By: Zack Beauchamp, ThinkProgress
“Legislation aimed at reducing gun violence is “a limitation on a God-given right of man that has existed throughout the history of civil society,” according to an article published in the leading conservative opinion journal National Review.
The author, David French, interprets the Christian Bible as granting everyone a right to self-defense. He suggests that this, if true, means that God’s will is that people have access to guns, as they are the means for self defense:
In fact, Jesus’s disciples carried swords, and Jesus even said in some contexts the unarmed should arm themselves… What does all this mean? Essentially that gun control represents not merely a limitation on a constitutional right but a limitation on a God-given right of man that has existed throughout the history of civil society. All rights – of course – are subject to some limits (the right of free speech is not unlimited, for example), and there is much room for debate on the extent of those limits, but state action against the right of self-defense is by default a violation of the natural rights of man, and the state’s political judgment about the limitations of that right should be viewed with extreme skepticism and must overcome a heavy burden of justification.
Even if French is right about the Christian view of self-defense (though Jesus did have choice words about “turning the other cheek“), it’s a logical fallacy to say this implies anything about restrictions on access to guns. Saying that people have a right to defend themselves if attacked isn’t the same thing as saying they should have a right to possess any conceivable means of defending themselves – presumably, French is fine with banning grenade launchers. The burden, instead, is on French to prove that universal background checks or limitations on assault weapon ownership somehow prevent people from defending themselves; to prove, in other words, that gun regulation is actually a restriction on the right of self-defense proper rather than a crime-prevention statute.
Moreover, French is wrong about the role of “self-defense” in a democracy. He cites John Locke, enlightenment philosopher and inspiration for the American Revolution, to suggest that gun rights are “fundamental rights of nature.” But as Ari Kohen, a professor of political theory at the University of Nebraska, points out, French radically misinterprets Locke:
But for people to establish a political community, Locke asserts that people must give up to the government their natural right to punish criminal behavior and agree to have the government settle grievances. This is why we have standing laws that are meant to be applied equally by independent officers of the law and by the courts.
Locke, as Kohen says, held that our right to use force was necessarily limited by the creation of legitimate government – that’s why we have police. This means that the government can limit access to certain weapons as means of discharging its responsibility to keep the peace. While the government may not be able to legitimately ban you from say, killing a home invader who’s brandishing a gun, it also can take reasonable steps to prevent criminals from being able to threaten you with arms in the first place without having to overcome a “heavy burden of justification.”
This isn’t the first questionable gun piece published in National Review. After the Newtown shooting, its editors suggested that mass school shootings were the price we pay for the Second Amendment. One of its writers, Charlotte Allen, infamously wrote that the Newtown massacre happened because there were too many female teachers.