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The Bible and the Second Amendment

To forestall misunderstanding: No, this essay is not about how the Bible does or doesn’t support or oppose gun control. It is about a condition that is common to both the Bible and the Second Amendment to the Constitution: Inconsistency.

Self-contradiction in the Bible is to be expected. It is, after all, a compendium of dozens of books, totaling roughly 800,000 words, written by an unknown number of authors compiled over the course of centuries, after an indeterminate period of oral telling and re-telling, and then copying and recopying with editing and re-editing of written accounts before the earliest extant versions we have.

Self-contradiction in the Second Amendment (hereinafter, 2A) is surprising. It is just a single sentence containing 27 words: “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.”

There are countless examples of scriptural self-contradiction on the internet (try a search on “Bible self-contradiction”) as well as in books by Bible scholars. The self-contradiction in 2A is found by comparing the first clause (ending “…free State,”) with the second. The first clause presents the goal, and the second presents the means of achieving it: the goal is to provide for a well-regulated Militia, and the means of achieving that goal is allowing people to keep and bear arms. (Note, by the way, that 2A is the only part of the Bill of Rights that is prefaced by an explanatory statement indicating its purpose. It seems reasonable to suppose that the framers of the Constitution considered this purpose important enough to be stated explicitly.)

A well-regulated militia was necessary at that time in American history. Armed citizens were ready to respond in force to rioting, insurrection, outside attack, or other threats to the security of the state (i.e., the nation); and that force had to be “well regulated,” else it would be nothing but a mob. Today, that function is served by full-time municipal and state police forces and, if needed, the National Guard. Where does that leave 2A? If the purpose that was stated so clearly in 2A is now met without need for armed citizens forming a well-regulated militia, do people still have the right to keep and bear arms?

On the other hand, the second clause of 2A seems unambiguous: the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Does that right disappear if the reason why it was provided is no longer relevant? If the right still exists, does the need for regulation still exist? If so, does regulation constitute infringement?

The point is not to offer answers but to show that there can be no definitive answers—not as 2A is currently worded. Like the Bible, it contradicts itself and is open to multiple interpretations. And, like the Bible, any attempt to rewrite it for the sake of clarity would be met with fierce opposition from supporters of regulation, opponents, or both.

Even so, just as Thomas Jefferson produced an interesting editing of the Bible, it might be worth considering a pair of possible rewrites to 2A, which would resolve the issue, one way or the other:

  1. The right of any person in the United States to own and carry weapons shall not be restricted in terms of numbers and types of weapons that may be owned and carried; nor may anyone be denied that right by reason of age, non-citizenship, history of criminal acts or mental illness, or any other factor.

  2. The right of people in the United States to own and carry weapons shall be subject to regulations established by the relevant agency within each state. Such regulations shall specify the types and numbers of weapons that may be owned, and eligibility requirements for owning and carrying weapons based on age, citizenship status, and criminal and psychiatric history. The agency shall also be responsible for registration of weapons and licensing of owners based on demonstrated knowledge of laws pertaining to the ownership and use of weapons, demonstrated skill in handling each type of weapon owned, documentation of safety measures employed in the keeping of weapons, and any other criteria that the agency may deem pertinent.

Supporters of gun-control regulation (those who emphasize the first clause of 2A) would say #1 reveals the self-evident foolishness of opposition to regulations, and they would regard #2 as sensible. Opponents of regulation (those who dismiss the first clause) would say #2 is totally unconstitutional, and they would regard #1 as acceptable but unnecessary because it adds nothing to the perfect clarity of 2A as written.

Both versions are clear—#1 forbids any form of regulations that could restrict gun ownership, #2 establishes the constitutional validity of restrictive regulations—but the likelihood of an amendment to revise 2A in either direction is precisely 0.

So the debate will go on… and on… and on…

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