The following post, written by the Rev. Robert A. Franek, is a part of Politicus Policy Discussion, in which writers draw connections between real lives and public policy.
It is nothing less than heresy to claim that the ownership of guns is a “God given right.”
Check the scriptures. God makes lots of promises and many of them are impossible to believe like barren women becoming pregnant and bearing children or dry bones coming to life in the desolate desert. However, nowhere does God say anything about the right to have guns. Never mind guns were yet to be invented. Broaden the scope and consider weapons of any variety. God never guarantees a right to have a sword or knife or even a pile of rocks.
The consistent theme from the Ten Commandments and the myriad of laws in Leviticus and Deuteronomy to the calls of the prophets and the ministry of Jesus is the welfare of the neighbor and the making of a just society rooted in compassion and mercy for the vulnerable and the oppressed.
There is also no escaping the pacifist ethic of Jesus. Read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters five through seven. Consider also Jesus’ rebuke to the one who drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave after Judas betrayed Jesus into the hands of the chief priests and elders of the people. Put your sword back into its place; for all who take up the sword will perish by the sword (Matthew 26.52).
It is worth noting that when Dietrich Bonhoeffer was asked to explain what this verse meant he said something to the effect of exactly what it says.
Given the nonviolent witness of Jesus and the inescapable consistency of the message of a neighbor-love ethic throughout the scriptures, it is impossible to conclude that the right to have any weapon is grounded in the biblical canon.
Every Christian therefore should find it gut-wrenchingly offensive to hear repeated claims that the right to bear arms is of divine origin. Regardless of how one approaches the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, nothing it says is a “God given right.”
It is also dangerous to make appeals to Christianity when taking about the founders because most of them were not Christians but rather Deists. Thomas Jefferson is noted to have physically cut out all the miracle stories of Jesus from the gospels. So, when these men were conceiving the documents to govern this new nation, they were not making appeals to the Christian biblical or theological tradition. If anything, as the First Amendment shows, they were trying to guarantee the free expression of every religion and not privilege one faith tradition over another. Thus, the establishment clause preventing a state church or the state showing favoritism to one religious group over another.
Reading the Second Amendment on its face value and in its historical context or original intent, it is clear that these ideas did not fall from heaven but were tied to particular realities of the day. These realities included well-regulated militias that in addition to potentially protecting the country from a tyrannical government were used to keep slaves in line.
It has only been through case law, not divine right, that the Second Amendment has been interpreted to guarantee the right to bear arms as we understand it today. However, it does not guarantee the right to any and all arms.
The epidemic of gun violence in our country demands a critical open and honest conversation about the right to bear arms what the Second Amendment means in the twenty-first century.
The student activists of Parkland, Florida, are making sure we finally have that conversation. Following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, these youth have been indefatigable in keeping the conversation on gun violence and the need for common sense gun control legislation alive across the country and in the halls of power. Last week their efforts resulted in the Florida state legislature passing a landmark bill addressing a few of their concerns. While significant the bill did not issue a ban on assault-style weapons.
With walkouts happening across the country this week and the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C. at the end of next week, this conversation is sure to be kept alive for some time. Hopefully, with this continued pressure on elected leaders and the skewering of the National Rifle Association for their shameless tactics to sell more guns more policy changes will come at all levels of government to substantively address the epidemic of gun violence across the United States of America.
However, this essential dialog will not happen so long as the Second Amendment it an idol in American culture where any critique is viewed as an assault on a God given right. As long as people and politicians have to tread on egg shells around critiques of gun rights and preface every statement with, “I believe in the Second Amendment,” real change will not happen.
The Second Amendment did not arrive by divine delivery, but arose out of a historic context, just like all the other amendments to the Constitution. No one goes around professing staunch belief in the Third Amendment. In today’s world it is not all that relevant.
As long as we live by the gun we will die by the gun.
This we know.
It is time to critically examine the original intent of the Second Amendment, including being honest about its racism and revisit the case law that has expanded its scope. The student activists of Parkland, Florida, are showing the country how to have this conversation. It’s time to listen and follow their lead.
It’s also time to stop pretending that God want’s everyone to have guns. This is heresy.
The inalienable rights guaranteed in the Declaration of Independence are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When people don’t feel safe at school, their place of worship, a concert, or movie theatre because of gun violence these rights are under assault. With any other threat the action would be swift, but our continued idolatry of gun rights will eventually assure the crumbling of our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.