God Says That You – Yes, You – Can Keep And Bear Arms

by | February 22, 2014

American news website The Daily Beast notes that “American gun lobbyists” such as Erich Pratt of Gun Owners of America have seized on the ructions in Ukraine as an example of the evils of gun control. Apparently Ukraine has rather strict laws regarding gun ownership, and as a result the various revolutionary forces there have not been particularly well-armed.

“Human nature being what it is, it’s always a risk when people’s gun rights are obliterated. Now, it doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen,” says Pratt. Citing mass killings of unarmed civilians by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Kim regime in North Korea, Pratt points to Ukraine’s strict gun registration laws as the first step toward firearm confiscation. “It turns a god-given right into a government-given privilege.”


And that “god-given” right applies to everyone, Pratt says. “We view that right as universal. We’re fortunate to have it protected in this country by the Second Amendment, but the thing about rights is, they can’t be given or taken away.”

I would argue that Pratt is putting the cart before the horse here. In the late 18th century, American politicians decided to pass a Bill of Rights that included the Second Amendment to their constitution, which provided for “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms”. In the years since, many generations of Americans have grown up with that right, and it’s unsurprising that some of them have come to regard it as natural and universal. Citizens of Canada, and I suspect of most other countries, are more likely to regard the explicit right to keep and bear arms as an idiosyncratic American invention representing little more than an accident of history. The Second Amendment was indeed “given” by politicians, and could be unceremoniously “taken away” if the political winds happen to undergo a major change (which has been known to happen – ask any Ukrainian).

The suggestion that gun rights are “god-given” as opposed to politician-given is risible from an atheistic perspective, at least if taken literally, but also represents a particularly clear example of how humans sometimes like to invoke divine authority in order to lend an air of solemnity to their own preoccupations. As a red-blooded American, Pratt thinks people ought to be allowed to bear arms, but his nation’s endorsement of that right is apparently insufficient. Having the endorsement co-signed by God, however concrete or abstract Pratt’s conception of God may be, undoubtedly provides an excellent bulwark against suggestions that the Second Amendment was merely the ill-conceived brainchild of some Enlightenment-era gents who were a bit bloody-minded on the subject of equipping the people to battle an overbearing government because they had, after all, recently pulled off a hard-fought rebellion themselves.

For those of us who don’t think God exists in the first place, divinely bestowed gun rights are obviously a bit of a non-starter. To me, at least, it seems fairly clear that America would be better off without the Second Amendment, and that any American attempts to export the silly thing should be firmly resisted. In Ukraine, after all, they seem to be pulling off their revolution largely without the benefit of firearms, although what kind of new order will emerge from the ashes of the old one remains an open question.

4 thoughts on “God Says That You – Yes, You – Can Keep And Bear Arms

  1. Ultra

    America is at its core, about individualism. Canada is simply a vassal nation given liberty by a weak monarchy and American laziness. The American revolution was about guns. The American conquest of the native populations ultimately was about firepower.

    Ukraine is more complicated because Russia is more complicated. Ukraine is like Canada, it does what it is told, and only those who live in a fantasy world pretend otherwise. A real revolution would be suicide. This is a revolution against puppets.

    1. Corwin Post author

      I think you’re being a bit too categorical. Mid-sized countries like Canada and Ukraine are certainly prone to being influenced by the heavyweights, but they do retain some autonomy and some options. Playing the big powers off against each other is a time-honoured strategy, and Ukraine has been doing exactly that with Russia and the EU. Yanukovych’s government leaned more towards Russia, and the western Ukrainian reformist and nationalist forces that have just toppled that government (admittedly with a fair bit of outside support) lean more towards the EU, but the result will probably be a shift in emphasis rather than a dramatic realignment. There’s still the possibility of a split between the broadly pro-Russian east and the broadly pro-EU west, of course.

      The American revolution did require guns, not to mention swords and bayonets, but not all revolutions are like that. Just look at the collapse of the Soviet Union, for example, or even the end of apartheid in South Africa. America overcame native resistance via railroads and small pox, at least as much as guns, and the guns that mattered were in the hands of uniformed soldiers rather than random citizens exercising their right to bear arms. It’s telling that Canada accomplished much the same thing with much less fighting.

      As for America being about individualism, I don’t think countries can really be “about” things in quite that sense. They’re too big, too complicated, too beholden to historical and cultural contingencies, and too human. Americans may value individualism more than most other nations, and their laws may reflect that attitude, but that’s a somewhat more nuanced claim.

  2. billybob

    The favoured method of elminating a despotic regime is usually is by killing them, hard to do with out weapons.

    You put to much faith in the good will of the leviathan.

    1. Corwin Post author

      The critical consideration usually seems to be whether the Leviathan and its security services have the will to beat down resistance through force of arms. If they don’t, as in Ukraine, a revolution can be accomplished without much bloodshed. If they do, as in Syria, revolution is going to be a long, hard grind if it can be accomplished at all, unless outside powers can be persuaded to intervene in a big way. The right to bear arms doesn’t make that much difference, except maybe in the weakest and most impoverished states, because most armies have tanks, helicopters, good logistics and communications, and all that jazz. If America’s gun-toting militias actually tried to stage an uprising, they wouldn’t get very far unless the military either started to help them or refused to intervene.


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