The Second Amendment and “Certain Unalienable Rights”

I’ve expended a fair amount of mental energy lately trying to parse through a proper Christian conception of the right to bear arms and gun control as they relate to the Bible, the Constitution, and the civil magistrate.

The Constitution seems clear that one of our “endowed” rights as human beings is the freedom to own a weapon, both for personal protection and as a bulwark against government tyranny. I’m unaware any listed exceptions to Second Amendment rights (age, sex, office, etc.), which seems to be a strong case for opposing any current attempts to restrain gun ownership on the basis of such restrictions being unconstitutional and therefore illegal. But should the Constitution be our authority here, or does Scripture teach something different?

I think a fifteen year old girl who travels to work and school by herself should be allowed by the civil magistrate to effectively protect herself from possible predators with a handgun, and I can’t conceive of any grounds on which God would be opposed to that. On the other hand, I see pragmatic wisdom in preventing a convicted (but released) violent sex offender or a severely schizophrenic person from owning a bazooka. But is it a “God-given” right for all-persons, indiscriminately, to be able to leverage all means at their disposal to defend themselves from individual attackers and a potentially murderous (think the Third Reich) government?

I would very much appreciate others’ thoughts as I continue to wade through this topic.

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Advent greetings, Jackson!

You’ve asked a very complex question, and I’m unsure where to begin. If you’re reading this, then I’ll have gotten far enough (unsure if I will at this precise point!) in explaining why I can’t say much beyond what you find below, which is not likely what you’re inquiring about!

For example, you write:

The text of the Second Amendment reads:

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.

On its face, the Second Amendment says nothing at all about the two purposes you say it is supposed to achieve, viz. “personal protection” and to constitute “a bulwark against government tyranny.” It’s no good to insist that the entitlement to bear arms would have as a consequence these two things - personal protection and a bulwark against government tyranny. But those consequences - simply by being consequences - do not become the purposes of the Second Amendment.

The only purpose for the Second Amendment, contained within its own text, is the necessity for a well regulated militia to be the security of a free state. If the purposes you affirm to be clear are, indeed, purposes that generated the Second Amendment, these purposes lie outside the text of the Second Amendment, outside the text of the Constitution.

Note, however, that I’ve not touched at all anything expressly Biblical. In this arena you likely have in mind something like a Biblical doctrine of self-defense, some sort of summary of all the relevant teaching in both Testaments about such a topic. Such a summary would likely not be very succinct, as it would need to cover everything from passages relating to the civil magistrates wielding of the sword (Genesis 8; Romans 13), to sundry statutes in the Law relating to the avenger of blood, to the imprecatory prayers scattered through the Psalms, to the wars between nations. Toss into all this our Lord’s words about cheeks and tunics (Matthew 5:39; Luke 6:29), and you’d have a goodly number of paragraphs before articulating a coherent and systematic survey of Biblical teaching.

And, then, you’d still need to address how and why a Christian should behave when his civil magistrate and entire civil government insist that religious teaching does not (and should not) inform their management of citizens’ actions!

That Christians delve into, discuss, and debate all these and related issues is meet and right! But, it is one gnarled snarl of issues!

Can you peel out of that complex of issues something more specific that we may chew on?

Again, my heartiest wishes for you to have a blessed Advent and joyous Christmas season afterwards!


It may helpful to spell out who or what the well regulated militia is.

Hi Father Mouser,

Thanks for responding. I didn’t realize what a can of worms my original post would open.

It looks like I have even more questions than I initially thought, but for the sake of concision and hopefully a focused discussion, I’ll highlight this one:

Is the freedom to bear arms among the “unalienable rights” given by our Creator to all people as the Constitution indicates? That is, are attempts by the civil magistrate to restrict or regulate who may possess a weapon inherently unjust?


The Constitution and the Bill of Rights make no reference to “unalienable rights.” That language comes from the Declaration of Independence.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The way I would understand it is that the Declaration of Independence is a sort of mission statement saying, “These are the things we prize, and this is what we want to shoot for. We believe life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are unalienable rights endowed by God, and we want to create a governmental structure that honors that.” The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are the documents that form the governmental structure birthed out of that effort, but that is not the same thing as saying that the Bill of Rights is, itself, a list of what we are to regard as unalienable rights endowed by our Creator.

