An article published in The National Review asserts that any government-imposed limitation on gun ownership–such as banning assault weapons–denies both a natural right and a God-given right to self-defense. Author David French argues that God requires the “ultimate penalty” for unlawful killing (with an exemption for protecting one’s home), and for defense against invasion (citing the Book of Esther, in which the Jews come against invaders to protect themselves). French even invokes the writings of English philosopher John Locke–”widely known as the Father of Classical Liberalism”–as justification for unfettered gun ownership.
Aside from French’s insistence on making Biblical justifications for blocking attempts at regulating guns, and despite the fact that this nation is not a Christian nation, he basically says that self-defense is both a “natural” and “biblical” right, and includes the right for anyone to own any and every type of gun without any impediment to purchase.
What is a “natural right,” though? The basic definition is “any right that exists by virtue of natural law.” According to The Constitutional Rights Foundation, Thomas Jefferson used John Locke’s definition of “natural rights” as being “life, liberty, and property.” In dealing with “life,” Locke believed that people had the right to life and the right to preserve that life, which can easily be interpreted to include self-defense. When it comes to property, Locke was referring to goods that could be bought, sold, given away, taken away under certain circumstances, and ownership of self including a right to well being. Jefferson substituted Locke’s “property” with “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence, which Locke and others believed was freedom of opportunity combined with a duty to help one’s fellow man. Liberty, however, was widely defined as an individual’s freedom to make their own choices and live their own lives as they saw fit, so long as they did not interfere with the liberty of others. Since Jefferson and other Framers based much of their own philosophies on that of John Locke and others of the Enlightenment period, “natural rights” as defined by American law and history are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The Constitutional Rights Foundation, however, uses “natural rights” interchangeably with “God-given rights.” Natural law and divine law, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s page on Locke, are two different things. Natural law is that which is discovered through reason alone and applies to everyone; divine law is that which can only be discovered through sacred writings (the Christian Bible, for instance), and only applies to the people that a particular god (or gods) determines they apply to. Given that natural rights exist by virtue of natural law, there is a difference between “natural rights,” and “God-given rights,” though Locke did not see an issue with God playing a part as long as the relevant aspects being discussed could be found through reason alone, and not through Scripture.
Notably, French cites Scripture liberally in order to make his point.
Furthermore, as pointed out by ThinkProgress author Zack Beauchamp, David French grossly misinterprets some of Locke’s statements. Locke believed in a contract between people and its government, and–according to a reference in Beauchamp’s article–believes that in order to live in a political society, the people have to give up their natural right to punishment of criminal behavior to the government and allow said government to arbitrate and settle grievances. French clearly does not agree with Locke on this point, but quotes him anyway.
What French does not make clear in either the National Review article–or in his Patheos blog post about God and gun rights–is just what self-defense means and what is necessary to protect oneself and one’s family. He explains that lethal force is justified in self-defense, but never actually explains why the ownership of certain types of weapons is a necessary part of this right. If a burglar breaks into your house and threatens you and your family, the bullet from a single- or double-action pistol, or a bolt-action rifle, is just as lethal as the bullet from any number of assault weapons, provided you actually know exactly how to handle and fire them.
In other words, despite everything he says, he fails to make his case, biblical or otherwise, against an assault weapons ban or other types of common-sense regulation.
By bringing the Bible and “God’s will” into the gun control issue, French and others attempt to blur the line of separation between the church and the state, and to obfuscate the intent of the Founding Fathers who based their contributions to the Constitution on the writings of John Locke and others from the period of Enlightenment, and (unlike French) actually understood what Locke wrote.