Guns are supposed to secure our freedom?
I’m told that guns are supposed to secure our freedom.
But that is never actually explained. Freedom isn’t defined. It’s just thrown out there as if everyone has the same definition. But we don’t. The claim also doesn’t hold up to facts either. It’s just assumed to be true without any critical examination about whether reality holds it up.
Is it freedom when mothers fear sending their children to school because their kids might not make it home that afternoon because a gunman decided to visit their school and kill whoever they wanted to?
Is it freedom when people can’t go to a grocery store without keeping a watchful eye out on other shoppers, just in case they pull out a gun and start shooting people?
Is it freedom when people fear going to a religious sanctuary because they may get gunned down?
What is freedom?
I don’t buy the idea that guns secure our freedom. Rather guns secure an order. Order and freedom are not the same thing. And order and freedom are both different from justice.
When the Puritans left England because the Church of England refused to comply with what the Puritans wanted, the Puritans went to the Netherlands, which practiced religious freedom. But the Puritans didn’t like it because they couldn’t impose their beliefs on others. So they came to North America, not in pursuit of religious freedom, which they were leaving, but the freedom to impose their religion on those that came under their jurisdiction. That’s not freedom. That’s a form of tyranny. But it is ordered.
What freedom exactly is secured by guns? And why are we putting so much faith and trust in guns to secure freedom rather than democracy, trust in our fellow citizens, decency, and the common good? If guns are our salvation, then we need to do some serious self-examination. Why exactly are we making guns our savior? And why is our society so lacking trust in our fellow citizens? Why aren’t we troubled by this rather than accepting it as just the way it is?
Guns don’t secure our freedom. They secure our belief that we should be afraid. They supervise a chaotic and deadly order. Now let’s clear about this – this isn’t an all or nothing argument. Not all guns are equal. And not all guns are as much as a threat to safety or instill as much terror in people either. The debate, if we can actually call it that, isn’t about banning all guns. The debate in our society is about access to assault style weapons that can cause mass death in short order.
In Peace, by Walter Brueggemann, he writes about order, which I think is what this whole argument is about.
“Thus, the threat of the world falling apart, which is a concern both of ancient and modern folk, has been made into an ethical issue. The threat of chaos has become the abhorrence of injustice. The flood of chaos is not presented as an inundation of oppression. The prize example is, of course, Pharaoh in the exodus story, who, if he is anything, is the embodiment of order. But what an order – characterized by slavery, oppression, and coercion. Even if there are no riots and disruptions, that’s not order; rather, it is closely and carefully supervised chaos.” (Pg. 97)
I suspect that the argument that guns secure our freedom is more accurately stated that guns secure order. I’m going make a broad observation, which I know is not true all the time. It appears to me that it is important for people who feel that their world is in chaos and do not have a sense of control, or are losing control, to have something that can provide a sense of control. Often, it seems, that guns provide that sense of control for some people. They aren’t intent not be imposing chaos on the whole of society, they just don’t want chaos in their little world. These are folks who will do anything to create a sense of order and control, including imposing order on others, regardless of how oppressive or chaotic it might be. This isn’t true for everyone of course.
As people of faith, our main concern is not with order. When order is our main concern, we become self-centered and self-interested. We become like the Puritans desiring the freedom to impose ourselves and our beliefs on others.
Brueggemann talks about this as well, stating: “There is the easy passing from world order to national security, and a short step from national security to self-interest. If there is no order but the one we make, all things are possible. But more than that, we had better do something quick and firm. And to identify world well-being with national interests and self-interest is not an intentional lie. It may well be a self-deception made in good faith by desperate people who believe they are the only ones.” (Pg. 94).
Brueggemann gives an example for us: “Thus, self-interest becomes state policy and, if we may say so, world strategy.
“You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the failings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought in the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. (Ezekiel 34:3-4)
“It didn’t take much imagination to get to that point from 1 Samuel 8, and it surely establishes strong contrasts to the vision of Matthew 25:31-46.” (Pg. 94)
And all of this leads us to a third element – justice. What does justice look like in relation to this. Justice being the well being of all people. That can come through order, but usually order is imposed and usually benefits those in power. Injustice often is imposed on those not in power in societies. And those folks are usually racial minorities, women, and children. That’s not anything or special to our own society. Scripture talks about this a great deal throughout the Old Testament. When we look at the victims of mass shootings, more often than not these are the folks who are suffering from the order imposed by guns. Based on this, it is an easy argument to say that the current order imposed by guns is an unjust order.
This all conflicts with God’s ways. As Brueggemann states, “Clearly the Bible celebrates justice at the expense of order…Yahweh, the God of the Bible, is no friend to order, but insists on justice and is ready and able to intervene in decisive ways, against legitimated order if necessary, to establish justice.” (Pg. 110).
Guns may secure an order, but it’s not freedom. Freedom isn’t based on fear. Freedom isn’t based on mistrust. Freedom isn’t based on law and order. Freedom is about being free from such things so that people can live.
And the current order isn’t just either given the number of people, especially those without power, who have suffered because of the established order.
Based on the number of deaths we continue to have, it’s not even controversial to say that guns secure our freedom. They don’t. They secure an order. And a pretty crappy and unjust order at that.
Pardon me for responding so long after you wrote this. June has been a very complicated month.
The connection to guns in private hands and freedom was written into the Constitution because of the recent experience of Colonial America seeing the British crown using its standing army to try and control them. Since the respective colonies each had raised militias for home defense, they had some recourse to respond to the attempted use of military force by the Crown. Hence, the dependent clause in the Second Amendment concerning a well-regulated militia.
A 2018 article on the Second Amendment in the Washington Post noted this: “Read the debates about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and the militia’s importance leaps off the page. Alexander Hamilton, writing in the Federalist Papers, called a well-regulated militia “the most natural defense of a free country.” His anti-Federalist critics agreed with the need for a citizens’ militia, writing that “a well regulated militia, composed of the Yeomanry of the country, have ever been considered as the bulwark of a free people.”
“Their disagreement was over how best to ensure that the militia was maintained, as well as how to divide up the roles of the national government vs. state governments. But both sides were devoted to the idea that all citizens should be part-time soldiers, because both sides believed a standing army was an existential threat to the ideas of the revolution.” (Noah Shusterman, What The Second Amendment Really Meant to the Founders,” Washington Post, 2/22/2018)
So, for better or for worse, that’s where the idea comes from. A lot has changed in America since the Second was written. One wag posted something to the effect that if the gun lobby was hanging their desires on the Founders’ intent, they were welcome to own all the Brown Bess muskets they could carry.
The faith implications for guns and freedom are much more complex and certainly involve the desire for control that you discuss. Your quotation from Brueggemann nails it down well. To rephrase it into the language of our Evangelical friends, Who is in control of your life? How does a gun do anything to help you live as Jesus taught?