God and Guns
Today is the National Day of Prayer and tomorrow is the opening day of the NRA Convention in Houston. Let me try to connect God and guns via Alexis de Tocqueville. Tocqueville wrote, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” This observation exposes the connection between a nation’s character and its ability to enjoy liberty. It also establishes the point that laws cannot establish the right character for enjoying liberty.
Laws become necessary when men are no longer able to govern themselves. Men cannot govern themselves when they lack the character—which is the knowledge of right from wrong that shapes our behavior—necessary to drive them to right action. But when we establish a law we lose a little bit of liberty because the government now tells us we cannot do something. When this occurs we enact laws to maintain peace and order so that whatever liberty was not given up under the new law can be maintained under the new law. The tradeoff between law and liberty is sometimes necessary—thus making it a reciprocal relationship—sometimes it is excessive. If we had the right character we would not need to make a trade in the first place.
This brings us to Tocqueville’s point: act in the right manner on your own and you will have all the liberty you could ever want, act badly—and bad acts come from bad character—and you will lose your liberty to a government that takes the authority of self-government from people who are not capable of having it. The laws can give us direction but they cannot make the bad man good, they cannot give us the right character. Character—the knowledge of right from wrong that shapes our behavior—must come through faith. We cannot look to the government to make us better people for the government is inevitably a flawed construction for it comes from a flawed people who we know are flawed because they need government. Government is the product from which it is also to be the solution. This makes it incomplete at best and contradictory at worst.
What Tocqueville means by this quote is that we should look inward and upward for solutions rather than to government. Tocqueville advocated small knit communities in which the family, church, and schools played a central role in character development and none of the three—church, family, schools—were entirely independent of the other. They worked in concert for the betterment of the individual’s character so that government constraint could be minimized. The individual—with the proper character—would be left to govern himself.
This brings us to guns; a tool to protect self-government. Guns, in the hands of those with the right character, maintain peace, balance, eliminate the need for government oversight, and create a strong bond among families and communities. But guns in the wrong hands can do some of the most heinous things. We cannot fix what is broken in the people who would use guns badly, we cannot make laws that would make them better people. Placing a ban on weapons will not make the bad people good or the good people safe. If we want to minimize violence we must look for solutions that tap into the core of the problem. We must reunite around family and community. We must return to faith. The problems we face are out of our hands whether we want to admit it or not. We should not stop trying to make the world around us better, but we should recognize our limitations. We do know that laws restricting guns would keep good people from protecting themselves from bad people. It would again turn our right of self-determination over to the government.
We need more faith not more laws.