Gun Rights and International Moral Consensus
In a landmark decision that will impact the future of gun regulation in theUnited States, late last month the Supreme Court struck down a handgun ban in Washington, D.C. In District of Columbia et al. v. Heller (No. 07-290) a slim 5-4 majority found the D.C. ban to violate the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state , the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
Over the last few years observers of the Supreme Court have noticed a trend among some of the justices to cite the decisions of foreign courts as part of the relevant precedent in deciding the cases before them. This tendency to invoke foreign jurisprudence is becoming more troubling as it becomes clearer that the moral consensus that once united Western nations has almost entirely broken down.
A few years ago a pastor I know, as part of his duties as a representative of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC), took part in an inter-church dialogue with a member of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (known as the GKN). The GKN sent what they considered to be a moderate pastor to participate in this conversation about moral issues.
In the course of the discussion, the GKN moderate asserted that it was more evil to own a gun than to have an abortion.
At this, the CRC representative was only able to respond that their discussion was effectively over. The CRC’s official position on abortion is that the church “condemns the wanton or arbitrary destruction of any human being at any stage of its development from the point of conception to the point of death.” As any rhetorician knows, argument can only proceed where there is some basic level of agreement, and the ethical opinion expressed by the GKN pastor was so far removed from the sensibilities of the CRC that there was effectively no point of contact for continuing dialogue.