So last Monday there was a huge rally in Virginia to protest the declared intentions of Gov. Ralph “Blackie” Northam regarding guns. The rally was supposed to erupt into World War III, or maybe that was Iran, but anyway really bad stuff was going to happen. We were promised that really bad stuff was going to happen. And then it didn’t. Thousands descended on Richmond to assemble, to carry (despite the “emergency” declaration of a panicked governor), and to pass on some information that was perhaps not to the liking of the Richmond wise ones running the show. Not only so, but when they departed, all these protestors managed to leave the place cleaner than when they found it.
In the breathless run-up to the rally, some in the media had even wanted to describe it as an event more suited to their agenda, like a “white nationalist” rally. But it wasn’t that either. It was just Americans.
The fundamental divide in America right now can be characterized as a difference over the nature of rights. What are rights? How are we to understand them? When we understand that, and not until then, we can understand gun rights.
According to the conservative worldview, rights are granted to us by our Creator, and because He is the one who gave them, He is the only one who can stipulate the conditions under which they are forfeited. They cannot be taken away by the mere wish of the legislature. The legislature cannot have the authority, and does not have the authority, to alienate the rights of the people from the people. Any attempt to do so is, by definition, a lawless attempt.
Now when a criminal is executed, he has clearly forfeited his right to life, for example, but because it is so serious a matter, we can only presume to do it if we are scrupulously following God’s revealed procedures for doing so — meaning due process, presumption of innocence, hearing both sides, and all the rest of it. Because the social justice left wants to redefine all these basic matters of justice, this explains why their project is so profoundly destructive. And so until someone has forfeited those God-given rights, in accordance with God’s rules of forfeiture, the individual continues to enjoy them. And all that is necessary for him to continue to enjoy them is for everybody else to leave him alone.
In contrast, the liberal understanding of rights is positive, not negative. Conservatives think in terms of the right to free speech, the right to peacefully assemble, the right to bear arms, and so on. Liberals think of the right to affordable housing, decent health care, and a livable wage.
But notice what this requires. If Smith has a right to affordable housing, then Jones has the obligation to give him an affordable house. If Smith has a right to decent health care, then Jones has an obligation to provide him with that health care. If Smith has a right to receive a particular wage, then Jones has the obligation to pay that wage. In sum, and skipping just a few steps, Smith’s enjoyment of such rights requires the enslavement of Jones.
But if Smith has the right to speak his mind, Jones doesn’t have to do anything except mind his own beeswax. Allowing Smith to let fly on some topic of interest to him takes no skin off the nose of Jones. Now Jones has the obligation not to be mortally offended when Smith says that this thing or that one is good or bad, take your pick, but that is about it.
One of the things that happened in the Reformation is that in various countries, the Protestants came into conflict with the magistrates who were wanting to suppress the reform efforts. Places where this conflict could be seen in high relief were France, the Netherlands, and Scotland. And when the magistrates took to the sword and stake, one of things that resulted was a theology of Protestant resistance. Notable books in this vein were Samuel Rutherford’s Lex Rex in Scotland, and Vindicae Contra Tyrannos by the pseudonymous Junius Brutus, a French Huguenot.
What developed was a three-step theology of resistance The first was prophetic denunciation of the civic evil. When the magistrate is defying God, then courageous men in the pulpit should be authoritatively naming what is happening, and denouncing it ( Matt. 14:4). The second stage is for the believers to flee the persecution. Jesus said to do this — when you are persecuted in one city, flee to the next (Matt. 10:23). The third and final stage is to take up arms defensively (1 Sam. 22:2). David’s men were armed, and were not cooperating with Saul’s tyranny at all, and would certainly have defended themselves if cornered, but David would still not lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed. So it is not permissible to undertake a revolution whereby the rebels seek to overthrow the existing authority. But taking up arms defensively is an option. And stating that you will refuse to comply if required by the tyrants to is also an option. This is why George Washington said that weapons were liberty’s teeth. This is why molon labe is an option. As the saying goes, when the government starts saying that you don’t need a gun, then you need a gun.
