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In Theory: Do humans have an inalienable right to self-defense?

John Doll
In this Jan. 12, 2018, photo, John Doll, of Renton, Wash., holds a sign that reads “The people have the right to keep and bear arms” during a gun rights rally at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. The panelists for In Theory, published by Times Community News, offer their views on whether human beings have a natural right to self-defense.
(Ted S. Warren / AP)

Horror at a spate of mass shootings in the U.S. has prompted calls for more gun control as well as arguments to the contrary from 2nd Amendment advocates who call the Right to Bear Arms an inherent one.

”... The framers did not bestow this right upon us,” writes Andrew P. Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey in an analysis written in the Washington Times. “Rather,” he continues, “they recognized its pre-existence as an extension of our natural human right to self-defense, and they forbade government — state and federal — from infringing upon it.”

But Brett Arends, a columnist for MarketWatch, writes that only a “small number of extremists” make the claim that the 2nd Amendment protects individuals, arguing that the right refers exclusively to a “well-regulated militia” and not an individual’s right to bear arms.

“The Founding Fathers left it up to us to pass sensible laws about all these things,” Arends writes.


Q. Is the right to self-defense a natural human right? Would passing gun legislation be a form of self-defense against recurring acts of mass violence, or would it take away the rights of others?

Let’s apply various biblical facts to this question. God himself gave wisdom and strength to Israel’s armies in order to defend her citizens through warfare against foreign invaders. According to Exodus 22:2 in the God-given Law of Moses if a homeowner killed a burglar breaking into his house during the day he would be liable for the death, but if the burglary occurred at night when the danger was harder to assess he would not. God allowed for self-defense even to the extent of the death of the attacker. The book of Ruth describes how a man named Haman sought to exterminate the Jewish race. A Jewish man named Mordecai, in the name of the Persian king Ahasuerus “granted the Jews who were in each and every city the right to assemble and to defend their lives, to destroy, to kill and to annihilate the entire army of any people or province which might attack them” (Esther 8:11). Scripture portrays this as a good thing. In fact, it prevented the extinction of the Jewish people as her enemies had intended.

Let’s apply various biblical facts to this question.


Nehemiah and his fellow Jews defended their city with swords as they rebuilt its walls. As Jesus charged his followers to go out into the world he said: “whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.” I suppose you could also distinguish between violent and nonviolent self-defense. Israel’s armies used swords. Joseph defended Jesus’ young life by fleeing with him and Mary to Egypt. At any rate, Scripture seems to strongly indicate that self-defense is a God-given natural human right.

Passing gun legislation is not a form of self-defense, but depending on the nature and dangerousness of the weapon it may be the responsibility of the government, in the name of overall security, to enforce some kinds of limitation. At some point, most people would agree that an individual should not be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon capable of mass destruction, or stockpiles of nerve gas, or an arsenal large enough to equip a militia. Just where to draw the line at which weapons are permissible for private individual ownership is a difficult thing. But I have no doubt that if our nation prayerfully sought God’s wisdom regarding this issue we would have the answers we truly need.

Pastor Jon Barta

The right to bear arms in the 2nd Amendment is linked in plain English to a “well-regulated militia,” today’s National Guards of the U.S. states. Nevertheless, the U.S. Supreme Court, in cases brought by the District of Columbia and Chicago to defend sensible controls on weapons with no real purpose other than to kill/maim quickly and widely, interpreted the amendment as conferring an individual right. But at the same time they also affirmed that governments can enact laws and regulations on gun types, owners and ownership.

This however is not an abstract philosophical discussion but a political struggle.

Self-defense is more powerful than a human right, it is an animal instinct — i.e., “fight” along with its opposite “flight” — hardwired into our deep brain. I’m sure that the vast majority in the U.S. wanting to make guns, gun owners and all us potential targets safer would also like the idea of asserting gun regulation is part of our right to self-defense. On our second question, why would any reasonable person think that common sense regulations are a hindrance for anyone other than future murderers?

This however is not an abstract philosophical discussion but a political struggle. We have the right, power and — I would argue — the duty to demand gun control via our elected legislators at all levels. When the people lead, eventually the leaders will follow has never been more true.

Roberta Medford


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