Monday, October 24, 2011

A New Post for Anonymous, Part 1 God Given Biblical Right to Guns

Our new reader, Anonymous, has made a series of statements on a separate thread which really deserves to be a new topic.

Anonymous has advanced a pro-gun argument made essentially of three parts.

1. That he has a god given right to keep and carry guns, based on the Bible.

2. That the founding fathers were educated people who were aware of and believed in this right and that therefore it is both implicit and explicit in the revolutionary documents, particularly in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

3. That it is also a Constitutional right.

I'm going to take these points in order; I would begin by stating that

1. there is NO such God Given right in the Bible, and that if there is no such right, further the argument that the founding fathers knew of such a right fails, and that a close (detailed) and comprehensive (as a unified and consistent overview) reading of the Bible in fact argues against an armed society.

2. that there is no such Constitutional rights nor was any intended by the Founding Fathers, that there is no text of their statements or writing to indicate that they thought there was such a right, God Given or otherwise. And further, that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were authored by Deists, not Christian; that the foundation ideas for the Declaration and the Constitution did not derive from the Bible, but rather from English common law concepts and from Enlightenment thinkers, who were predominantly either Deist, Agnostic, or Atheist, and who did not specify a right to arms either.

3. I'm going to get lazy on writing an argument opposing the claims of the Constitution, and affectionately twist my co-blogger Laci to expound on why the 2nd Amendment applies to armies and militias rather than individuals, as he has the greater depth. But the short argument - no such right exists.

If this thread runs long enough, a note in advance, it may be broken into parts for convenience of following the discussion.

Our friend Anonymous - and as he has been an engaged and attentive, polite contributor here, I do mean the word 'friend' sincerely - has been challenged by me to produce the Biblical texts which demonstrate the claimed God Given Right. This is not an argument limited to Anonymous; it is a misstatement that is made by others on the right, so this should not be taken as a pointedly personal argument but rather as an examination of a claim made by a larger segment of the pro-gun believers. Anonymous has simply articulated that position here.

In response to my request, and to my posting texts from both the old and new testament which state the opposite regarding weapons, I also asserted that the Bible addresses armed conflict and weapons in the context of military engagements, sacrificial events, and some form of animal husbandry or occupation where a tool is kept and used as a weapon secondary to the primary function for which it was kept.

The texts offered by Anonymous were of two varieties, neither of which met my requirements of supporting a God Given Right to Guns. We had the 'eye for an eye' scriptural texts, which address Jewish retributive law, and we had a text dealing with 'bloodguilt'. I would refer our readers to the wikipedia article which addresses specifically the topic of bloodguilt in the Hebrew Bible which is also called the Torah, and in Christianity comprises the first five books of the Bible or Pentateuch. While the texts do permit self defense, it notably restricts this to events that occur in the dark but not the daytime, and while it makes a distinction as to time of day, it makes no distinction between defense with a weapon or without a weapon. Like an eye for an eye, these texts are part of Halakhah, or Jewish specific law, outlining their conduct, and in significant part derive from the tribal customs of the ten tribes of Israel. This does NOT support a God Given right to personal weapons, and it makes it very clear that the acts of self-defense are specifically very limited. Depending on which interpretation you support for the new testament, the Jewish-specific Mosaic covenant to which the Halakhah regulations apply are superseded by the New Testament, for Christians, and therefore no longer apply; circumcision for example is no longer required, and it is no longer prohibited to eat pork. This was quite consistent across different sects of Christianity during the time of the Founding Fathers, and appears to have been their belief - that Halakhah did not apply any longer to anyone, while Jews disagreed. So to cite a vary narrow facet of Halakhah to support either a God Given Gun Right OR a position of the founding Fathers fails fact checking.

The remaining three texts offered in support of a God Given right to personal arms, related to military conflict, and as such did not apply or support claims relating to personal weapons or personal defense: Joshua at the Battle of Jericho, David and Goliath, and Samson against the Philistines. An examination of the Battle of Jericho presents an interesting insight into the relationship between biblical heroes and weapons.
Joshua fought the Battle of Jericho against the resident Canaanites after leaving Egyptian slavery, according to the Old Testament book of Joshua, which recounts divine intervention where the walls 'came a tumbling down' in the words of the traditional spiritual, after Joshua and the army marched around the city walls for a week blowing their rams horn trumpets. I will happily agree that if any of the pro-gunners wish to arm themselves against evil doers with a rams horn in their holsters, relying on divine support for their righteous actions, they will receive no opposition from me. They may however find themselves violating noise ordinances depending on how and where they use them, and I have my own skepticism as to the divine intervention they might reasonably expect. Further, archeology and carbon dating supports that the actual location of Jericho was abandoned at the time of the Biblical Conquest of Jericho:
Kenyon reported that her work showed Garstang to have been wrong and the Germans right - Jericho had been deserted at the accepted Biblical date of the Conquest. Her result was confirmed in 1995 by radiocarbon tests which dated the destruction to 1562 BCE (plus/minus 38 years) with a certainty of 95%.[2]
The next text given for justification of a God Given Gun Right was David and Goliath, where David uses a sling in single combat in the larger context of the battle between the armies of the Israelites and the Philistines. David used a sling, a primitive and low-status piece of equipment used to chase away - not kill - herd animal predators. It was not a weapon for self defense against a mugger or a burglar. Don't take my word for it, read about slings here. Rather than supporting a premise of a Biblical, God Given Gun Right, this argues that the Bible advocates for unarmed civilians with the exceptions for law enforcement and military.