So no, I don’t think the freedom to bear arms is something the framers had in mind as an unalienable right endowed by God. Rather, I think all the texts give us is that they believed the right to bear arms was something necessary to the preservation of a free state. If our citizens can’t bear arms freely, then we ain’t going to be a free state for very long. That isn’t to say they believed that owning weapons was an unalienable right.

Furthermore, I don’t think a Christian could make a coherent biblical argument that owning weapons is somehow a “God-given right.” We might infer that a man has a moral obligation to protect his wife and children, but that isn’t the same as saying he is entitled to own any and all weapons that he desires for accomplishing that, free of any sort of regulation. My moral obligation to combat an assailant doesn’t imply the state’s moral obligation to allow me to possess nuclear weapons.

Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no.

I believe common sense has served you well in your finding it obtuse to conceive of the propriety of a violent, schizophrenic convict having free access to a bazooka. I believe we all innately understand that rights can be justly revoked in the event of lawbreaking, and this goes all the way up to the revoking of the “unalienable” right to life (Genesis 9:6).

I believe we also innately understand that no right is absolute, and free from regulation. The right of liberty does not mean the right of absolute autonomy. The right to pursue happiness is not a right to do whatever you please. The Bill of Rights, in its own text, affirms that the rights which it protects will be given their finer points by laws which would be forthcoming (see the text of the 3rd Amendment).


Like 22:36 implies that self defense with the popular weapon of the day, even a soldier’s arm, is justified and commended. In our modern day that might mean the right to strap an ar15 to your back. For self defense.

For organizing something more than that? It’s sketchy. I’d lean lesser magistrate at that point. If we’re honoring the king a la Rom 13, and the kings law says 2nd amendment is for the preservation of liberty against tyrants, it would seem we should honor that. But I think that would be a liberty afforded via Rom 13 more than anything else.

But great question! I’d love to hear others as well!

I’m not sure about that. The ‘right to life’ implies the right to attempt to preserve one’s own life - i.e. the right to self-defence. The necessity of a militia for/and preserving a free state are extensions of the right to self-defence.

As my whole family are currently isolating due to covid, I can’t track down the precise reference to this, but Francis Turretin has a discussion in his Institutes on how carrying a sword was a positive use of the 6th commandment (and a natural extension of the 2nd great commandment) - not that it was required for all but that it was at minimum lawful and even commendable.


To answer my own question, I think the well regulated militia means all able bodied men of fighting age, say age 20 to age 50. It doesnt just mean those who are formally in the army or part of a militia. It refers to reserve capacity, all those who might be in the militia if necessary. The well regulated militia, and the right to keep and bear arms, are two different things mentioned in the text of the 2nd Amendment.

The Amendment first states that a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, meaning a body of men, reserve capacity, who are well armed. Then it says that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. All men ages 20 to 50 should keep and bear arms, because a well regulated militia is necessary to a free state. But the Amendment also means more than just those men. The right to keep and bear arms applies to everyone, but especially those in the well regulated militia.

It’s like Paul saying to do good to all men, but especially those of the household of faith. Paul isn’t saying only do good to those of the household of faith, but to all men. He’s singling out household of faith for emphasis. The well regulated militia functions this way in the 2nd Amendment text.

Because the Founding Fathers were elitists, I don’t think they would have intended their Amendment to mean that ordinary Joe’s could keep tanks in their garages. Limitations on grades of weapons ordinary civilians can own are reasonable. Yet even these restrictions should be approached with a concern and bias to protect always the right to keep and bear arms and the implied right to self defense.


I don’t think this is the meaning of the text, implicit or otherwise.

What is the context? What was the reason that Jesus gave for stating that the one who has no sword needed to sell his cloak and buy one? Verse 37 tells us that it’s in order that prophecy may be fulfilled in Christ, that he may be “numbered with the transgressors.” The disciples needed to have a few swords handy in order to make sure they looked like a proper gang of bandits or rebels. Just a couple swords would be enough to accomplish this, and one sword is all it would take to seal the fulfillment:

And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” - Luke 22:49-53

I understand that it’s very popular for gun-totin’ evangelicals to cite Luke 22:37 as a proof text. “See, Jesus says we should own guns!” But I think that’s eisegesis. It’s what happens when we look to the Bible to justify our patriotic presuppositions. We need to be watchful of ourselves in this.

