Welcome back to Defender’s Voice. This is Paul Kattupalli. We have seen the horrible school shooting in Florida and the political conversations have been heating up over gun control and Second Amendment.
Our arguments go all the way to the Supreme Court. In 2008, in the District of Columbia v.Heller landmark case, the Supreme Court stated, “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service with a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defence within the home”
It was a 5-4 decision. A 5-4 majority, it shows the division in the Supreme Court itself. From the Supreme Court down to our local television chat rooms to our living rooms, we are divided and polarized on this matter.
Needless to say, Christians too have been divided on gun control. That is not surprising because the history of the Christian church shows that Christians held diverse opinions about possessing weapons.
In his book, Politics According to the Bible, Wayne A. Grudem wrote,
‘In the United States, the gun-control issue is important for several reasons:
First, because it upholds the meaning of the Second Amendment to the Constitution as it was originally intended.
Second, and more fundamentally, because it effectively protects a basic human right, the right of self-defence.
Third, because the right of citizens to bear arms is a significant protection against tyranny. It is a protection against an oppressive, dictatorial regime taking control of the nation against the will of the vast majority of its citizens.
Fourth, because study after study has shown that where private citizens have the right to possess guns for self-defence, that is a significant deterrent to violent crime.
Every time a mass shooting happens, the media targets legal gun ownership as the main problem. Nicolas Cruz went into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and killed seventeen people. Even before we got the basic details of the shooter or the victims, this horrible evil has been politicized around gun control.
As Christians we should be concerned about these events because we believe that every human being is created in the image of God.
Because God is holy, we should exercise holy concern for others
Because God is love, we should be compassionate towards others
Because God is just, we should be asking for justice for the victims and their families
Sadly, we are becoming more concerned about the weight of our pet political ideologies than the value of human lives. Meadow Pollack was among the the 17 people who lost their lives in the shooting. Her dad, Andrew Pollack went to the White House and gave a speech to a group of people which included President Trump. He said, “I’m very angry that this happened, because it keeps happening…..It was my daughter I am not going to see again. She is not here. She is not here. She is in North Lauderdale at whatever it is, King David Cemetery, that is where I go to see my kid now……How many schools, how many children have to get shot? It stops here with this administration and me. I’m not going to sleep until it is fixed….My beautiful daughter, I’m never going to see her again…..”
You can hear the agony of a father’s heart in those words.
Who is listening to the grief of a father?
Who has time for the agony of a mother?
Who has time to mourn and lament for a dead child?
Very few, very few. But lot of people have lot of time to talk about guns and their control. Andrew Pollack told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday,
“It’s not going to be fixed because I just heard what you said, what you are focusing on, polarizing this event, the murder of these kids. You’re talking about gun control. You’re just talking about gun control, which is going to just give you more ratings. Today it’s not about guns, it’s about the safety in our schools. And that’s what you ask Gov. Scott about and I got to listen to that at my house”
Every year we have more than 30,000 people dying from gunfire in America. About two-thirds of them are suicides. There are 270 million legal guns in civilian hands all over America. We don’t know the number of illegal guns in the hands of gangs and criminals. Let us another 100 million illegal guns. So, there are around 370 million guns in America, that is roughly more than one gun per person. With so many types of personalities and ideologies in our society, who can we stay safe around millions of guns?
Sadly, the media has focused more on gun control than on school safety. The battle lines are drawn between the right and the left. Let us spend some time on the issue of gun control from a Christian viewpoint. Let us start with Second Amendment to the United States Constitution: “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”
I was born and grew up in India. I came to America in 2001. Ever since, I have been trying to understand the Second Amendment from a Biblical view point. Recently, I went to National Archives in Washington DC. It is a beautiful building located on Constitution Avenue. I went inside and saw an original version of Magna Carta from 1297. Then I walked into the rotunda. It is called the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. Standing in the center, I looked around. It was a spectacular sight to look around those shining marble stones and statues. I walked to the corner, joining a small group of people. There were the three formative documents of the United States: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Together, these three documents are called charters of freedom. They form the founding philosophy of the United States. For the last two hundred and fifty years, they guarantee and secure the rights of the American people.
Each document has a specific objective.
The Declaration of Independence: expresses the ideals on which the United States was founded and the reasons for separation from Great Britain.
The Constitution defines the framework of the Federal Government of the United States.
The Bill of Rights is the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. It defines citizens’ and states’ rights in relation to the Government.
Declaration of Independence is about the ideas in the minds of the founders.
The Constitution gives a physical shape to the government
The Bill of Rights connects the individual to the government.
Standing before these three documents, I thought of trinity of God.
God the Father is like Declaration of Independence. He looks like an idea.
God the Son is like the Constitution, the physical manifestation of God.
