I am fairly sure many of us are thinking about the Second Amendment to our US Constitution. I decided to read it. I encourage you to read it. My reading stirred up more questions than answers.
If you are looking for a soapbox to shout from, please move along to the next blog. There is enough ill-will, anger, name calling and general meanness in the air. Loudly repeating borrowed sound-bites does little to move meaningful dialogue along. The relentless knocking down of solutions and ideas tends to scorch the earth of connections, innovation and solutions. It is easy to find fault, poke holes, pigeon hole, cast blame, set afire, kitchen sink, slippery slope, stereotype, exaggerate, and ridicule dissenting ideas. It is incalculably harder to solve complex social problems like those presented by the Sandy Hook shooting. Our dedication to knocking down opposing ideas leaves few solutions standing.
I grew up around guns. After two military tank tours during the Korean War my Dad did not care for hunting. We fished. Still, we always had BB guns. Dad even set up a shooting gallery in our suburban basement during only particularly dreary January. My Uncle taught me to shoot shotguns and a varmint rifle on the farm. I never want to see a day when duck, coyote, or Coke-can hunters can’t own a gun. If someone is of sound-mind, conviction-free, and well-trained then I understand and respect their right to possess a gun.
In the practice of ministry people have made credible threats against my life. One touted his military skill and hand gun proficiency. I have been afraid. Yet, personally I do not carry a gun. In fact, I am not personally comforted by a “utopian” society where everyone is packing. I think we tried that at Boot Hill. Given the road rage I see in Nashville, the ugliness of fans, and the basic incivility creeping into our culture, more people packing firearms increases my nervousness. Over 3,000 times in 2011 someone turned an argument into murder using a gun.
Now, as a theologian, I do not believe that owning a gun for self-defense is opposed to Jesus’ teaching. Jesus tells us to love (offer redemptive- goodwill) not just to our neighbors but he even extends the obligation to our enemies. If an enemy terrorizes the neighborhood with murderous abandon, then redemptive-goodwill for all neighbors compels the moral person to defend their neighbor’s lives. We do not only offer redemptive -goodwill exclusively towards the perpetrator but to all persons. At times theologians reduce the moral dilemma to a single bad-acting individual. This moral gotcha asks: how can one love an enemy and shoot them? Such moral isolation neglects the larger communal nature of most violence. Redemptive-goodwill for neighbors extends beyond the aggressor to what is good for all neighbors. Some will point to Jesus’ teaching to turn the other cheek. The turning of the cheek is to absorb a slap, not endure repeated life threatening blows. Indeed, the NT includes soldiers as witnesses and first converts. The first Gentile Convert is Cornelius as Roman Centurion. Nowhere does the NT tell soldiers to disarm. When troops ask John the Baptist: “what should we do?” John speaks of extortion not disarmament. At times redemptive-goodwill for neighbor means using force, even deadly force, to preserve life for all neighbors.
I believe people of redemptive-goodwill may use weapons to defend others and perhaps themselves. I have known Godly moral police officers and soldiers who from a place of redemptive-goodwill and preserving life exercised deadly force. They mourned and suffered for the loss of another’s life in order to protect and defend. Christians must never be callous towards another’s life. No Christian should ever relish taking of any life, even that of an enemy. Every death is tragic and to be mourned.
After all those disclaimers, provisos, and theologizing, I come to my Second Amendment questions. I invite you to read the Second Amendment again. Think about your own questions. Events like Sandy Hook produce fear: some fear guns and others fear the loss of guns (that offer a sense of protection and defense). We will have to work hard to move past sound bites and name calling to solutions and cooperation.
The Second Amendment to the Constitution reads: “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.”
- What is the role of regulation in a well regulated militia? Who carries out this regulation of a well regulated militia? Do gun owners agree there is some role for the government in regulating guns?
- The amendment says “the right of the people”. What does the plural usage (the people) mean? How do the collective rights of a people differ from an individual (within the collective) person’s rights?
- How is the implicit regulation (of a well regulated militia) balanced with “the right of the people to keep and bear arms”?
- How does the overarching theme of a secure state influence and direct the rest of the right? Are there cases where a regulating body may decide certain individuals: felons, terrorists, medicated, or mentally ill, can no longer own a gun?
- What does infringe mean?
- In the First Amendment, the Bill of Rights bars Congress from making a law in regards to establishing religion or abridging speech. Why does the Second amendment fail to use the stronger language of “make no law” in regards to bearing arms? FIRST AMENDMENT. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress.
As I think about the second amendment it makes a few things seem somewhat clear.
First, Congress reserved the right to regulate arms. How can you have a well regulated anything without regulation? Are gun owners opposed to barring felons, medicated, and mentally ill from owning a gun?
Second, the security of the state, well-regulated militia, and the needs of people are somehow tied to bearing arms. In 200 years weapon technology has improved immeasurably. I hope we can agree that no one has an absolute right to bear any sort of armament. We may argue about AR-15s but surely no one believes we should allow anyone to build a nuclear warhead: although that is the logical conclusion of some strident second amendment defenders, who speak of an absolute right to bear arms.
Finally, it is abundantly clear that our society has a violence problem. Last year, almost 100,000 people were shot, 12,000 people were murdered and 19,000 people committed suicide. How can we not lament this violence? And yet we celebrate it in our movies, TV shows and games. The NT teaches: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8 NIV)” We who follow Christ must turn away from violence and anger. Our conversations, diversions and media selections should not include violence. Quentin Tarantino may dodge a reporter’s question about promulgating violence. However, Jesus says: “you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter.” May our words and actions move us together along Christ’s path of peace.