. If they can't do a background check, then they shouldn't be able to purchase the weapon.
SIEGEL: Something that once was legislation, controls on large capacity magazines. Can you imagine restoring a ban like that because in the very rare case, it's what permits a gunman to kill many people before anyone would have a chance to disarm him?
LAND: I have no problem with it personally. Now, let me go on record. I am not a member of the NRA, never have been a member of the NRA. I am a gun owner. I have no problem with it. But the problem that I have with hanging too much of our concern on that particular legislation is that for the decade that it was in effect, it had no influence on homicides.
SIEGEL: It also was a ban for a decade that left in circulation all of the material that had been manufactured before the ban went into effect. So...
SIEGEL: It never brought things out of the market, yeah.
LAND: For 10 years, it - there was no difference in terms of homicide rate during that 10 years.
SIEGEL: Would you feel better about your grandsons if there were armed teachers in their classrooms who somehow had some weapons instruction and were prepared to shoot an intruder?
SIEGEL: You would?
LAND: I would. Gun-free zone are a fantasy and they're an invitation to criminals. I know of one school, a graduate school in Texas, where a new president took down the gun-free zone signs and crime on campus dropped precipitously and has remained down for the last decade. Gun-free zones assume that murderers and criminals are going to obey the law. They're not.
SIEGEL: In the story of Newtown, Connecticut, the one person who had guns and would have been presumably equipped to use them was Nancy Lanza. She owned several and instead she was the first victim. It didn't help that she had several weapons.
LAND: Well, I would have no problem with teachers who underwent safety instruction and requisite gun instruction, having guns, just like I have no problem with pilots having guns in the cockpits of airplanes as a last defense against hijacking. Law-abiding citizens who are armed are the best last ditch defense against the kind of horror that we've just experienced. If there had been teachers who had been trained and knew how to use their weapons, they could have saved a great many lives.
SIEGEL: Some years ago, and I believe this was before the Supreme Court ruled on the D.C. gun law and explicitly defined an individual right to own guns, you talked about the militia right and the relationship between the weapons people should have a right to possess and their potential militia or military application.
Once one goes down that road, it seems hard to draw a line between the rocket-propelled grenade launcher or the personal tank and a weapon that a sportsman should be allowed to possess. Where's that...
LAND: Well, we've drawn that line, I think, since, what, 1934 we've had a law against machines guns that...
SIEGEL: Automatic weapons, automatic weapons, that's it. That's it.
LAND: Yeah, yeah. You can't purchase a machine gun unless you're involved with some form of law enforcement.
SIEGEL: But the Tommy guns that gangsters were using in the '30s that may have led to that restriction, I don't think you'd want to take one of them against a contemporary firearm that people can use that might be semi-automatic if it had a 30-round clip, say. I mean, isn't there some room for updating where that line is?
LAND: Well, I personally don't have a problem with sort of restriction on semi automatic weapons, but I know many Americans do. But I don't want the United States restricted to, you know, target pistols and shotguns. That's not - the First Amendment didn't make that - 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.
SIEGEL: What's the New Testament justification for owning firearms?
LAND: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love your neighbor as yourself. If you see your neighbor being attacked, if you see your neighbor in danger, you have an obligation and a responsibility to do what you can to protect them.
SIEGEL: Do you have an obligation to turn the other cheek?
LAND: I think I do, personally. But the difference between personal and defending others, you know, it's the justification that's used for soldiers and others and police officers, and I think for private citizens as well.
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 what ever I can - with the least amount of violence necessary - but if necessary, lethal violence to stop them from harming others. That's loving my neighbor as myself. That's doing unto others as I would have them do unto me.
SIEGEL: Dr. Land, thank you very much for talking with us.
LAND: Thank you.
SIEGEL: Dr. Richard Land is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He spoke to us from Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.