Last week, The Lancaster Patriot’s Nathan Birx reported on Senate Bill 1288, introduced by Senator Doug Mastriano to “enhance classroom security by giving school employees the freedom to carry firearms at school.”
The bill would allow teachers, if they submit to a certification process, to carry a firearm on school property. “It’s important to note that Senate Bill 1288 would not be a mandate on schools or the staff but would give school staff the ability to be a last line of defense if they choose to go through the certification process,” Mastriano said in a statement last month.
Predictably, Governor Tom Wolf and other Democrats will oppose the bill.
But the very fact that Harrisburg bureaucrats are arguing over how to regulate the right of the people to protect themselves reveals that a humanistic conception of positive law has replaced the biblical concept of negative law. And our freedoms are inevitably diminished as a result.
Death By a Thousand Qualifications
The Pennsylvania Constitution, even more explicit than the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, states, “The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.”
One argument used by those in favor of restricting gun rights is that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s use of the term “militia” means the right to bear arms does not apply to individual citizens.
Many think that argument is a stretch. But even if it is true, the Pennsylvania Constitution makes it explicitly clear: Pennsylvania citizens, not only state-sanctioned militia members, have an unquestionable right to bear arms in “defense of themselves.”
In 2008 the Supreme Court ruled that average citizens do in fact have a constitutional right to possess handguns for personal self-protection in the home. Yet with that ruling came several qualifications, including the prohibition against the possession of firearms by felons and the allowance that certain “sensitive places” like schools could outlaw gun possession. The Court also said only certain types of guns fall under the constitutional right. The list goes on.
If those regulations apply to Pennsylvania citizens, it sure seems like our right to bear arms is not only being questioned, but regulated ad nauseam.
The ploy of big government is to sell us the idea that freedoms can be regulated ad infinitum and still be “freedoms.”
For example, the USDA or other agencies would like me to believe that I am “free” to make my own food choices, even though they regulate, outlaw, and restrict my ability to purchase and/or sell a number of food products.
That’s not freedom. But in a culture that is hell-bent on redefining words (e.g., woman; recession), I guess I should not be surprised.
No doubt various gun laws and ordinances have been enacted throughout the history of our nation and our state. The scope of this editorial does not allow me to examine them all. More to the point, the mere existence of gun laws in our history does not prove their rectitude. My point here is to examine the worldview issues at play.
Positive Law and Negative Law
Fundamental to any society’s conception of civil law is whether the law should be positive or negative in function.
Positive law is humanistic and tends toward a centralized government, intimately involved in the affairs of citizens. Positive law does not deal with evil. It outlaws or regulates things that are not evil (e.g., raw butter, homebirths, gun sales, homeschooling).
Negative law, conversely, is biblical and tends toward a limited government, focused only on penalizing evil acts in society. Negative law deals only with evil actions. The government has no right or role in prosecuting, regulating, or outlawing non-evil actions.
As it relates to guns, positive law would lead to the government restricting, outlawing, or regulating possession and distribution of firearms. These laws are not dealing with evil, as there is nothing evil about owning, making, or selling firearms. Thus, these laws are examples of positive laws.
Negative law, on the other hand, forbids evil acts, whether committed with a gun or any other weapon. Penalizing assault and murder would be applications of negative law.
To put it another way, positive law seeks to control everything (including all of man’s actions). Negative law only deals with (certain) acts of evil.
Paganism and the Danger of Positive Law
Pagan systems of civil law (i.e., those not based on the Old and New Testaments) are ripe with positive law. Philosopher and historian R.J. Rushdoony recognized that positive law has been part and parcel with paganism, noting that Roman law operated with a positive function—the “health of the people” was the highest law. “If the health of the people is the highest law, then the concern of the State is everything in your life,” he noted.
When the law is positive, the state is free to control all aspects of life. No longer constrained to only punishing evil, the government is essentially unlimited in its scope. America has largely abandoned the biblical role of government and instead adopted a humanistic view of the state which grants government the “positive” right to direct all of life. Therefore, we have laws without end in our nation—including myriad gun laws.
“Because [humanistic] law is unlimited the state is unlimited,” Rushdoony wrote. “It becomes the business of the state, not to control evil, but to control men. Basic to every totalitarian regime is a positive concept of the function of the law.”
The Goodness of the (Negative) Law
The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully” (1 Tim. 1:8). The apostle then makes an intriguing statement: “Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient” (v. 9).
Behold, the difference between positive (pagan) law and negative (biblical) law. Positive law is enacted against the righteous. Negative law is laid down for the lawless.
The law that the Apostle Paul references is, of course, biblical law, and it is negative in its function. Murder, homosexual acts, kidnapping, bearing false witness (cf. vv. 9-10). These are all examples of negative law.
Moreover, of the Ten Commandments, only one could be considered positive: “Honour thy father and thy mother.” But even that law is applied in society via negative law: assaulting parents was a civil offense (cf. Ex. 21:15). As Rushdoony concluded, “Virtually all the [civil] law is negative in the Bible.”
Negative law leads to liberty and justice for all. Unless an act is evil (as defined by God’s law), man is free to do it. The government has no right to outlaw or regulate it.
Guns are not evil. Producing guns is not evil. Selling guns is not evil. Purchasing guns is not evil. Consequently, the State has no legitimate authority to interfere in said non-evil acts.
The law of God outlaws murder and thus specifically prohibits any unlawful taking of human life. The State is thus limited to dealing with evil—namely, the unlawful taking of a human life—and has no authority to regulate or outlaw non-evil acts.
Gun laws restricting, regulating, or outlawing guns are examples of positive law and they have no place in a free society.
Negative law, if applied correctly, leads to not only more freedom, but less crime in society. The Bible teaches that it is the failure to enforce negative law that leads to more crime: “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Ecc. 8:11).
Note that it is the failure to enforce negative law (“sentence against an evil work”) that leads to more evil in society. Negative law, not positive law, is what deters evil acts. Do we not see this clearly in our own day? Does positive law actually hinder criminals? No, on the contrary, it often emboldens them in their criminality. Not only do criminals feel more confident that their victims will be unarmed, but they also have good reason to believe the positive function of the law will lead to less strenuous punishment for the evildoer.
God Alone is the Source of Positive Law
There is a place for positive law, but not in the civil realm. Only God has complete jurisdiction over individuals. God alone has authority to regulate every detail of our lives. The State, however, has been given limited authority by God. That civil authority is limited to negative law (i.e., punishing evil).
When the State oversteps its God-given bounds, and adopts positive law, there is no end to the government overreach that will ensue.
The solution to the “gun rights” issue is neither the Democratic nor the Republican position. Both parties are consumed with statism and positive law. The solution is to “stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.”
In those paths we will find the goodness of God’s law in society. The sentence against an evil work will be executed speedily. And the rest of us will be free to arm and defend ourselves as we see fit.
Unfortunately, by rejecting biblical law and embracing humanistic, positive law, our leaders (from both parties) are effectively saying of the old paths of biblical law and justice, “We will not walk therein.”
Chris Hume is the managing editor of The Lancaster Patriot. Follow @ChrisHume1689 on Twitter.