I think the wider counsel of Scripture does inform us that there is such a thing as just use of deadly force for the individual, and there are inferences we can draw about what that means for just governing; but we must be careful not to eisegete to get there. And I think we should be doubly careful as Americans to make sure we don’t read something into Jesus’ words concerning his care for our temporal civil rights that really isn’t there. To the contrary, whenever people came to Jesus with an inquiry concerning civil life, he redirected the conversation toward eternal things (Luke 12:13-15, Mark 12:17).

Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. His servants are not to be marked by their militancy (John 18:36). He rebukes his disciples to trust in the power of God over the power of the sword; warning that whoever lives by the sword will die by it (Matthew 26:52-54 – an inconvenient parallel to Luke 22:37 that gun-totin’ evangelicals ignore). The right to keep and bear arms may indeed be a just civil right, but self-preservation isn’t something Jesus taught us to be that concerned with. In fact, Jesus said that whoever would save his life will lose it (Luke 9:24).


This is really good to remember. The trick is how to then answer the secondary questions about civil life. Civil life is secondary, granted. But we still have to have answers for it beyond that it is indeed secondary.


That’s fair. But does the unalienable right to defend one’s life then constitute an unalienable right to keep and bear arms?

Suppose an intruder enters my home in the middle of the night, and I bash him with a baseball bat. His skull fractures, he is knocked unconscious, and he later dies in the hospital. The police investigate the facts, and the state deems it a clear case of justified homicide, and I am not charged with a crime. Case is closed. In this example, my “unalienable right to life” has been honored and upheld by our system in its recognition of my right to self defense, but it didn’t necessitate that I have the right to bear arms.

Am I saying that I believe baseball bats are sufficient for defending one’s family? No. I am just saying that the state can uphold the moral ideal of the right to self defense apart from me having the right to own a gun.

By contrast, suppose a few years later, an army of Soviet paratroopers falls out of the sky in my neighborhood (Red Dawn, anyone?). In that case, the baseball bat isn’t going to do me much good. Even if all the men of my city rally together with their baseball bats, we’re not going to be able to mount any defense, therefore we will not be able to defend our families and our neighbors. In this situation, arms are essential to preserving the “rights to life and liberty.”

It seems that our founding fathers had the second example in mind, explicitly. And so they decided that it shall be a right of the people to keep arms – that is, in their own possessions – so that when the Soviet paratroopers come, the citizens will have the means to respond immediately, without the constraint of the standing army. They also evidently didn’t want the constraint of each man having to rally to an armory before he could be of use. This is in contrast to other nations of the world who store all of their militia arms at armories. The readiness of the Minutemen, and the effects of partisan fighters during the Revolutionary War was no doubt in their minds.

As @Fr_Bill indicated, one of the natural consequences of each man having the right to keep arms for the event of the Soviet invasion example is that he now also has ready access to arms in the event of the home intruder example. But does it actually have to be this way? As Americans, we certainly think so, but I am not so sure.

Switzerland is an interesting case study for the separation between self-defense and the defense of the state. In short, all Swiss men between 18 and 34 are required to do military training. As militiamen, they are issued rifles and pistols, which they are to keep in their home. However, these rifles are expressly not for the purpose of self defense or defense of the home. They aren’t even issued ammunition – this is all kept in arsenal.

As one Swiss dude explains, “The gun is not given to me to protect me or my family. I have been given this gun by my country to serve my country - and for me it is an honour to take care of it. I think it is a good thing for the state to give this responsibility to people.”

In Switzerland, they manage to have an actual militia culture without a gun-totin’ culture.

Am I saying I agree with their approach? No. For the purposes of this discussion, I just want to argue that the right to life and the right to bear arms are related, but separate from one another.


By the way, in full disclosure, I’m quite a bit of a gun-toter myself. I’d venture to guess I’ve probably done more shooting than most on this forum, and I handload ammunition. I’m not speaking from the bias of a gun basher. :slight_smile:


I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking. Even in your example, you were armed. A baseball bat may not be a firearm, but it’s not your hands either. It counts as a weapon you’re using with deadly force. You want to use a baseball bat fine. ‘I just want to be a little tidier,’ so a pistol suits me just fine.

Philosophically you are correct, these are not the same issues. But historically/constitutionally they’re not just related, they’re linked. The right to bear arms is an extension of the unalienable right to life (i.e. self defence). Whether that self-defence is against the encroachment of one’s own state or against a home intruder is neither here nor there to what the constitution guarantees.

