I don’t often use this pulpit to enter the realms of politics, but Godless culture makes a habit of forcing morality into that arena; I could cite many examples, abortion being only one. But this week I saw President Obama become tearful as he spoke about the carnage wrought every year in our nation by people who have no business being in possession of a firearm. I refrain from expressing my political opinion of the president’s plan for “fixing” the problem, except to say, in my own words, that any law in the hands of government functionaries, has the potential to become draconian at the point of enforcement, whether it be by legislation, or by executive order. We see it all the time, on every level of the spectrum of political bent, from the cop’s errant misinterpretation of a “No Parking” sign, to the supreme court’s misinterpretations of Constitutional law in rulings like Roe v. Wade.
The solution, of course, lies in the words of Jesus, to “Love your neighbor” and to enforce the Golden Rule before you enforce the law, especially at a point of conflict. So, the subject this week is “Gun Control”, as it is referred to in the political arena. In the arena of morality, however, it is better said that “two wrongs don’t make a right”, or, as Neal Young put it in the sixties, “No body’s right, if everybody’s wrong.”
It is said that the truth has no friends, and the saying is true. I’m sure that many of my friends will be unhappy with what I have to say, no matter what side of the issue they stand on. I point out that most views on the subject are tainted by worldly opinion rather than being seen through the clearly focused lens of the Cross of Jesus. The worldly view accepted, this essay will be centered on the Constitution of the United States and not necessarily the Bible. As such, I begin with the words of that inspired document’s Bill of Rights and specifically, the Second Amendment, written as follows:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. “
You must first understand that the words of this one, vital sentence were not penned easily. They were not applied to our founding document without much wrangling and painful debate among the fathers of our nation, but the final syntax came from a wisdom beyond those men, as did every other ideal expressed in our constitution. What I have said, of course, is a religious belief that certainly is not shared by everyone who lives under the protections of our nations founding law. I would add, at this point, however, that I don’t believe the framers of the constitution ever conceived a day when the people who live under its protection would refute the very belief in God. For that reason there is a great divide between us in the interpretation of its words, a divide that forces me to approach this argument from a legal and logical frame, rather than the moral. As the document must be interpreted logically, we begin at the end, where logic puts the emphasis of the principle being expressed.
The words, “…shall not be infringed,” are an emphatic commandment to all three branches of government that the preceding condition is not to be wrongfully limited, or restricted. The wisdom that chose these words did not use the word “should”, implying that the condition is only a guideline, or the word “may”, implying options. They chose the word, “shall”, because it implies an absolute, a law of the Medes, if you will; meaning a law that cannot be changed or withdrawn. Therefore, let us begin with a clear understanding that the adherence of all three branches of government to the preceding condition of this amendment, or right of the people, is absolute and irrevocable.
So, what is the condition that has been so carefully protected and preserved by the wisdom that founded our nation? Lets examine, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
Certainly our forefathers could no more see the future than we can, so their view of “arms” is pretty much restricted to the knowledge and technology of the time, but that does not preclude their guiding wisdom. The Bill of Rights, sent to the states for ratification in August of 1789, was written in a time when weapons technology consisted of a muzzle-loaded flintlock using ball shot. The quality of such weapons was comparatively poor and standards were virtually non-existent. Since these weapons were hand made by only a comparative few craftsmen, as a collective, there was no interchangeability of parts. Even the ball shot varied greatly in size and weight. That said, there was certainly no question in the eyes of a Tory government, nor in the minds of the fathers of our constitution that the people had the right to keep such arms.
Most of the protein consumed each day in the colonies came from hunting game, not from breeding cattle, and the existing government depended on the people, not just to provide fresh meat, but also to defend themselves and their communities from frequent attacks by warring, native tribes and many European enemies, (not the people’s enemies, but the government’s enemies.) Thus, there can be no question concerning the interpretation of the people’s right to “keep”, that word meaning to “own” fire arms of the same type that was “kept” by government sponsored military forces.
That is not to say that the military didn’t keep arms beyond the ability of the average citizen, cannon bearing caissons, mortars and exploding projectiles, fighting frigates and other weapons platforms capable of devastating firepower. However, even these types of weapons are included under the second amendment, but there are conditions concerning them that I will discuss shortly. For now, I want to keep this at the level of personal, defensive weapons, capable of being carried by one man. So we move on to the word, “bear.”
