The 2nd Amendment has been used and abused to justify unbridled gun purchases and unfettered use resulting in murder in the mass and tragedy of grief. The Christian is graced and called to a discipleship of perspective love in addressing this bloody pathos. How do we begin? What insights need be engaged? What truths clang for acknowledgement?
God’s Will created humanity in the Image of God. The Creation stories in Genesis one and two announce ALL of God’s work as “good”. On earth, the place of this goodness was the Garden of Eden. It was a place of SHALOM, peace, harmony and balance, reflecting God’s Will and God’s Image. God’s Will-God’s Image was reiterated in the TEN COMMANDMENTS. All of the commandments demonstrate God’s Will-God’s Image that all people live nonviolently, reflecting SHALOM.
But God’s Will-God’s Image was shattered by human choice. Eve chose to tempt Adam to eat of the forbidden fruit. Adam chose to eat the fruit. Cain chose to kill his brother, Abel. Many First Testament stories proceeded to provide the historical traumas of war and individual violence, all expressions of human choice, often proclaiming justification and protection by God. Yet, I would submit these violent actions were counter to God’s Will-God’s Image.
How did God respond to this parade of violence? God chose to become human in Jesus Christ. God wanted to demonstrate what it means to be a human being created according to God’s Will in the Image of God. And what is that? We are created to love God, love each other and love ourselves. God wills this Triangle of Love which reflects God’s Image. When there is a breakage of love, we are graced with forgiveness and reconciliation and the call to repentance. Violence is not a part of the Triangle.
Neither is the United States Constitution. The Constitution is a testimony of commitment to national comity. Nowhere do the articles and amendments call us to intentional violence other than the defense and protection of the nation. The intention is prevention of violence. The intention is to ensure the freedom to live in harmony as a nation.
Yet, the Constitutional intention of harmony is broken by a strangulation of the 2nd Amendment. The 2A (2nd Amendment) is used to justify the nearly unqualified right to buy a buffet of guns from handguns to hunting rifles to semiautomatics, with limited legal interference. Pronouncemnts of “Freedom! My Individual right! My 2nd Amendment right!” blare in opposition to nearly all attempts at making gun ownership safer. The 2A is moral and legal justification for nearly unfettered right to purchace and use. I believe this intention is counter to the Founder’s intention of the 2A.
The 2A must be understood in the context of the entire Constitution. Let us begin with the Preamble: We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and ensure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.
Clearly, the intention of the Constitution is to provide a moral and legal framework for guiding our living together in harmony, in comity, in respect, in peace. There was no unconstrained genuflection to unabashed individualism. Influencers of our Constitution guarded against unfettered individualism. Thomas Hobbes wrote: “Freedom, where unconstrained, is war of all against all.” John Locke wrote, ” Liberty is not license.” And George Washington wrote, “Natural liberty has to be balanced with everyone else’s.” National comity needed to be ensured by legal and moral constraints. Freedom necessitated limitations.
Linda and I were walking the streets of Washington, DC, and we passed the national office of the National Rifle Association. The entry sign had the words: National Rifle Association: ” . . . the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” I wondered, “Where is the first half of the amendment?” : “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, . . . . ” Hence, I scoured books of respected scholars to understand this split.
David Hemenway, in his book, PRIVATE GUNS-PUBLIC HEALTH, writes of the distrust Americans feared in standing armies and centralized government. “The Continental Congress said there was not a private right to bear arms. Collective rights were emphasized. The debate about the 2A was not about individual rights. Hemenway writes that ” . . . Madison wrote the Second Amendment to assure the Southern states that Congress would not undermine the slave system by disarming the militias which were the principle instruments of slave control.” Furthermore, “The men who wrote the Constitution saw the Second Amendment as a civic responsibility that White men had to meet in order to protect and serve their communities . . . . and was never seen as an unlimited and unregulated right.” The right to bear arms was a collective, organized right to defend slavery.
Igor Volsky, in his book GUNS DOWN, points out that “Early colonies required that guns be registered and inspected.” And more, “The right to bear arms in the Congressional Record, you wont find a single mention outside of the context of the military.” Volsky continues, “Early Americans used firearms to dominate the people in the land; they used their firearms to win independence . . . . So, firearms have always had a place in our folk lore.” During the Revolutionary War, the colonists heavily regulated firearms within the military structure. And following the war, militias, which were made up of White land-owners, were created to strip Native Americans of their land and rule enslaved Africans. Again, the right was collective and organized oppression and not unabashed libertarian murder.
