The current interpretation of the Second Amendment that operates in American political discourse is that the Constitution “guarantees the right to bear arms.” It strikes us as a biblical scholar and historian that the same fundamental issues at stake in how one interprets the Bible are at stake in the interpretation of the Second Amendment. That’s because the Second Amendment is scripture. It is a sacred written text, the primary definition of scripture. The Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America is enshrined in civil religion in the U.S.
For some folks in other words, God is the guarantor of American freedom including in particular, gun ownership. We contend that understanding this “sacred” context of the text can help break the logjam of interpretation that has prevented the passing of rational gun laws in America.
The notion of a “civil religion,” like the construct of “religion” itself, is a modern hybrid that is implicated in the history of nationalism and empires, among other kinds of violence. French political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau coined the notion in the late 18th century, sociologist Robert Bellah popularized it in the American academy during the Kennedy-Camelot-Vietnam-era, and countless devotees practice it, more or less intentionally, and more or less alongside other traditions. Among other features, the American civil religion is marked by sacred places–the Lincoln Memorial, Gettysburg Battlefield, the Liberty Bell; sacred times–the 4th of July, Veterans Day, Flag Day; and sacred texts–notably the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.