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I grew up hunting and fishing in Washington State. My parents had five children, and not a lot of money, so during my childhood we caught or shot much of our food.

My father, a World War II Marine infantry officer, taught me to shoot. He had trained Marines on the firing range as an expert marksman and cared deeply about gun safety. He raised me, the oldest of his children, to know and understand the power of weapons, to use them extremely carefully and to respect the grave danger they represented.

When I came home from school my mother would often ask me to go get dinner. I didn’t go to the store. Instead, I took my 16-gauge shotgun and my hunting dog Jinx and tromped into the nearby farm fields looking for a pheasant or a duck or a goose we could eat that night.

We didn’t go hungry. My brothers and sisters and I even played a game at the dinner table – while eating the birds my father or I had shot we would see who could bite down on and then retrieve the largest number of lead pellets from the shotgun shell. We lined them up on our plates and counted them. Whoever had the most got dessert first.

When I turned 12, the time came for a standard rite of passage in the life of a young boy in rural America – hunting my first deer. My father, who brought enough venison home every year to feed us through the winter, took me hunting. After a cold day in the forest we spotted a big buck. I took aim. Then I suddenly realized, looking at that beautiful animal through the scope on my father’s Winchester, that I couldn’t pull the trigger. I knew the buck represented food for my family — but for some unknown reason I made the decision not to shoot. I felt terrible, but my father, to his credit, understood. Looking back on it now I believe that moment represented the dawning of something spiritual in me.

That day I put down guns forever.

Vietnam WarSix years later, at 18, I made two important decisions. I became a Baha’i, and I registered for the military draft as a conscientious objector. The Baha’i teachings clearly taught me that I should forfeit my own life rather than take another’s:

Let none contend with another, and let no soul slay another; this, verily, is that which was forbidden you…. What! Would ye kill him whom God hath quickened, whom He hath endowed with spirit through a breath from Him? Grievous then would be your trespass before His throne! – Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 45.

When I read that passage from Baha’u’llah’s Most Holy Book, I knew immediately that I could not kill another human being. So with the support of the Baha’is and my new Faith I applied for and finally received my C.O. status, which allowed me to be drafted into the Army, but meant I would carry no weapon or be trained to kill.

In July of the following year the Army sent me to Vietnam, and for a year I saw what guns do to human beings. Yes, they kill people, but not only with bullets. They kill the spirit of the killer, too. The carnage and death all around me made me understand the wisdom of Baha’u’llah’s command.

Culture of GunsForty years later, sadly, our repeated wars have helped turn America into a gun culture. We have more deadly weapons in our country than we have people. Guns have become easy to get and easy to use, and in the U.S. more people die from gun deaths than in any other industrialized nation.

So what do the Baha’is believe about guns? First, since Baha’u’llah said it is better to be killed than to kill, Baha’is do not take the lives of others. Also, Baha’u’llah called for disarmament of every type of weapon, not only by nations but by individuals. Accordingly, Baha’i law only sanctions owning and carrying weapons if absolutely necessary:

Baha’u’llah confirms an injunction which makes it unlawful to carry arms, unless it is necessary to do so. With regard to circumstances under which the bearing of arms might be “essential” for an individual, Abdu’l-Baha gives permission to a believer for self-protection in a dangerous environment. There are a number of other situations in which weapons are needed and can be legitimately used; for instance, in countries where people hunt for their food and clothing, and in such sports as archery, marksmanship, and fencing. – The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 240.

Baha’u’llah said, describing the Baha’is:

Gracious God! This people need no weapons of destruction, inasmuch as they have girded themselves to reconstruct the world. Their hosts are the hosts of goodly deeds, and their arms the arms of upright conduct…. – Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 170.

