Politics & Policy

Yes, Gun Ownership Is a God-Given Right

A man inspects a handgun at the NRA annual meeting in Indianapolis, Ind., April 28, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
God doesn’t necessarily want you to own an AR-15, but there is a natural right to self-defense.

The fastest way to trend on Twitter, and not in a good way, is to say that the right to bear arms is a God-given right.

Texas state representative Matt Schaefer established this beyond a doubt in a Twitter thread in the aftermath of the West Texas shooting spree. He said that he wouldn’t use “the evil acts of a handful of people to diminish the God-given rights of my fellow Texans.”

Progressives were aghast, and when actress Alyssa Milano objected, Texas U.S. senator Ted Cruz jumped in to support Schaefer’s argument (in less bombastic terms).

The basic proposition isn’t hard to defend, and indeed it is written into our fundamental documents. This doesn’t mean that God wants you to own an AR-15, or that every jot and tittle of our current gun regime is divinely mandated. Far from it. Yet there is a natural right to self-defense, and gun ownership is inherently connected to that right in a modern society.

This is glossed over even by Democrats who have a connection to America’s culture of gun ownership. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar said the other day, “I look at [gun legislation] and I always say, ‘Does this hurt Uncle Dick in his deer stand?’” That’s not the question, though. The Second Amendment isn’t fundamentally about Uncle Dick bagging deer, but about his ability to defend himself and his family.

The notion of God-given rights shouldn’t be controversial. It is a bedrock of the American creed, written into the Declaration of Independence. Its preamble says, of course, that all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

The Bill of Rights numbers “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” among those unalienable rights. Why? Because the founders believed that everyone has an inherent right to self-defense.

As David Harsanyi notes in his history of the gun in America, First Freedom, John Adams said in his defense of one of the British soldiers charged in the Boston Massacre in 1770 that self-defense was “the primary canon in the law of nature.”

Owning a gun is an extension of this law of nature, and has been recognized as such for a long time in Anglo-America. The right to bear arms had deep roots in England, and it predated the Constitution on these shores. Pennsylvania guaranteed the right early on. In his draft of the Virginia Constitution in 1776, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” (His language wasn’t adopted.)

It is out of this historical soil that we got the Second Amendment. Guns would make it possible for Americans to defend themselves, and to defend their liberties. Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist of “the original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government.” This right can be used if necessary, per Hamilton, “against the usurpations of the national rulers.”

There was no doubt at the time about the importance of the right to bear arms. Harsanyi writes that “not a single soul in the provisional government or at the Second Continental Congress or any delegate at the Constitutional Convention — or, for that matter, any new American — ever argued against the idea of individuals owning a firearm.”

It was only later that the Second Amendment came to be considered an inkblot, before its true meaning was excavated again.

None of this is necessarily a trump card in the gun-control debate — the most commonly proposed gun-control restrictions wouldn’t substantially lessen gun ownership. It does mean, though, that there is a limit to how far gun control can go in America and that proponents of new restrictions should be fully aware that they are tampering with a constitutionally protected individual right. The Second Amendment doesn’t have lesser status than the First.

If Uncle Dick likes to hunt, good for him. But his right to own a firearm doesn’t begin or end there.

© 2019 by King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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