Volsky notes that Justice Antonin Scalia’s comments on the District of Columbia v. Heller decision (2008) that the Constitution guarantees an individual’s right to bear arms in the home for self defense. BUT, Scalia writes that the righjt to bear arms was not absolute, that the government can Constitutionally ban certain individuals from possessing firearms in schools or government buildings, impose restrictions on the sale, and prohibit the availability of potentially dangerous and unusual weapons. “The right secured by the Second Amemdnet is not unlimited, . . . . that the right secured by the Second Amendment was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” Volsky writes, “The authors of the Second Amendment would be flabbergasted to learn that endorsing the Republican principle of a well-regulated militia, they were also precluding restrictions on such potentially dangerous property as firearms, which the government had always regulated when there was “real danger of public injury from individuals.” “The right to beqr arms always reflected more of a collective spirit rather than an individual obligation.”
Michael Waldman of the Brennen Center would concur. In his article titled “How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment”, he writes, “The Founders never intended to create an unregulated individual right to a gun. Today, millions believe they did. Here’s how it happened.” The first sentence in his article quotes former Chief Justice Warren Burger, who called the NRA’s assault on the Second Amenmemt “A fraud on the American public.”
Tom Diaz, in his book MAKING A KILLING, compares the gun industry with the tobacco industry saying, “Just as the tobacco industry wraps itself in the mantal of ‘Freedom of choice’, to smoke or chew tobacco products known to cause cancer and other diseases of the heart or lungs, so does the gun industry wrap itself in nostalgia for a largely mythical frontier heritage and the false flag of the Second Amendment.” He follows saying, “The gun industry is the last supplier of consumer products in the United States to remain unregulated for health and safety . . . . and it stands alone among the industries, free of even the most basic health and safety regulations.” He finishes, “In the golden glow of the gun industry’s public construct of itself, the lethality of guns becomes not a matter of civic concern but a virtually indispensable implement of civic duty.” And I would say PROFIT.
Heather Cox Richardson writes, ” . . . . the nation’s current gun free-for-all is not traditional but rather, is a symptom of the takeover of our nation by a radical extremist minority. The idea that massacres are the ‘price of freedom’ as right-wing personality Bill O’Reilly said in 2017, . . . is about politics, not our history.” Regarding the Second Amendment, Richardson writes, ” . . . in their day, to ‘bear arms’ meant to be part of an organized militia.”
Heather bolsters her “politics” argument by citing actions by the NRA and politicians to attack “gun control.” Until 1959, every single legal article on the Second Amendmernt concluded that it was not intended to guarantee individuals the right to own a gun. But in the 1970s, legal scholars funded by the NRA had begun to argue that the Second Amendment did exactly that.” Richardson argues that there were “enemies” from which White Americans needed to be protected. The “enemies” were “socialism” and Black Americans. However, after President Reagan was shot, the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act was passed. The NRA strongly opposed the act, using the Second Amendment to justify the individual right to own a gun. The result was the wedding of the NRA and a blind ideology of individual liberty.
I suggest it is unhistorical politics and power that govern individualistic, libertarian, unbridled 2nd Amendment rights.
What is the Christian to do in this 2nd Amendment maelstrom? First, using the metaphor of glasses, we are graced and called to see the 2nd Amendment through the lens of God’s Will-God’s Image which concludes in God-Jesus Christ-Holy Spirit. What we do emerges. I would posit that this Holy Triangle clarifies that our essential being is to obey the Will of God for nonviolence and reflect the Image of God of nonviolence. God’s intent for us is such. We are created to live in peace, in harmony, in community. This intent is consistent with the intention of the Constitution: peace, harmony and community. Unfettered individualism is anathema to God’s Will-God’s Image and the founder’s will in the Constitution. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called America ” . . . the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Looking through the lens of faith and the original intent of the Founders regarding the 2nd Amendment provides a clarity and justification for “commandments and laws” to guide and regulate gun usage for the sake of national comity and faithful obedience to God’s created purpose for humanity. The choice is ours: obedience or chaos.

Blessings and Peace!

Ron Letnes (Rev. Dr.)