Then we have Samson who used the jawbone of an ass against another army of Philistines. I'm presuming from this that they refer to the mandible, the lower jaw rather than the maxilla, the upper jaw which is a solid part of the rest of the skull. Unfortunately the Biblical account of Samson is, like the one of Jericho, suspect for an historical individual. Further, in none of the many accounts of slayings attributed to Samson, many of which were at best capricious and not remotely related to self-defense, do they use anything that could remotely be considered a weapon which he kept for the purpose. Rather we again have a Biblical account of strength that represents some unusual divine intervention for the purpose.

And then we move on to the new testament, where Anonymous asserts that the story of Jesus driving out the money changers and merchants from the temple represents some sort of divine right to weapons. Further, while there are four accounts of Jesus; only one references a weapon, and that is an improvised whip of cords, not something lethal that could normally be considered a weapon. So if this is to be the basis for a claim to a God Given Right to Guns, it appears to only support the ownership of non-lethal items, not guns. Further, all of the above appear to reflect only acting under divine direction and with divine intervention - which is not something I think can reasonably be ascribed to the average gun owner; and the accounts, whether accurate factually or not, appear rather to the improvising of weapons for offense, in military situations, not home defense.

In short, I cannot find anything in the Bible which advocates for an armed population, or for the ordinary person who is not a part of courts and law enforcement or military, maintaining any weapon for self defense. There appears to be no God Given Right to Guns, and the amount of force allowed for preventing theft does not appear to condone lethal force, and severely limits such force, and makes no mention whatsoever of weapons. Rather the Bible references turning swords into plows, spears into pruning hooks, loving others and forgiving them even if the person does something wrong to you, and turning the other cheek to people who treat you badly - which would arguably include muggers and thieves. What I do not see and cannot find is any recommendation to go armed everywhere with lethal force, nor is there any reasonable justification for that in our society in most instances. I would argue rather that to go everywhere armed, as Anonymous and Mrs. Anonymous are claimed to do is in contradiction of the Bible.

But for the larger purposes of this post, there can be no reasonable claim that there are passages in the Bible, old OR new testament, that support that our Founding Fathers held the belief in a God Given Right to Guns or any other 'arms', but rather the indications appear to be that they regarded these as primarily weapons held as part of the military by those who served, or could be activated to serve, similar to the Swiss model. That would not be everyone, by any stretch of reasonable interpretation.

So, I will pose the challenge here to provide any other biblical sources for the claim of a God Given Right to Guns, and more particularly to the second challenge here - that this was a belief held by our national Founders, as referenced by any of their writings on the topic.

Laci has teased me recently in a private conversation; I used the phrase in conjunction with researching and writing on this topic "let's play"; in that sense, I regard a challenge to reason and to support a position as an enjoyable intellectual exercise. Laci the human then compared me to Laci the canine, going after a squirrel.

I wish all our commenters as much enjoyment in providing responses to the challenges above, as Laci the canine enjoys in pursuit of squirrels, but I believe you will find yourselves as empty handed as Laci the canine usually finds herself without her prey in her teeth at the end of a squirrel chase. I hope you enjoy the thrill of the hunt for this information; Tally HO! Enjoy!

I'm going to start on part 2, the Founding Fathers and the God Given Right to Guns in a day or two.

Meanwhile, I am hoping Laci (the human) will have something for us on the probably fake photo of the defecation on a New York City cop car today or tomorrow.


  1. Some people seem to think that if they declare something to be a "right," they've done something useful and profound. Actually, talking about political goals in terms of rights has become a habit of the highly ineffective mind.

    Adding in that the right is somehow "God Given" to these minds makes it harder to refute in their opinion. Instead, it further removes the argument from being rational to one of emotion.

    If you believe you are claiming a sacred right, then you don't feel any need to worry about other people's viewpoints or interests. You have little patience for the hard work of persuasion to achieve consensus. You have no interest in the actual implications of your right in the real world. Talking about something in the language of rights tends to shut down critical thinking and useful debate.

    And sometimes framing your desired outcome as a "right," and hunting for a friendly judge to enforce it, works for a time. But that works to destroy the system by short circuiting the democratic and constitutional process. It avoids the actual public debate on the topic.

    It is imposed rather than agreed to by the population.

    That is not the way that a true democracy works.

    It is not correct for someone to impose their harmful and potentially dangerous beliefs upon others because of divine revealation.

  2. I get tired of rewriting the same thing about the Second Amendment; See for evidence that the Second Amendement applies to Militias.

    Although, the short answer is that nowhere in the Second Amendment are personal uses specifically mentioned, whereas they are in State Constitutional analogues. Aymette v. State, 21 Tenn. (2 Hump.) 154 (1840), 158 states:

    To make this view of the case still more clear, we may remark, that the phrase, "bear arms," is used in the Kentucky constitution as well as in our own, and implies, as has already been suggested, their military use. The 28th section of our bill of rights provides, "that no citizen of this State shall be compelled to bear arms, provided he will pay in equivalent, to be ascertained by law." Here we know that the phrase has a military sense, and no other; and we must infer that it is used in the same sense in the 26th section, which secures to the citizen the right to bear arms. A man in the pursuit of deer, elk and buffaloes, might carry his rifle every day, for forty years, and, yet, it would never be said of him, that he had borne arms, much less could it be said, that a private citizen bears arms, because he has a dirk or pistol concealed under his clothes, or a spear in a cane. So that, with deference, we think the argument of the court in the case referred to, even upon the question it has debated, is defective and inconclusive.

    See this for a halachic interpretation of gun control.