This word has many meanings, so we have to find a way to focus on the meaning, or meanings intended by the framers of the constitution. Certainly it is clear from our knowledge of the period that the right to “carry” arms was included in the word “bear.” The survival of the colonies was dependent on hunting for meat, and civil defense, so it was not only permitted, but expected, by a Tory government, that every man would own, or “keep” a firearm and be seen “bearing”, or carrying such in the course of any given day. It’s an interesting side-note that violent crime was virtually unknown outside the occasional bar fight, or the even rarer duel, but that was a matter of morality, not the ubiquitous presence of firearms.
On the side of the rebellion, from which the Bill of Rights was born, there was a similar expectation proven in the existence of organized militias such as “The Regulators” and “The Minute Men”, formed in secret, to protect the people from their own government’s wrongful aggression. Like the citizen of the Tory government, the Minute Men were expected to provide their own weapons for such defense. So there can be no doubt that one intended meaning in the word “bear”, is to take up and “carry” said arms, even in clear view of the public and its legitimate government.
There is yet another applicable meaning for the word, “bear”, however, and that is to be worthy of something, to deserve something and therefore be allowed to have it. This reference is extremely important in its deeper, moral meaning. To begin with, in August of 1789, a culture existed that assumed men, in general, though possibly not specifically, were worthy of the trust of their neighbors and their government to “bear” arms as defined above. It was a trust assumed to be deserved by way of an individual’s proof of personal responsibility within the community, proofs that were assumed almost on a daily basis. Keeping such a culture in mind, our forefathers saw their neighbors as worthy of, and deserving of the right to keep and bear arms among them, based on a level of trust, rooted in a culture of individual responsibility and community awareness. So, the right of the people to keep and bear arms was, first, assumed.
That established, we should next address the real, intended purpose for the second amendment, the underlying motivation at the very root of its creation, “the security of a free state.” What was, and therefore is the intended interpretation of these words?
First I want to deal with the concept of a “free state” and, for a better understanding of that concept, we should turn first to The Declaration of Independence. One must remember that, at the time, no such, “free state”, existed in our world, nor had any ever existed, certainly not in the form conceived within our constitution. Here are the precious words that cried out to the winds of change:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
First and foremost, that governments should derive their power by the consent of the governed, and, second, that when said government becomes destructive of a responsible, community minded people’s freedoms, it becomes, not only the right of said people, but their duty to abolish that government. If the meaning were otherwise, those men would not have put their lives and fortunes on the line to accomplish that very end for themselves and their posterity.
Having established this, one can clearly see that the intended purpose for the people’s right to keep and bear arms was to defend themselves from their enemies, both without and within said free state. In a strong sense, the right to keep and bear arms is intended to restrain government from overflowing the boundaries established for it. Thus it is the people’s right and duty to control that tendency, even to the point of overthrowing such government, by force, if necessary. It is precisely what Benjamin Franklin meant when he referred to our new government as “a republic, if you can keep it.”
Finally we look at the phrase, “A well regulated militia.”
A militia is the means by which the rest is accomplished and it is a vital part of the rights given to the people under the second amendment. A militia is a group of citizens who are not part of the armed forces of a nation, but are trained like soldiers. Given what has gone before, what do you think was intended by our forefathers in this opening phrase of the second amendment? I think it’s quite clear that a militia is intended to counterbalance the government’s armed forces; not only for that purpose, but primarily so. The second amendment refers to a militia as, “being necessary to the security of a free state,” that is, a state in which the people’s rights are both honored and protected. What could be clearer?
Since a militia is not the same as an army, in that it is formed independent of the government, there are only a few things that could be meant by “the security of a free state.” One is to protect a community from outside attack as a first line of defense, since government backed troops cannot be everywhere at once, but also it refers to Franklin’s warning, “…if you can keep it.” Keep it from what? The answer is obvious, we must keep our own government from usurping our freedoms by growing so powerful that our rights are overcome by its gluttony. We must prevent a federal government from bluring the lines between state’s rights and the interests of the federal government. The insideous insertion of federal authority into local communities over the past 150 years has become a great danger to our freedoms. We find ourselves at the mercy of such as the FBI, Homeland Security, the U.S. Treasury and all its many arms of enforcement, along with many other entities of the executive branch. A strong militia is a deterrent to government’s natural tendency for “scope creep”, that is, to overflow the bounds of its constitutional authority. The constitution calls for the different branches of government to act as that deterrent through checks and balances, but, as is obvious in the present as it was also in the past, government continues to grow in the shadows of gridlock caused by its constitutional checks and balances; “…if you can keep it”. But, a well regulated militia, being the means by which we can protect ourselves from an over-reaching federal government, also becomes a way for us to control guns in our communities.
