Tag Archives: Second Amendment

Gun rights: Human rights guaranteed by natural law

In arguing for the wisest public policy proposals to bind our fellow citizens, we must look to the broad vision of human flourishing and the common good that we draw from our Christian heritage.

Jason Scott Jones

Jason Scott Jones

Doing so prevents us from lapsing into the most common deadly errors that pervade a culture enfeebled by a cheap utilitarianism, which sees the goal of government as maximizing the number of happy moments for the greatest number of voters. We must look to natural law, the law of human flourishing that God wrote on our hearts, which is equally available to pagans and to Christians

Citing Church documents — none of them with infallible authority, by the way — is a feeble means to persuade our fellow citizens and is anyway unnecessary. We have all the tools we need in our God-given reason and the wholesome civic traditions we inherited from British Common Law, whose medieval origins ensured that it served the dignity of the human person, a dignity reinforced by Christ’s incarnation.

On the issue of gun rights and gun control, we are speaking of perhaps the most basic human right imaginable: the right to defend yourself and your family against an immediate threat of violence — either against your person or your hard-earned property. The primary function of the state is more effectively to guard our lives, liberties and property from aggression, coercion and theft.

But the state cannot be everywhere, nor would we want it to be. Given that, there will always be situations where citizens must defend themselves and their families against immediate threats from criminals. That is their inalienable right, and for the state to deprive them of that right would be intrinsically evil. No situation justifies doing what is intrinsically evil. Therefore, no argument of public policy, no appeal to some “seamless garment” or sentimentalized version of Christian non-violence, could ever justify preventing citizens from protecting themselves from violence.

In seeking the common good, of course, we see that rights hang in tension. We must preserve public order and make sure that one person’s attempt to exercise his rights and protect his human dignity does not infringe on someone else’s rights and dignity. Someone who wishes to protect his property from trespassing children, for instance, may surround it with it fence, but not a lethal electric fence. Our efforts to defend our rights must be proportional to the threat and must not directly or through negligence harm the innocent.

Therefore, the state has good reason to regulate the level of lethal force available to private citizens, to make sure that it is proportional to the threats they may face. This means that there is no “one-size-fits-all” firearms regulation appropriate to all people everywhere. Christians living in the lawless parts of Syria, for instance, may well have to own and operate military-grade weapons to protect their families from the depredations of ISIS. For U.S. citizens, such weapons would be totally disproportionate.

In many American cities, violent crime is a constant threat to citizens’ well being — not only to their safety and that of their children, but to the fruits of their hard work. The home, the car, the possessions that a member of the working poor has managed to accumulate might have taken them many years to acquire and could prove impossible to replace. But short of full-on surveillance, there is no way for the state to provide such citizens adequate protection. So these citizens must be allowed to arm themselves in a proportionate manner.

The laws governing self-defense should rightly center first and foremost on the absolute right of each human being, the image of God, to protect himself and his family — not on the calculations of distant bureaucrats or the wistful imaginings of high-minded idealists.

On top of our right to defend ourselves against the daily threat of lawless people, we also have a right to resist the lawless actions of government. In virtually every case, this will take the form of going to court or voting in elections. However, we have seen that governments are just as tainted by original sin as any human institution. They can turn to evil with devastating force. According to scholar R.J. Rummel, governments in the 20th century killed some 262 million people — not including casualties of war. In most cases, those civilians were totally unarmed and hence unable to defend their most basic rights.

We know well that totalitarian governments such as the Bolsheviks and the Nazis made it among their first priorities to confiscate all private weapons from their citizens — where previous, well-meaning progressive governments had not already done so. The resistance movements that pushed back against the government brutalities relied on private weapons that still survived among the populace.

This grim history tells us that the American Founders were wise indeed to put a Constitutional protection of the right to private firearms in our country’s central document. They did so out of respect for natural law and our human dignity as images of God.

JASON SCOTT JONES is filmmaker, pro-life activist and co-author of The Race to Save Our Century. He is an At-Large member of Legatus.

Guns and the Second Amendment

Dean Eugene Milhizer contents that the right to bear arms is a natural right . . .

Eugene Milhizer

Eugene Milhizer

In the last six months the U.S. has been rocked by two intentional, violent body blows: the Newtown shootings and the Boston Marathon bombings.

Both events are complicated and in many ways unrelated and distinct from each other. But considering them together is useful to understand and define the range and limits of Second Amendment protections.

In the 2008 landmark decision Heller v. District of Columbia, the U.S. Supreme Court determined unambiguously for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms. The Court traced the right to the English common law.

Of course, both firearms and bombs were well known to the British and the American colonists before and during the Revolutionary War. As recent events too well demonstrate, both are potentially dangerous and can serve as an effective means of causing serious and widespread violence. And both conceivably could be subject to restrictive government regulation approaching prohibition. Why then do the Constitution and its precursor common law protect gun ownership but not bomb ownership? The answer involves the imperative of protecting natural rights that were recognized under common law and later enshrined in the Second Amendment.

