Last week, in pointing out the problems with Jill Lepore’s attempt to undermine the Second Amendment and justify more gun control, I focused on the fact that our right to keep and bear arms is a God-given right. As such, it preceded not only the Second Amendment but also the founding of the United States. In other words: We don’t have the right to keep and bear arms because the Bill of Rights says so; rather, the Bill of Rights says so because the right to keep and bear arms is intrinsic to our very being: it is a right with which we were endowed by our Creator.
In response to this point, someone emailed and asked for an explanation regarding the claim that this right is “God-given.” Far from being argumentative, the individual simply stated that he could not find any explicit reference to the right to keep and bear arms in the Bible and wondered where the justification was for claiming that God himself endowed us with such a right.
The email raised a great question. And the short answer is that part of the foundation for keeping and bearing arms rests in laws that lend order to nature. These are laws that God ordained and implemented just as certainly as he implemented and ordained the moral law (the 10 Commandments). This point is worth explaining because it’s fundamental to an understanding of how our inalienable rights flow to us from God rather than from government. As such, the foundation of those rights transcends government, which is why the right to keep and bear arms “shall not be infringed.”
There are two sets of law authored and maintained by God: Divine Law, consisting of the 10 Commandments and the outworking of those commandments in the New Testament, and Natural Law, consisting of the order intrinsic to nature and the universe around it. We know Divine Law from reading the Bible, and we know aspects of Natural Law because it is written upon our hearts and consciences. The Apostle Paul indicated this in Romans 2:14-15: “When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness.”
And because Divine Law and Natural Law both flow from God, they are in agreement with one another. Thus, whereas Divine Law teaches “Thou shall not kill,” Natural Law provides us with the intuitive knowledge that killing in cold blood is wrong. And whereas Divine Law teaches “Thou shall not steal,” Natural Law provides us with the intuitive knowledge that stealing is wrong. This explains why people who have never read a Bible or heard a sermon on the Bible do their stealing in secret or in the cover of night — for they have an intuitive knowledge that it’s something that must be hidden.
Yet it goes much deeper. For the same laws of nature of that warn our consciences against killing in cold blood or stealing, also incline us toward owning our own things and protecting the things we own. And perhaps most importantly, they also teach that our greatest property is our own life, and that such a property must be defended. In fact, because God has given us life, we have a duty to defend it.
When enlightenment philosopher John Locke wrote his great exposition on Natural Law in “Two Treatises of Government,” he made these points clearly:
The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order.
And of those who violate the laws of nature and act criminally toward their fellow man:
In transgressing the law of nature, the offender declares himself to live by another rule than that of reason and common equity, which is that measure God has set to the actions of men, for their mutual security; and so he becomes dangerous to mankind.
Locke went on to explain that nature teaches us that once a man is proven dangerous to us, we are justified in using force, including lethal force, to remove the danger and protect our lives. He even contended that someone who commits a lesser violation of those laws — for instance, theft — may justly face lethal force even if he means me no physical harm, for he is attempting “to get me into his power,” and having done that, he may go further.
This is how Locke put it:
This makes it lawful for a man to kill a thief who has not in the least hurt him, nor declared any design upon his life, any farther than by the use of force, so to get him in his power as to take away his money, or what he pleases, from him; because using force, where he has no right to get me into his power, let his pretence be what it will, I have no reason to suppose that he who would take away my liberty would not, when he had me in his power, take away everything else.
The bottom line: The gift of life is inalienable, coming to us from God through nature. And the right to defend that life is also inalienable because it comes to us from God through nature as well.
AWR Hawkins is a conservative columnist who has written extensively on political issues for HumanEvents.com, Pajamas Media, Townhall.com, and Andrew Breitbart’s BigPeace.com, BigHollywood.com, BigGovernment.com, and BigJournalism.com. He holds a Ph.D. in U.S. military history from Texas Tech University, and was a visiting fellow at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal in the summer of 2010. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.