It is unfortunate that few among us, including the local sheriff, understand the historical purpose for the office of sheriff being an elected position. It is because, in his domain of authority, the sheriff is an official who independently represents the will of a community with regard to its relationship to the federal government. The federal government should be forbidden, by a state’s constitution, to exercise its authority for enforcement within the domain of any local sheriff without the express permission of said sheriff. The only person in any state who should be able to legally override the sheriff’s authority within his domain is the governor of the state. No representative of the federal government should have the legal authority to do so and, if your state constitution does not so authorize the office of sheriff, then it has been ratified by the grossest of errors.
A properly drawn state constitution means that when one of the federal government’s hundreds of strong arm SWAT teams wants to perform a raid on a local company accused of violating a U.S. Customs rule regarding the importation of some restricted wood products, they cannot legally perform such raid without the express permission of the local sheriff. Without that permission, the local sheriff has the right, authority and obligation to protect said company from such a raid, by use of force, if necessary.
But the county sheriff may not have the manpower to mount such a deterrent, and that’s where the local militia comes in. Our constitution says, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…” The word necessary implies a mandate for every community to mount and maintain a “well regulated militia.” As a nation, we have failed miserably in this regard and there is a reason for it, a reason that is exclusive to the freedoms we enjoy. We’ve become a selfish people who don’t want to give of our time, especially when it comes to the matter of security and defense, but we are constitutionally obligated to do so, though not legally bound.
Still, many Americans join local militias which I refer to as Hobby Armies. These militias are not “well regulated”, by constitutional standards and, as such, amount to nothing more than armed gangs, who’s purpose and practice are defined by the whims of their local leaders. But a well regulated militia should fall under the authority of the local sheriff, who is not a representative of government, but an independent representative of the people who elected him and who’s responsibilities include the safety and protection of their communities.
The sheriff would not be in direct command of the militia, but he would be the overarching authority that legitimizes their existence. The office of Sheriff would provide the budget for maintaining the militia and provide an armory where militia weapons would be kept. “Militia weapons” are defined as offensive weapons such as assault rifles, automatic weapons, explosives, motorized armored weapons platforms, etc.; basically, any weapon that is not used for hunting or personal defense.
There is an arguable note to the above definition, so I will specify my meaning. Semi-automatic assault rifles, or any weapons that have a clip load greater than ten are defined as “militia weapons”, their acquisition and ownership should be licensed and regulated through a local militia, of which the owner must be a member. Ammunition for such weapons should only be available through the local militia who’s command structure is responsible for training its members and assessing their “proof of individual responsibility”, as in the days of the Minute Men, when the second amendment was conceived.
So, under the second amendment of the constitution, the right of ownership and possession of weapons that are not used for hunting, or personal protection, more specifically, “Militia Weapons”, should be licensed and controlled under the authority of a well regulated, local militia. These local militias may be networked throughout a state for the purpose of supporting neighboring local sheriffs, or the governor of the state, but no command or control of local militias should extend beyond a state’s borders. Given this restriction, if every sheriff in the nation was supporting a militia of three percent of the local population, nationally, that would represent a force of twelve million men and women. Such a force would most assuredly represent a substantial deterrent to any threat by enemies of our constitution, whether within our borders, or without.
All that said, let’s return to the clearer lens of the Cross of Jesus, where we can see and confess through scripture that none of the above need apply to a disciple of Christ, for the Kingdom of God is very different from the kingdoms of this world and requires no other defense than that which God Himself is able and willing to provide. For those who are more inclined to personal defense and armed deterrent, you are free to choose your own way both under God and the constitution of the United States. Whatever your choice may be, however, I urge you to be sure you are acting within God’s will for your life and not by fear, or your own, selfish desires.