WORDS: 1,286 — “No country venerates its “Founding Fathers” like the United States. Academics, legislators, judges, and ordinary citizens all frequently seek to validate their opinions and policy prescriptions by identifying them with the statesmen who led America to nationhood. It is not surprising, therefore, that debates about the role of religion in the United States are infused with references to the faith of the Founding Fathers and to the two greatest documents they gave to the fledgling republic: the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.” – Anthony J. Minna, Journal of the American Revolution
One of the constant arguments used by Conservative/Trumpians to assert their claims for less gun control has been the idea that individual self-defense is a “God-given right protected by the Constitution”. Even when discussing the other freedoms that the Right perceives are being challenged, or “attacked” by some Liberal factions as extensions of critical race theory in the classrooms, being woke, cancel culture, pandemic mandates.. the list seems endless.. as all being chokes on our “inalienable rights”. The use of these two phrases, obviously taken from our Declaration of Independence, has concerned me given our Constitution never uses those terms. So, I ask the question.. or rather make the observation… when did “God-given rights” and “inalienable rights” become some law of the land? How has some level of assigning divinity to a right give that right any more legal legitimacy?
The recent Rittenhouse trial has rightly elevated the concern over states who have enacted open carry laws for long guns… especially ignoring any qualification requirements for certifying owners for safety, potential use, and instruction for applying “citizen arrests”. Gun supporters claim the God-given right to a self-defense.. or inalienable right to self-defense (especially a self-defense that extends beyond the home; the entire impetus for conceal & carry and open carry)… is somehow protected under the law. Not sure I see a “right to self-defense” anywhere. I would acknowledge that a SCOTUS decision or two regarding Second Amendment cases in the past may have made reference to a basic act of self-defense would/could include a right to use a firearm.
The Declaration and the Constitution are two entirely separate documents with two entirely different meanings and intentions… created at two entirely different points in our development as a nation. My intro paragraph at the top indicates a quote from a Journal of the American Revolution article by Anthony J. Minna (HERE).
The Declaration of Independence is an apology for revolution. Support for a complete break with Great Britain was growing stronger week by week in the spring of 1776, both in the Continental Congress and in the thirteen colonies at large.
The resulting Declaration of Independence, drafted by Thomas Jefferson and edited by his fellow delegates, contains a theory of rights that depends on a Supreme Being, not man, for its validity. The Declaration states that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is possible to see in these words an affirmation of the Founders’ religious faith, but God-given rights had less to do with theology in the summer of 1776 than they did with rebellion.
In stating that people’s rights were given to them by their creator, the Continental Congress endowed those rights with a legitimacy that knows no parallel in mortal sources. What God has given to man is not enjoyed at the sufferance of any monarch or government. Liberty is the inviolable birthright of all.
The genius of the Declaration is the inclusive way the divine is given expression. The appellations of God are generic. Adherents of traditional theistic sects can read the words “Nature’s God,” “Creator,” and “Supreme Judge,” and understand them to mean the god they worship. The claims made on numerous Christian websites attest to this. Yet opponents of dogma read those same words and see an embracive, non-sectarian concept of divinity. This is no small testimony to the wisdom and foresight of the Founding Fathers. All Americans could support the Revolution and independence. All can regard their rights as unalienable, their liberty as inviolable.
Why does the Constitution contain no reference at all to God, any “right” to a self-defense, any “inalienable” or “unalienable” rights?
At first, this may seem odd. Why did the men who drafted the Declaration invoke a Supreme Being several times, while the men who drafted the Constitution did not mention a higher power even once?
The threefold answer lies in the stated purposes of the Constitution, its religious neutrality, and the theory of government it embodies. Whereas the Declaration explained and justified a rebellion to secure God-given rights, the Constitution is a blueprint for stable and effective republican government in a free country. The Preamble to the Constitution declares that its purposes are “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty.” These are wholly secular objects; religious references are extraneous in a document drafted to further them.
The Declaration was in fact, just that.. a declaration to separate from an oppressive monarchy by applying rather unique concepts for those days in assigning the right to separate is based on following the rights of God as being interpreted by the authors and signatories of the Declaration. The Declaration is not a binding legal document of and by itself. It defines the desire and reasons for independence…. addressed to a king. At the time the Declaration was written there was NO inclination as to how some future government in America would be formed. In fact it took two tries before we settled on an accepted version.
In creating a political order based on popular sovereignty, the Founding Fathers thus turned prevailing European political theory on its head. In place of the divine right of monarchs, the Declaration asserted the divine rights of all men, and both the Declaration and the Constitution source the legitimacy of political rule exclusively in the consent of the governed.
Read that above again… the Declaration asserted the divine rights of all men. It was a point of view being asserted as justification for the act of separation. It was not part of any law. So, to assume anyone owning a gun, much less feeling free to carry one out in public, is some “divine right” or “God-given right”, under the Constitution, is sorely incorrect. The Constitution and legal subsequent interpretations of the Constitution over time, stipulates that your “right” to own a gun was defined by “We, the people….” and not “God” directly.
Seems to me any “right” to a self-defense is assigned by existence alone. As soon as we leave the womb there are instinctive traits that take over to give us an edge to survive in our new environment… and these instincts mature as we do physically and emotionally over time. Although, that part is all about survival of our species. We defend ourselves in order to survive… as does any living thing. It’s less about a God-given “right” and far more about individual survival to exist to the next day. Yep, it’s all about the survival of the fittest thing to survive. Nature “gives us permission” to survive because it is a state of being for all living things… not a “right”. Suggesting a right of self-defense as God-given is just assigning some divine permission to sidestep any law of man.
Perhaps one reason our species has the “God-given” ability to reason is to be able to defend ourselves in ways that don’t require the killing of another. Maybe that’s the only God-given thing we have going for us.