In his magisterial Institutes, John Calvin gave us another layer of protection against lawless anarchy. He taught that when the supreme ruler is resisted, it should be undertaken by the lesser magistrate, and that the people should not try to resist tyranny at the top as an inchoate mob. They should resist tyranny from the central government by means of submission to local authorities who are fulfilling their oath of office. Every lesser magistrate has the obligation (not the right, the obligation) to disobey unlawful orders from above. And, when they do this, the people have an obligation to rally behind them.
Now to Virginia
Now the situation in Virginia is an almost perfect set up — it is as though the good Lord wanted us to get a solid lesson in reformational civics. The right of the people to keep and bear arms is a God-given right. In a healthier time than we are living in now, the civil magistrate recognized this, and solemnly included the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights. Now we must realize that the Bill of Rights was included, not because the Americans were still afraid of King George, but rather because they were concerned about the tyrannical streak in American politicians.
Everything about the Constitution shouts at us — “never trust an American politician.” The safeguards in the Bill of Rights were included as a firewall against just the kind of politician represented by Gov. Ralph Northam. Remember that this is the hypocrite in blackface, the man who wants to be able to put down newborn infants like they had no more rights than household pets do, and who wanted to confiscate the firearms of Virginia — in defiance of God-given rights, centuries of tradition, and the express prohibition of the law. “Let us think about it, no,” everybody said.
So, as a reminder. If there had never been a Second Amendment, we would still have the right to keep and bear arms. The Second Amendment does not bestow on us any right to keep and bear arms. The Second Amendment was intended as a Second Layer of Protection. It was an acknowledgement that the republican form of government that we had adopted was being careful to remember that her citizenry had been blessed by God with certain inalienable rights.
Now when the governor of that fair state determined (how, one is not quite sure) that the right to keep and bear arms means, in the final analysis, when you boil it all down, when you have really thought it through, at the end of the day, when you study the Bill of Rights in the original Greek, and when you do the hermeneutical hokey-pokey, that you actually DON’T have the right to keep and bear arms, the response of Virginians was pitch perfect right.
The governor wants to seize as many weapons as he can, and this is where we see Calvin’s doctrine of the lesser magistrate on display. The fact that the governor’s move was outrageous is glaringly obvious to anyone who knows how to read. At this time of writing, over 90% of Virginia’s counties have declared themselves to be Second Amendment sanctuaries. They have said to the state government that they will not comply with the usurpation of this unjust law.
And so this means that the rally in Virginia’s capital — and which included a number of Virginia sheriffs — was not simply a mob. It was more than a crowd. It was not simply a protest. These were citizens were were assembling in their state capital, declaring their intention of submitting to the existing authorities (Rom. 13:1-4). They were not a rabble. They were citizens in submission to the law and to their authorities, and they were defying someone who was not in submission to the law. The law-abiding were outside the building and the lawless were inside the building.
Understanding how easily that state of affairs can come about is absolutely basic to biblical worldview thinking about political structures. This is why the American founding documents were so profoundly Christian in their structure — they took the fall of man seriously. And it is also why the developing secular state is so hostile to biblical thinking — wicked rulers do not want a citizenry that understands the implications of the fall of man to politics.
One Last Comment
Some might complain that the problem with a gun rights rally like this is the sense of misplaced priorities. Why could we get over 90 % of the counties in Virginia to throw down about this, when we could not get them to do the same thing over abortion laws, for example. You let them haul off the babies but not the guns?
But this represents a real confusion. There is an inconsistency here, but it does not lie with the people who are defending their gun rights. It lies with the Christians who have not defended life in the same way.
This is how it is to be done. We should all do it more, and in other areas. Certainly. But don’t complain about the one sector of the population who still have their wits about them. In the meantime, everyone take note. This is how it is to be done.
As it happens, in order to respond as an informed citizenry, the citizens have to be instructed, taught, catechized. They have to know what their rights are, how they are to be protected, and what the response should be whenever they are threatened. But this requires civics classes. It requires private Christian education, with civics classes.
It requires Christian leaders to write about this stuff. And it requires, when they write about this stuff, that they get it right. When that starts to happen, we can then be — as the meme has it — the America that Hong Kong thinks we are.