Mike McDaniel is one of the best and most knowledgeable thinkers and writers when it comes to guns and the Second Amendment. That’s why it’s worth sitting up and taking notice when he revisits one of his own posts to discuss reader objections. I’ll run you through what Mike has to say and then tell you why I agree with him. This is a long post, but I hope it’s engaging enough to sustain your interest all the way through, so that you’ll take the time to weigh in with your own opinions.
It all started with a post entitled “Why It’s So Hard To Discuss Guns Rationally With Some People,” which Mike published at The Truth About Guns (“TTAG”), one of the internet’s premier Second Amendment sites. Mike’s starting point is the same problem I had when discussing guns with liberal friends in the wake of Sandy Hook: Progressives cannot move beyond emotions and get to actual facts.
Mike, though, didn’t stop with my facile conclusion about how frustrating it is to talk about guns with Progressives. Instead, he looked beyond the emotional drivel and honed in on the core ideologies driving Progressive or, more accurately, statist thinking. These ideologies are
(1) the Progressive’s belief in the state’s ability to solve every problem and its corollary, which is that every individual other than the Progressive holding this thought is incapable of knowing what’s best for him;
(2) the Progressive’s refusal to acknowledge that there is a Higher Power or Being, reinforcing the belief in the all powerful state and further diminishing an individual’s standing; and
(3) the Progressive’s belief that the state is both infallible and unfalsifiable. This belief allows Progressives to argue that, if a specific law fails — say, that a law specific guns fails to stop or even slow gun crime — the answer is to pass the same law, only to make it more far-reaching and consequential.
Mike’s article garnered 355 comments. To Mike’s surprise, the point in his article that got the harshest criticism was his second argument, the one holding that rejecting a Higher Being is what allows Progressives to deny the right to armed-self defense. Here’s Mike’s argument in that regard:
The second factor: a refusal to acknowledge the existence of any power higher than themselves. In essence, they refuse to acknowledge the existence of God. For some, this lack of belief is nothing more than being made uncomfortable by the idea that there is One greater than themselves, than their current maximum, cult-of-personality leader, than the state itself. For others, progressivism/statism takes on all of the characteristics of a religion; it become a matter of unquestionable faith. For such people, believing in God is essentially apostasy.
As it relates to the Second Amendment, these two factors make it not only possible, indeed, mandatory for the progressive/statist to deny the unalienable right to self-defense. If there is no God, the individual human life has only the value recognized by the state at any given moment. The individual exists only in service to the state, and the value of their life is measured by the individual’s adherence to the state’s goals and their usefulness to the elite ruling class. That being the case, there’s nothing particularly unique or precious about any individual, therefore an unalienable right to self-defense is nothing but an annoying impediment to the larger, more important goals of the state.
Indeed, God need not even be involved for the committed statist to deny the existence of any right of self-defense. Any unalienable right is an inherent limitation on the power of the state, and no such limitation can be acknowledged. Whether such rights are bestowed by God or invented as a result of human philosophy matters not. The power of the state cannot be diminished, and if the individual is allowed control over their own existence — if that control is bestowed by God which is far more powerful than the state — the power of the state becomes illegitimate and unquestionably hampered.
In any case, if there is no unalienable right to self-defense, there can be no right to keep and bear arms, or as progressives/statists often argue, such “right” guarantees nothing more than the privilege to carry arms in the military—in the service of the state and its ruling elite—and perhaps for hunting or sport shooting under highly restrictive circumstances.
To such arguments, conservatives and others commonly point to the Constitution and particularly, to the Bill of Rights. This is why progressives/statists argue for a “living Constitution,” which is another way of saying that the Constitution says what they want it to say and means what they want it to mean at any given moment. The better to legitimize whichever progressive/statist policy they wish to implement. This is also why progressives/statists labor to install judges who reflect the “living Constitution” frame of mind. Politics are too fickle; better to have true believers legislating from the bench when it’s not, for the moment, possible to impose progressive orthodoxy through the legislative process when the masses are temporarily rebelling against the elite.
To summarize: For varying reasons, true Progressives cannot simultaneously hold a belief in God and state, so God goes out the window. Without God, the individual has neither innate dignity nor inherent rights. He is, instead, just a cog in the state’s workings and his value can never be greater than that which the state assigns to him. Indeed, inalienable rights are antithetical to an all-powerful state. They cannot exist simultaneously. The moment that the individual is subordinate to the state, the state can make whatever rules it wants regarding arms and self-defense. Usually, these rules benefit the ruling class to the detriment of everyone else. To the extent the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights indicate otherwise, they must be ignored, interpreted out of existence, or amended to make explicit the state’s control over guns and, by extension, self-defense.
To Mike’s surprise, several TTAG readers took umbrage when he argued that Progressives’s elevation of the state over God (or denial of God altogether) is inextricably intertwined with their rejection of guns and the inherent right to self-defense.
Take, for example, “joleme’s” objection:
I was with him until the god comment.
I’m not sure why some pro-gun people need to split pro-gun supporters by making such statements. It’s one of the reason’s [sic] I tend to feel uncomfortable around some large groups of gun supporters. I myself am very pro-gun. I see no reason to limit the 2nd amendment. Inevitably however, it seems like someone always has to start a religion talk and ends up being a “only us god fearing men are in the right”.