The Heller Court, quoting Sir William Blackstone’s authoritative 18th-century treatise on England’s common law, referred to a “natural right of resistance and self-preservation” that predates the Constitution. These rights were well established under common law and were a proximate source of Second Amendment protections.

But while the common law is the proximate source of the defensive rights protected by the Second Amendment, the natural law is the ultimate source of right as recognized by both the common law and the Constitution. The natural law includes a natural right of self-preservation and defense. This is basic. As a natural right, a right to self-defense is inalienable. It can neither be bestowed by the government nor can it be ceded to it. This is because these rights are integral to a person’s dignity. It’s hardwired into our psyche.

While one can imagine scenarios in which a bomb is used in self-defense, common sense and tradition instruct that such instruments are inherently offensive. In contrast, firearms have been regularly and traditionally been used in self-defense ever since the invention of the flintlock. The Second Amendment’s protection of a natural right to self-defense thus helps define the range of instrumentalities that are afforded its protection.

The constitutional distinction between offensive and defensive instrumentalities is critical for contemporary purposes. Many dangerous things can be intensely regulated without violating the Second Amendment, such as explosives, poisons and modes of conveyance. So can mountain climbing and bungee jumping. The regulation of such products and activities presents pragmatic and prudential questions, not constitutional issues.

Firearms, the quintessential means of effective self-defense from colonial times to the present day, are different in kind. The government may of course regulate them, but not in a manner that unduly burdens the Second Amendment’s recognition and protection of the underlying natural right of self-defense.

In a civil society the exercise of natural rights and constitutional protections are not absolute. This is especially true in modern times with all of its complexities and interdependence. The government may regulate the unbridled exercise of one right when it would unduly infringe upon the natural and constitutional rights of others. For example, freedom of religion cannot shield human sacrifice, nor can freedom of speech excuse shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater.

The respectful interplay of protected liberties is among the objectives the Framers addressed when crafting the Constitution, and this objective should inform contemporary legislators when they engage in law-making. Consistent with these values, it would be imprudent and even immoral to seek a pragmatically beneficial end, no matter how well intended, if the means of achieving it requires unduly burdening a natural right that enjoys express constitutional protection.

Any new gun legislation must conform to the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, which is ultimately derived from the natural rights of self-preservation and self-defense. Consistent with these first principles, legislation can surely be crafted to keep guns away from dangerous criminals and the mentally ill without disregarding the inalienable rights of law-abiding citizens. All responsible lawmakers and citizens should join together to seek this proper goal.

EUGENE MILHIZER is dean of Ave Maria School of Law and a member of Legatus’ Naples Chapter.

The power of a good story

In the wake of mass shootings, Patrick Novecosky explores why we value human life . . . .

Patrick Novecosky

Patrick Novecosky

Ever since a madman went on a murderous rampage in Connecticut on Dec. 14, debate across the U.S. has swirled around the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. Pundits have debated everything from gun magazine size to violent video games and mental illness.

One point that hasn’t entered into the debate, however, is the reason we value human life at all. To most Christians, the reason is simple: We are created in God’s image and likeness (Gen 1:27). Catholics go deeper: “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next” (Baltimore Catechism, #6).

Secularists recognize the value of human life to a point because we have an instinctive drive to preserve it — and as a by-product of the West’s Christian roots. Neither of these reasons, however, have been able to stop the rapid erosion of respect for human life in our culture. Newtown is just one example. Planned Parenthood’s recent annual report revealed that the abortion giant took the life of an innocent child every 94 seconds in 2011.

Pro-lifers have been working to change hearts and minds for 40 years, ever since the Supreme Court handed down its most notorious ruling, Roe v. Wade. TIME magazine even had a cover story last month noting the pro-life movement’s steady progress. More Americans than ever consider themselves pro-life and want restrictions on abortion.

Nearly half a million people took to the streets of Washington, D.C., on Jan. 25 to protest Roe, but there is still work to do. Legates are in the thick of the battle. Members operate networks of pregnancy care centers, they do advocacy work, they fund pro-life initiatives, and most members pray regularly for the unborn and abortion-minded women.

One new Legate-driven initiative uses the power of film to influence the hearts and minds of those who perhaps wouldn’t otherwise oppose abortion. Jason Jones (Hollywood Chapter) knows the power of a good story. He was an executive producer of Bella in 2006. For his new film, Crescendo, he teamed up with Pattie Mallette, mother of pop superstar Justin Bieber. (Click here for a related story.)

Jesus taught in parables for a good reason, and the best homilies contain stories that help us understand the gospel in our own day. Jones does the same thing in his 15-minute film. It’s sure to change many hearts and minds, adding to the growing number of those who respect life from conception to natural death.

Patrick Novecosky is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.