By Bryan Fischer
Follow me on Twitter: @BryanJFischer, on Facebook at “Focal Point”
In all the bloviating about banning guns in the aftermath of the tragedy involving Javon Belcher, the Kansas City Chief linebacker who shot his girlfriend nine times and then turned the gun on himself, it’s intriguing to remember one thing: it is used to be illegal in America not to pack heat. Even in church. In fact, especially in church.
As an aside, I Tweeted yesterday that the problem in the Belcher shooting was not that there were too many guns around but that there weren’t enough. His poor unarmed victim had no way to defend herself against his rage and violence. If he hadn’t had a gun, perhaps he would be alive today. But if she had had a gun, maybe she would be alive too.
Before getting to my main point, it’s worth reviewing the Second Amendment for a moment.
It’s important to note first of all that the right of self-defense is rooted in the teaching of Jesus himself. He once told his disciples that he would be “numbered with the transgressors,” and that as a result their own lives could be endangered because of their association with him. He therefore counseled them, “Let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). You can’t get more legitimacy than that. A legal principle rooted in the teaching of Christ is pretty tough to beat.
The Second Amendment, as every amendment in the Bill of Rights does, protects an individual right, not a group or collective right. Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury for both presidents Jefferson and Madison, said, “The whole of the Bill [of Rights] is a declaration of the rights of the people at large or considered as individuals...[I]t establishes...rights of the individual as inalienable.” (emphasis added)
Note that it is not the right of the militia to keep and bear arms that is protected by the Second Amendment, it is the right of the people to keep and bear arms that is guaranteed, in order that they may function as a militia in defense of the liberties of their individual States from the threat of the central government.
“A well-regulated Militia,” they said, is “necessary to the security of a free State.” And by “State,” of course, they meant not the federal government or government in general but quite specifically each of the individual 13 States. These States, with a capital “S,” had declared their independence and were now in the process of forming “a more perfect Union,” a Union, to quote the Declaration, of “Free and Independent States.”
They considered the possibility that just as the Colonies need to be armed to protect themselves from the tyranny of the Crown, so the newly sovereign States might one day need to protect themselves from the tyranny of their own central government. And so they enacted the Second Amendment for that very purpose.
This cannot be overemphasized. The purpose of the Second Amendment was to preserve the right of States to protect themselves, by armed resistance if necessary, from a tyrannical and overreaching central government.
The militias were not the historic equivalent of the National Guard, as many erroneously think. No, the “militia” consisted of “all men capable of bearing arms,” according to Richard Henry Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and an original framer of the Second Amendment. Lee added explicitly, “A militia...are in fact the people themselves.”
George Mason, considered by historians to be the “Father of the Bill of Rights,” was just as direct: “Who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people.”
To my main point. People are aghast today at the thought of people taking guns into church. It is explicitly prohibited, for instance, in my newly adopted state which otherwise has a generous concealed carry permit policy.
Thus it will surprise many Americans to learn that there was a time when you would have been breaking the law by NOT packing heat to church.
For instance, a 1631 Virginia law read, “All men that are fitting to bear arms shall bring their pieces to church.” (In fact, a 1623 Virginia law prohibited you from traveling anywhere without being armed.) In 1639, the Newport Colony required that “none shall come to any public meeting without his weapon.” And in 1770, Georgia law provided that, “for the better security of the inhabitants,” every resident was required “to carry firearms to places of public worship.”
The reasons for this are easy to understand. Certainly not all native American tribes were warlike, but enough were for the Founders to include, in the Declaration, a statement about “the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”
While no one, of course, is saying that those descriptions apply today, they certainly did then. One thing the hostile Indian nations quickly learned was that European settlers were a God-fearing lot, who attended church en masse on Sunday mornings. It wasn’t long before they realized that such settlers were sitting ducks, all together in one place at one time and unarmed to boot. The best time to strike the colonists was anytime between 11am and noon on Sunday. Thus for simple self-protection against unprovoked Indian attacks, early Americans were obligated to pack heat to church.
We’ve had enough sanctuary shootings in the past 15 years, enough pastors and parishioners shot dead in their own places of worship, to think that it’s time once again to recognize that all Americans have a constitutionally guaranteed right to self-defense, even the ones sitting in church.
(I am indebted to historian David Barton and his excellent book, The Second Amendment: Preserving the Inalienable Right of Individual Self-Protection, for much of the historical material in this column.)
(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)