Guns, rights and exegesis

Photo by Specna Arms on

Sadly, there has been another horrific shooting at a US school. Far too frequently we hear of such terrible and tragic events in the United States and this prompts debate about gun controls.  One of the arguments frequently made for not bringing in tighter controls is that Americans have a constitutional right to bear arms.  It’s worth stating what the constitution says, noting that it’s an amendment and so can be changed again, it’s not really an inalienable right at all.  Anyway, here goes:

“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.”

First of all, note that there is a logical requirement for us to do some interpretative work.  The amendment was rooted itself in the 1689 Bill of Rights.  It dates from a time when the kind of weaponry available today was not envisaged.  Keeping a sword or a musket is not comparable for example to having access to tactical nuclear weapons.  We assume that the right is constrained by context and common sense.

Secondly, observe that the right is not a good in itself and nor is it about the ability of individualsto defend themselves.  There is a purpose to the right.  The drafters recognised the need for an effective militia at the time in order to maintain the security of each state. There is also a requirement for said militias to be “well regulated”.  In other words, by clear implication, a person should only be keeping weapons if they are part of the militia and should only actively bear and use them when on militia duties where use would be clearly regulated and controlled.

Now, what does this have to do with us here?  You see, whilst I don’t think we can be completely disinterested by-standers, I doubt that there are many US citizens who are too bothered by my views on their constitution. However, there are, I believe some important lessons to learn in our context.

First of all, much of the handling of the US Constitution that we see in this debate exemplifies the kind of eisegesis and poor exegesis that we do well to avoid when preaching. A good preacher handles God’s word well, paying close attention to context and what the text actually says. 

Secondly, whilst the UK and other countries aren’t really affected by the specific example of the 2nd Amendment it is fair to say that we live in a world where the focus is heavily on rights and entitlements.  This kind of thinking seeps into the church too.  So, it is worth observing that traditionally, rights were established not merely for individual benefit and pleasure but for the good of wider society. They served a purpose. 

As Christians we, all the more, are called to think less about individual rights benefiting us personally and more about how the things we are given are given to us (including rights, abilities etc) for God’s glory and the benefit of others.

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