I think you need to assess your own religious discriminating views.
Mike was quite disturbed that he could be considered as someone who would discriminate against fellow Second Amendment supporters on religious grounds. He went back through his original TTAG post to see if he came across as a Fire and Brimstone preacher. I can assure him that he did not. And since he’s my friend, I want to assure him further that (a) he didn’t insult atheist gun owners and (b) he was right about the “godly aspect” of America’s constitutional right to self-defense.
As to the first point (that he wasn’t insulting atheist gun-rights supporters), Mike needn’t worry. He definitely wasn’t waiving a discriminatory Bible at people who support the Second Amendment but don’t believe in God. Those readers who took offense seem to have missed the fact that Mike was entirely unconcerned with pro-Second Amendment people. Instead, he was trying to understand how America’s self-defined Progressives can deny an individual’s right to self-defense.
It was in that context — why true Progressives cannot accept self-defense, armed or otherwise — that Mike advanced his theory that rejecting a Higher Being’s existence inevitably means living and dying at the state’s whim. Significantly, that conclusion does not imply its corollary. That is, while Progressives’ collective atheism drives the hives’ hostility to self-defense, one doesn’t need to believe in God as a predicate to believing in self-defense. They are not mutually exclusive ideas.
I can easily believe in armed self-defense for non-theistic reasons: (1) the lesson of history, which is that the greatest number of deaths in the last 150 years have invariably followed a government’s move to disarm its citizens; (2) the fact that mass shootings always happen in “gun free” zones; or (3) the fact that crime goes up when gun control goes up and crime goes down when concealed carry goes up. All three of these are inarguable facts and it’s impossible to maintain a reasonable gun control stand when faced with these facts.
Since the above facts are the arena in which most gun control discussion are carried out, arguing with gun control fanatics invariably ends with them calling you names. Indeed, calling Second Amendment supporters blood-crazed, murderous, child-killing Nazis is the only appropriate response when the facts show that, within the confines of a free society (as opposed to, say, Yemen), guns advance individual safety, rather than destroy it.
None of the above facts rely on God. Both theistic and atheistic individuals can cite them to justify gun rights.
But let’s be honest: Mike wasn’t talking about a specific individual’s understanding of facts or rights. Instead — and this is the second issue Mike raised — he was asking a fundamental question: Why, in America, unlike all other nations, do we have a Constitutional right to bear arms? Answering this question, at a societal rather than an individual level, requires looking at rights inherent in all men, rather than preference among both theistic and atheistic individuals. In this larger context, Mike is absolutely right that the Founders’ belief in God was a prerequisite to their drafting the Second Amendment and the Progressive’s collective belief in the State is the overarching justification for their denying the Second Amendment.
Many of the Founders disdained traditional religious worship, but all were theists. They believed that there was a higher power that created man and elevated him over all other beings on earth, complete with inherent rights that flowed from God, not the state. That belief is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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.
The state is subordinate to these rights, as the Declaration makes clear in the sentence immediately following that affirmative of rights inherent in all men, irrespective of the state:
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
The hierarchy is clear: First, God; second, His creation (man); and, third, man’s creation (the state). To ensure that the state retains it’s place at the bottom of the hierarchy, the Founders enacted the Bill of Rights. As I’ve argued (often), the entire purpose behind the Bill of Rights is to ensure that government is subordinate to each individual, and not vice versa. It is within this context that the Second Amendment makes sense: First, it exists to ensure that the state cannot become tyrannical as to the collective of all; and second, it exists to ensure that each individual is protected from the state and that each individual has the right to defend the sanctity of his own life, separate from the state’s needs or power.
On the pro-gun side, incidentally, you can also say that you only need the second and third elements of the above hierarchy to justify guns: man comes first, the state second, and men get guns to keep the state in place. That’s a valid, non-theistic, pro-gun argument too.
But now look at it the other way, from the Progressive’s point of view, which was Mike’s point. The Progressives also have an ideological hierarchy underpinning their conception of man’s relationship to government: First comes the state. Then comes man. There can be no God, because God would, by definition, have to supersede the state in the hierarchy. Man must therefore be subordinate to the state. This means that the state gets to make all the rules and rule number one is: NOTHING CAN THREATEN THE STATE. Moreover, statists fully understand that nothing threatens the state more (as we see on this, the 71st anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising or as we saw with the Bundy & Co. stand against the BLM) than an individual with a gun.
So Mike is right: both the godly and the godless (and yes, that last is said with a light laugh and not meant as an insult) can support an individual’s right to bear arms. However, the only way to deny an individual’s right to bear arms is to deny man’s inherent value vis a vis the state — and that requires a world in which there is no God. The Progressive hive (as opposed to the individual Progressive who attends his leftist church or synagogue) must deny God both as man’s creator and as a counterweight to the state’s absolute primacy in order to justify denying the Founder’s conclusion that each of us is endowed with an inherent right to self-defense through arms.
And think about it: Back in the day, Americans didn’t just call communists “communists.” They called them “Godless communists,” understanding that the Godless part was an intrinsic aspect of the state’s absolute, unfettered power, a power that was and still is invariably accompanied by gun control and the refusal to recognize self-defense as a valid individual right.