The Bible and the American Constitution, like all foundational documents, are the written laws of the land. Over time, common law develops from those primary sources. The Biblical "eye for an eye" ex talionis, was written in ancient times. Unlike the Romans who followed that law throughout their reign, burning, mutilating, and crucifying the "guilty", the Jewish people, the people of The Book, moved on to read "eye for an eye" as a metaphor for compensation for a loss.
Common law, over time, worked out the amount of compensation for various losses. All kinds of checks and balances were put into place to avoid the ultimate penalty of death. A written law evolved through common law to lead its citizens into a more civilized lifestyle. It is written in Talmud, the Jewish book of oral law that "A Sanhedrin (the Jewish Court) that condemned even one man to death in seventy years was called a Bloody Sanhedrin."
Constitutions, foundational documents, are drawn up in a particular time but those that thrive are the ones that live, breathe and grow with the culture -- or they both die. It is common law that brings the written law of the past into the present to meet new challenges, new discoveries, to meet the needs of a more civilized society. Which brings me to the Second Amendment in the Constitution of the United States.
Author, Herman Wouk, writing in 1959 about the evolution of Jewish law said that "one can no more understand or even picture, Jewish jurisprudence by reading the Bible than one can envision the United States in 1959 by reading the Constitution. In each case it is common law that brings the founding documents in touch with our lives here and now."
Wouldn't he be surprised by the religious fervour that gun holders have in America, today, for their Second Amendment. It has taken on a sacredness that rivals Biblical laws.
The amendment, added to the Bill of Rights on December 15 1791 and as passed by the Congress read: "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."
There have been many heated discussions about the right to bear arms. The Second Amendment, recently reviewed by the Supreme Court in 2008 and 2010, entrenched an individual's right to own weapons for self-defense. The Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute reviewed the Court's decision and agreed that the Second Amendment "guarantees the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation," because the Second Amendment codified a pre-existing right.
Those American people holding strong to their Amendment and their guns are probably the same people who hold steadfast to the literal meaning of the Bible. The type of person who reads the word slavery in the Bible and assumes that God condones slavery or that the world was created in six days so they have theme parks with children cavorting with dinosaurs.
The United States is now 237 years old. I think it is safe to say that their government will not turn on its citizens literally, although their government seems to have turned on them by refusing to govern. The idea that the people need to arm themselves with military-style weapons to save themselves from a tyrannical government is outdated.
It belongs well in the past when the British were coming. The American people are being tyrannized by their own citizens who will not let go of a written law that should have evolved over and with time but instead has been permanently etched in stone by those who preach fear and encourage that fear to underpin its laws.
A civilized society does not eat its young: does not dismember its citizens with multiple, rapid-fire bullets like the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary. A civilized society does not let babies get shot with stray bullets as if they lived in the Wild West.
A civilized society knows when to re-interpret its laws in order to teach its citizenry that an "eye for an eye;" a good guy with a gun against a bad guy with a gun, is a throw- back to the failed policies of the Roman Empire.