God the Holy Spirit is like the Bill of Rights, He connects us to Christ, like Bill of Rights connects each individual to the government. The Holy Spirit informs us and instructs us about our God given privileges in Christ. Similarly, the Bill of Rights informs us the privileges and rights we have as the citizens of this nation. There is unity in the trinity of God, there is unity in these three documents. They connect each citizen to God, because as the Declaration of Independence has references to God like, ‘the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God’, ‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights’, ‘Divine Providence’.
Bill of rights is connected to Declaration of Independence, which speaks of God. In other words, the Bill of Rights connects us to God. Our problem today is we want the Bill of Rights without any relationship with God. People want to bear arms but they do not commit their lives to God. That is why we are losing control on gun violence. We have so many people who demand their rights from the Bill of Rights without any obedience to God, who the Declaration says is the source of our rights to life, liberty and happiness.
As I walked away from those documents, I saw a quotation by Benjamin Franklin. It said,
“This will be the best security for maintaining our liberties. A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins”
Please note those words: The rights which God has given them…Our rights have not come from governments, our rights have not come from rich people, our rights have not come from President and the Congress, our rights have not come from a political party…our rights came from God, who created us.
Franklin said, it is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins. What is the largest religion in our nation today? It is the religion of ignorance.
Most people don’t know much about the Bible.
Most people don’t know much about Jesus
Most people don’t know much about Constitution or Bill of Rights.
The religion of ignorance is the fastest growing religion of our time. As a consequence, tyranny is on the rise, our freedoms are under assault.
The Federalist Papers are a collection of articles and essays written to promote the ratification of the Constitution. In Federalist Papers: No.43 , James Madison wrote, “The first question is answered at once by recurring to the absolute necessity of the case; to the great principle of self-preservation; to the transcendent law of nature and of nature’s God, which declares that the safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim, and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed.”
There is a beautiful blend of human safety, human government and the nature of God in those words penned by James Madison, who is called the Father of the Constitution.
Why did they add Second Amendment to the Constitution? To provide protection against tyranny. To provide security against persons who infringe and endanger our life and liberty.
Tyranny may not always come from a dictator like Hitler. It might come even from a gangster who will kidnap you, hurt your physical being and your property.
On the facade of the Supreme Court building, we see the motto Equal Justice Under Law. More than any other nation in the world, America defined its identity based on its ideals and laws. No one is above the law. As the United States struggled with its founding documents, these ideals made their way into our national consciousness. Recently, I was reading about
Aaron Burr. He was the grandson of famous theologian Jonathan Edwards. He served as the Vice President under Thomas Jefferson. In a duel, he killed his rival Alexander Hamilton. This ended his political career.
He traveled across the west, and wanted to create a separate nation for himself. It enraged then President of the United States Thomas Jefferson. Aaron Burr was arrested on charges of treason in 1807. Jefferson’s government started to prosecute Burr with all its resources. Burr was brought to trial. Chief Justice John Marshall cited the Constitution Article III, Section 3, defining ‘treason’ as ‘only …levying war’ against the United States, ‘or in adhering to’ its ‘enemies’. The defendant argued there was no evidence of treason. Justice Marshall wrote, “War can only be levied by the employment of actual force….An invisible army is not an instrument of war”. Not found guilty. This outcome enraged President Jefferson. He became so indignant that he wanted to impeach Chief Justice Marshall. Cool down, Mr.President, you are not above the law. Even Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence was not above the law. This case set the precedent that no one is above the law – even the President, even the Founding Father, even the author of a Founding document.
This case established the separation of powers. When we talk about gun control, we should remember this, because at the center of this conflict, we see the contentions between the three branches of government and the people. Yes, there is the separation of powers. What is the point of separation if people do not have any power? Government has awesome power. How can people stand before such a juggernaut especially if a dictator takes over the government? That is why the Founders designed the Second Amendment: The right to bear arms was enshrined in the Second Amendment to empower people.
Puritans: Guns for self-defence and liberty
If people have inalienable rights to life and liberty, who will safeguard those rights? As you know, America existed before the formation of the United States. The Puritans fled the persecution in Great Britain. They made laws requiring every family to carry a gun and protect their families in danger. In 1619, Virginia mades laws requiring everyone to bear arms. In 1650, Connecticut made laws requiring every man above the age of sixteen to possess a gun.
The puritans followed the example of Abraham from Genesis chapter 14. There we see Canaanite kings abducting Lot, the nephew of Abraham. The news reaches Abraham. We read in verse 14, When Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants……and pursued them. Abraham took arms to liberate his family member.
The Puritans also followed Exodus chapter 22. “If a thief be found breaking in and be smitten so that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him”
According to this verse, if a thief gets smitten while breaking into a home, God will not find that defender guilty because he or she did it for their safety. The Puritans had no 911 or panic buttons or police security. They were responsible for their own defence. This puritan idea made its way into the Bill of Rights.