In the US, the state cannot lawfully uphold the right to self-defence without also guaranteeing the right to own a gun. To do so would put it contradiction with its own charter of rights. Whether or not this is morally necessary (as in required) is beside the point.

Or am I not understanding your point?

I used a baseball bat because it falls into the category of “it’s not a weapon but can be used as one.” Same is true of the hammer, the scythe, the crowbar, the kitchen knife, etc. Historically, I think everyone understands the difference between that which is classified as “armaments,” as opposed to tools which may be employed as weapons. The vilest dictator may banish all armaments from the population, but he can’t banish tools, unless he wants a populace who accomplish no work. So yes, the baseball bat can be used as a weapon, but it is not an armament by any standard.

We are tracking. This is really the only point I was making – the philosophical difference. And I agree that the constitution links them, whether it was intended to or not.

I agree that the 2nd Amendment is packed with implications relating to any scenario where the right to keep arms is relevant. For sure.


Indeed and I may have done that, thanks iron! I guess the next place to look would be Exodus 22:2-3.


So are relatively modern restrictions such as prohibiting a seventeen year-old with no criminal record from owning or carrying a firearm “in contradiction with [the US’s] own charter of rights?” Does the Constitutional “right to self-defense” and thus the “right to own a gun” extend to Americans of all ages?

During and after the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, there was a considerable amount of discussion among Christians surrounding whether Kyle did anything wrong or acted unwisely, not in defending himself, but in taking the streets of Kenosha armed in the first place.

I don’t want to derail this thread with the broader aspects of that debate (and I realize Kyle is no longer being charged with any gun-related crime), but the whole situation raised the question in my mind of “underage” men and women owning guns. Are states with laws preventing a minor from legally owning a firearm governing contra-Second Amendment?

In my mind that’s a different question, at least as to the original post.

All rights have qualifications. Rights apply to citizens. I don’t know of anyone who argues that 10 year olds should have voting rights, even though a 10 year old born in the US is a citizen of the US. That doesn’t undermine democracy. Your question is on the edges of these rights.

I would see age qualifications on gun rights as similarly appropriate to voting rights and draft responsibilities (with the exception on the latter that I have no issue with women owning/carrying guns and I think drafting women is immoral). That’s not to comment on the Rittenhouse situation except to say that age qualifications don’t in principle seem to me to inappropriately limit rights.


I think I had no idea what I wanted to ask, I just knew I had questions. :slightly_smiling_face:

This whole thread has already been extremely helpful.

Don’t forget the the familial sphere of authority. Historically, nations have innately understood the concept of the parent and the child; the adult and the minor, etc. These realities have always been reflected in civil laws. Even in a time like the one we live in, where people can’t tell the difference between men and women, and defer to their five-year-olds to decide what clothes they want to wear, we still have not quite lost every shred of common sense.

My children are American citizens, which means they are afforded the rights enshrined in the Constitution. But that doesn’t mean they possess those rights apart from any mediation or regulation. My son has the civil right to freedom of speech, but this does not negate my parental obligation and right to discipline his foul mouth – nor does it mean he can run his mouth however and wherever he chooses. Similarly, a child does not possess the right to bear arms apart from the mediation of their parents – nor does it mean they may not be subject to other regulating laws.


There is no doubt that the entire situation was foolish. Find me the wisdom of God in driving across state lines to take to the streets, with a rifle, to “stand up against” angry mobs. I am not interested in what the unbelieving world finds justifiable according to law. What manner of life does the word of God command?

It’s sad to me when Christians want to reduce the Rittenhouse thing to a conversation about self-defense and the 2nd Amendment. What about parents failing to teach their children the fear of the Lord? What about the gravity of taking human life? What about the warnings of Scripture about meddling (Proverbs 26:17, 1 Peter 4:15, 1 Thes. 4:11).

@tesseract mentions Exodus 22:2-3. One of the things we find in that text is the distinction between the home intruder after nightfall, versus the thief who comes during the day. Lethal force is justified in the former case, as the intentions of the intruder are unknown. But to the thief who comes to take property only, lethal force is not justified. What impact ought this have on how we think about the looter and the rioter?

The Constitution may well have seen a victory in the particulars of the Rittenhouse case, but that doesn’t mean wisdom prevailed.