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.