32 Comments

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  • Frederick Starr
    May 20, 2018
    I know a Baha'i in my area who is on a Swat team...I hope he has no hesitation to kill someone who needs killing when the time comes. The Master tells us to walk a spiritual path with practical feet.
  • Bill Collins
    Oct 03, 2017
    "This people need no weapons of destruction, inasmuch as they have girded themselves to reconstruct the world. Their hosts are the hosts of goodly deeds, and their arms the arms of upright conduct, and their commander the fear of God." (Baha'u'llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 74)
  • Charity Caballa Groen
    Oct 22, 2016
    Interesting post. My father was a gun maker in the Dutch Royal Indonesian Army. While in Indonesia he was captured by the Japanese and ended up a POW for three years. At the end of the war he contracte Maleria Tropicana, Maleria Tetsiana suffered from diarrhea and beri beri. Drs said he should have died. With help of buddy system survival from my uncle they both survived. He saw so much atrocity of humans toward humans that he despised weapons of any type the rest of his life and luckily with only the force of his spirit passed that feeling ...about weapons to some of his offspring. To this day I relate strongly to the experience of my father. I personally believe this feeling will expand eventually to all humans even in regards to animals.
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  • dan rapson
    Oct 21, 2016
    How do Baha'i followers justify the death penalty? It is a huge sticking point with your practice. Just my point of view and looking for an answer
    • Nicholas James Bridgewater
      Mar 02, 2018
      Baha'is don't have to justify anything. We accept whatever Baha'u'llah has revealed as true. And the article is not 100% correct as full disarmament of nations is not called for. Nations are allowed to have forces for internal defence, and there will be an international military Force to maintain the peace in the future. So, weapons are needed to preserve order in society and maintain justice. There's a huge difference between individuals killing and a government executing someone for a crime. There is no contradiction. And there are no "sticking points" with our practice. This is the Faith of God, ...revealed by God. Take it or leave it.
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    • Aaron C-b
      Oct 05, 2017
      My understanding is this... That to let a person who has shown themselves to be a malicious killer (particularly one who has killed more than one person at a time, or on more than one occasion) is a threat to society as a whole. For the protection of the society, that individual must be removed. To do otherwise is unjust and unmerciful. The death penalty is one of two recommended actions. It depends on if the society is willing to pay for the lifelong imprisionment of such a person. Death is a permanent solution. ... It can be seen as removing a dangerous cancer from the body of society. Such requires surgery. One of the few times it's called for.
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    • Bill Collins
      Oct 03, 2017
      Baha'u'llah provides either of two penalties for premeditated murder or arson: death or life imprisonment. He cautions those who do the sentencing not to give less than life in prison, although there would need to be clarification of such things as degrees of offense, extenuating circumstances, etc. For either penalty to be enacted under Baha'i law, there would have to be a state of society in which Baha'i law applied. I am of the view that in most circumstances, the Baha'i approach would be life in prison. The death penalty would also need to be applied equally to all, with ...no biases based on race, class, education, and the like. Nevertheless, the fundamental approach is that society imposing a punishment is justice, not revenge.
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  • Steve Eaton
    Sep 19, 2016
    Mr. Worth, Thanks!
  • Steve Worth
    Jun 18, 2016
    Two points struck me
    First is that the word used is "arms", not guns. And in the notes in the Aqdas allude to bows & arrows (implied by "archery"), guns (implied by "marksmanship"), and swords/foils (implied by "fencing"). The notes then use the word "weapons" which perhaps includes anything that is carried with the intention of harming another person. (In law, arms is any "aggressive weapon") All them are "forbidden" unless essential.
    The other is that the underpinning of the self-defence issue seems to me to be maintaining one's self control to the point of being able to ...determine "when to stop in lest being alert to self-defense lest his action deteriorate into retaliation". Perhaps this has implications for non-violent attacks too, such as might happen in "the board room" or family disagreements.
    Together, they suggest intention and self-regulation -- and being conscious of the boundaries of harming other beings, especially fellow humans whom we are meant to prefer before ourselves and for whom our hearts must burn with loving kindness -- even when being attacked.
    No wonder this is the age of maturity and that this Faith is not for the foolish and faint of heart!
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  • Terry Cipolloni Lmt
    Jun 17, 2016
    Thank you for such a powerful post! While I am more comfortable with forfeiting my life rather than take another's - in any situation - we need to remember that not everyone is in this same place. We each have the right to interpret the Writings and our understanding of it may vary. I feel we must be very careful to not judge others and their decisions. Again, thank you for this post! The world needs it at this time!!!
  • Payam Safaee
    Jun 17, 2016
    in short self defense is permitted against people and against animals. This post is one believers opinion. for authoritative guidance. see below
    http://bahai-library.com/uhj_guidance_self_defense
    • Michael Makari
      Dec 15, 2016
      Add a comment...It s a good idear even we must know that there is no bad thing i our life to day we must respect Allah's creatures bt no kill them
    • Payam Safaee
      Jun 17, 2016
      Correct you are Karen,
      keep in mind the letter is dated 1969 where protests were common and people where worried about civil unrest. The UHJ advised the National assembly of the USA that it is PREFERABLE for believers not to arm themselves for their protection at that time. In deed it seemed that the UHJ knew that there would be no mass civil unrest. My understanding from the reading of this letter is that self defense is a personal choice and left up to the individual believer. This only makes sense to me.
    • Karen Johnston
      Jun 17, 2016
      while self defence is permissible - I believe the final sentence in the letter referenced is pertinent here: "We have, however, advised the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States that under the present circumstances in that country it is preferable that Bahá'ís do not buy nor own arms for their protection or the protection of their families." And in the spirit of this timely article.
    • Frank Maceri
      Jun 22, 2017
      Can someone send me the letter e mail please, or fb. So I can read it too.
      Thank you.
  • Sharon Buydens
    Jun 15, 2016
    Really excellent post!