Joseph Story served as the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. His life was between 1779 to 1845. He argued in the famous Amistad case. He wrote a treatise on the U.S.Constitution. About Second Amendment he wrote these words,
“The importance of this article will scarcely be doubted by any persons, who have duly reflected upon the subject. The militia is the natural defence of a free country against sudden invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers….The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rules; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them”
What is militia? Today we have intense debates about the nature of militia in the Second Amendment. Joseph Story wrote, ‘The militia is the natural defence of a free country against sudden invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers’. It helps citizen to protect themselves both from foreign invasions and domestic usurpations of power by rulers. It offers a strong moral check against tyranny.
Joseph Story used this principle while arguing for justice in Amistad case. Steven Spielberg made a movie titled Amistad. In this movie, Joseph Story is portrayed by Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. This is the only time in film history that an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court was presented by another Associate Justice.
In 1839, 53 captive Africans started a slave rebellion aboard the Amistad. An African man named Cinque led the revolt. They killed two crewmembers, seized the control of the ship and tried to sail back to their home country, Sierra Leone. But the spanish crew deceived them and headed north instead of east. The ship was captured by US Navy and the captives were brought to trial. The US Supreme Court ordered their freedom. Christian missionaries rehabilitated many of these freed Africans. In 1879, Cinque requested to be buried among the graves of American missionaries.
Commenting on the Amistad case, Justice Joseph Story wrote,
“Kidnapped Africans, who, by the laws of Spain itself were entitled to their freedom” “The ultimate right of all human beings in extreme cases (is)…to apply force against ruinous injustice”.
Please note those words: The ultimate right of all human beings in extreme cases (is)…to apply force against ruinous injustice”. He was talking about Africans here. Their life and liberty were endangered by slave masters. In such circumstances, it is justifiable to use force against injustice.
Michael Waldman wrote a book entitled The Second Amendment: A Biography. In this book he explains how African Americans relied on the Second Amendment to safeguard their freedoms. In the Civil War, about 200,000 Southern black Americans fought along the Union army. After the War, they took their guns home. When the Ku Klux Klan started to attack them, they defended their freedom using those guns they brought back from the war. Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1868, allowed African Americans to defend themselves from Klansmen. When Martin Luther King Jr started to preach non-violence, a black Mississippi farmer Hartman Turnbow warned him, ‘This nonviolent stuff ain’t no good. It’ll get ya killed’.
We can also talk about Warsaw Uprising during Second World War. Adolf Hitler devised his final solution to destroy all Jews in Europe. In the summer of 1944, the Jews in Warsaw obtained weapons and for 63 days they fought against Nazi occupation. The resistance failed and Nazis routed the city.
The Weimar Republic and Adolf Hitler systematically disarmed all Jews under their authority. History would have been very different had Jews kept their arms. Perhaps there might never have been a Holocaust if Jews and other minorities had kept their weapons. We would have seen resistance movements in every European city if people were allowed to keep their weapons. The whole Europe would have been like Warsaw Uprising.
Now, Christians are divided over the use of weapons. On one hand, we have groups like Amish and mennonites who refuse to possess weapons. On the other hand, we have groups like Baptists who defend their weapons. This division is not new. If you look into Christian history, we can see that Christians were divided on this issue. Catholic Church did not tolerate any opposition to its teachings. Dissenters were labeled as heretics and burned at stake. In 15th century, Jan Hus tried to reform the church. Pope condemned him, brought him to trial and got him executed in 1415. The followers of Jan Hus took did not relent. When the Catholic armies attacked them, they took weapons and fought for their religious freedom in so called Hussite Wars. A century later, Martin Luther came on the scene. Some Protestants took weapons to defend their freedom, while some practised complete pacifism, often at the expense of their lives.
When Muslim armies attacked Europe, some Christians took arms while others did not. Many Christian homes and churches are being attacked incessantly in Muslim nations. When ISIS was attacking Christians in Syria and Iraq, some Christian towns had to take weapons to defend their lives. As Muslim presence increases in Europe, we can predict more attacks on Christians and churches in Frances, Germany and England. Christians in Europe have been debating how to protect their lives when they are attacked. So, if you take a historical view, the divisions among Christians over gun control should not be surprising. Gun control is a complex subject. We will continue this topic, next time we will talk about what we can do as Christians to curb the violence in our society.
Prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, we pray for your mercy on our lives. Open our eyes to see our lost condition, help us see you as our Lord and Savior, help us have fellowship with you, renovate our hearts, lead us in your paths. We pray that you comfort the victims of these shootings. We pray that you help the survivors to repent of their sins and accept you as their Savior. In your precious name, we pray. Amen.