Angela Rigas and the “God-given right” to possess and use guns with no restrictions whatsoever

So Angela Rigas, Michigan state representative for the district in which I live, considers red-flag laws (extreme-risk protection orders), universal background checks, and requirements for safe storage of guns to be violations of the Second Amendment. Most Americans do not.

Americans (and Michiganians) have differing opinions on all sorts of things. On some questions relating to guns, we are about equally divided. But the three types of legislation to which Angela is objecting here are overwhelmingly popular. Polls have found that large majorities of Americans favor red-flag laws. Expanded requirement for background checks are also popular. And laws requiring safe storage of guns are also broadly popular. (See also this report on Pew findings, this APM data on opinions regarding safe storage, and many other polls that you can find as easily as I.)

That is to say, while some people are gun haters who think all guns should be banned everywhere, and some people exhibit signs of having a gun fetish, most Americans believe that gun ownership should be legal, but that laws should permit taking guns away from people who show signs of being prepared to use them to kill themselves and other people, and that would-be purchasers of guns should have to pass background checks, and that owners of guns should be legally required to store them safely in their homes, so that, for example, children cannot take them and shoot themselves and other people. This strikes most of us as common sense.

Angela Rigas thinks otherwise. Her campaign materials depicted her posing with guns. Her Public Figure FaceBook page depicts her rigged up like a guerrilla (this is the cover photo for this post). I remember one postcard in particular which on one side declared her firm devotion to the police, and the other side declared her firm devotion to guns. (The photo below was on that postcard.) It seems to me that, between these two professed loves, her love for unrestricted proliferation, display, and use of guns of all kinds under all circumstances trumped her love of the police. Police officers know that some people have mental derangements and criminal proclivities that make them dangerous to others—which means they are especially dangerous to police officers, who get called upon to deal with such people when they snap and start shooting. At that point, Angela’s love for police uniforms doesn’t translate into concern for the safety of the vulnerable and mortal humans wearing those uniforms. Everyone must be free to have and use all whatever guns they want all the time! If they kill police officers, too bad. That’s the price we (or rather, the police officers) have to pay for our freedom (or rather, for our insanity).


I won’t bother arguing here that the Second Amendment does not prohibit red-flag laws, background checks, or safe-storage requirements. It certainly does not. But others can make (and have made) that argument. I am not a lawyer but a theologian. So what I want to point out is the oddity of Angela’s invoking “God-given rights” in her argument against common-sense gun-safety legislation. She seems to be claiming that God gives people the right to possess guns, and that God gives people this right even in cases where relatives or police officers firmly believe that the would-be gun-possessors pose an extreme danger to themselves or other people; and that God guarantees that right even to people who because of their criminal records or for other reasons cannot pass a background check; and that God forbids legislation to require that guns be stored securely, i.e., God insists on the right of small children or troubled teenagers to find, take, and use guns in their houses to kill themselves or students and teachers at their schools. This is all very strange.

Although I am by training a theologian (MDiv from an evangelical seminary, PhD from a Catholic university), I do not know everything about God. I certainly do not know everything about all the sacred scriptures of all the world’s religions. Perhaps there is an obscure text in some Asian or African or Antarctic religion in which one of the Deity’s more eccentric prophets predicts the invention of guns and assert that the Deity wants every living human to possess and carry at least one of them and forbids all governments everywhere, for all time, to place any restrictions whatsoever on the possession of guns by any man, woman, or child, no matter how dangerous they might be. I doubt it. But maybe?

Fortunately, however, Angela Rigas thought it good to include in her campaign literature, among her qualifications for office: “I am a Christian.” Well, all right, then. That simplifies things. That means that for Angela, the only sacred scripture consists of the Old and New Testaments, the Bible. And it happens that the two decades that I spent in formal theological studies were spent largely in detailed study of the Bible. Not to mention many years of Bible reading before and since. So I am in a position to assure you that Christian scripture nowhere contains any statement to the effect that God gives anyone the right to possess a gun. It’s not there.

As I hope we all know, “God-given rights” do appear in the documents of the American founding. The Declaration of Independence asserts, “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.” This is not a Christian statement, mind you; if it were, it would ground itself in Scripture rather than claim its truths to be “self-evident.” It is deistic, which is a rather different thing. Furthermore, it does not say, “that among these are Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness, and the Possession of as Many Guns as You Want regardless of your Character, Mental Condition, criminal Disposition, or Unwillingness to Keep them locked up lest Infants, Adolescents, Criminals, or Lunatics take them and Shoot themselves or Others to Death with them.”

The God whom I worship, according to the Christian scriptures and the traditions that Christians have followed through the millennia, has never at any time conferred a right to gun ownership upon all flesh, or even upon all Americans. Is Angela here be invoking some other god? Perhaps Mars, the Roman god of war? Or perhaps Moloch, a Canaanite god best remembered for commanding the sacrifice of children. Ah! There’s a clue! In the United States of America, firearms kill more children than anything else. If there is a “God-given right” to have and use guns with no restrictions whatsoever, the God who grants it must be none other than Moloch.

An illustration from Charles Foster’s 1897, Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us,
depicting an offering to Moloch.

Now a postscript, addressed directly to Representative Rigas. I commented briefly (and with a whiff of sarcasm, perhaps) on your post on your Government Official Facebook page. I have expanded my thoughts into this blog post.

Here’s my bottom line, Angela: I sincerely want you to succeed as a legislator by serving your constituents well. And I think you can do that by finding balanced positions on some matters in which you have hitherto embraced extreme positions. Americans—including especially Christian Americans—do not need to be polarized into two absolutely opposed and uncompromising camps on issues relating to guns. In fact, if our politicians would stop trying to force us into artificial opposition, if they instead would commit to working together to find sane compromises, we could have sound laws that the vast majority of us would approve, and we could have a somewhat safer society.

I don’t think this is going to be obvious or easy. So I will close with a book recommendation. A very fine little book—moderate, sensible, philosophically and theologically sound, and easy to read—is Michael W. Austin’s God and Guns in America. Austin is a gun-owning Christian philosophy professor in Tennessee. He is not a liberal or a left-winger. Now, I work for the company that published this book. So, lest I seem to be trying to sell you something: if you will give me the slightest indication that you might be willing to read Mike Austin’s book, I will gladly send you a copy at my own expense. Message me on Facebook, or reply to the email address from which I will send you a link to this post. Just tell me where to ship the book. This is a genuine good-faith offer.

For further reading on mass shootings, see now this article in the New York Times: We Profiled the ‘Signs of Crisis’ in 50 Years of Mass Shootings. This Is What We Found. This is a gift link: because I am a subscriber, you can read this interactive article for free. Better guns laws alone are not a sufficient solution to the mass-shootings crisis. We have a serious mental-health crisis. But other solutions, without better gun laws, will also be insufficient. And quite apart from gun laws, we need politicians who will contribute to healing our individual and collective mental illness by modeling responsible leadership, not politicians who make our illness worse by deliberately provoking hostility.

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