Senior Sales Staff Mark Warner shows a bump stock installed on an AR-15 rifle at Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, Virgina, on October 6, 2017.
Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Thursday, February 29, 2024

It’s Thursday, February 29, 2024.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Garland v. Cargill is About Much More Than Bump Stocks: Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments on Case That Is Really About the Overreach of Administrative State

According to the mainstream media, what happened yesterday, at the Supreme Court of the United States, was that the nation’s highest court heard oral arguments in a case about whether or not the government can prohibit, or make illegal, bump stocks. Now, if you’re following the case, that is certainly what is being presented, but here’s where we need to understand, there is a far larger question at stake in this Supreme Court case, and just about everybody knows it, including all nine of the justices of the United States Supreme Court.

So how did we get here? Well, in the narrowest sense we got here because, back in 2017, a mass shooting in the United States, it took place in Las Vegas, and the shooter had used weapons that included the use of what were called bump stocks, and that enabled the shooter to shoot faster. There is an argument about how to define exactly what a bump stock does, but effectively it makes it more like an automatic weapon. And of course, in this case with horrifying and deadly effect.

But almost immediately there was a public outcry for the government to do something to make such bump stocks illegal. And thus, even back then, there was an immediate sense that the government was going to take some action. The eventual action was taken not only because of a good deal of public conversation and political pressure, but also because the Trump Administration at the time, it moved, putting its own emphasis behind the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms known in national nomenclature as ATF. The encouragement from the administration was that the ATF should rule that it had the authority to redefine its understanding of a law going all the way back to the 1930s, in the fight against organized crime. The administration called upon the ATF to rewrite regulations so as to include bump stocks in terms of what is rendered illegal by federal law. And it didn’t stand for long before there was a legal challenge, and that legal challenge is exactly what arrived at the Supreme Court for oral arguments yesterday.

And so in one view, this would be the narrowest view, the case that came up for argument yesterday at the Supreme Court is about whether or not the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has the administrative authority to basically reinterpret a statute from the 1930s so that bump stocks, which were not envisioned when that law was passed in the 1930s, could be considered illegal and prosecuted with the force of law.

Now, just in terms of constitutional law, that would be interesting in and of itself. But the big import of this case is not the narrow sense, but the broader sense. And the broader sense is this. Over the course of the last several decades, the Federal Government has shifted more and more lawmaking authority, and that’s not the way the government would want to put it, but that’s the bottom line. More and more has been shifted to the administrative state. Less and less has actually been put into effect, or for that matter even changed by, a direct action of Congress through the normal constitutional legislative process.

So just to be clear, going back to 2017, horrific mass shooting, public outcry, something needs to be done. What was done was accomplished by the administrative state, by a federal bureau, not by Congress. That’s the bigger issue. It’s the constitutional order, and whether or not our constitutional system of government can exist with more and more shifted away from Congress, which is after all constitutionally responsible for legislation, and to the Administrative State, which to also state the obvious didn’t exist in 1789.

So in that larger sense, this really isn’t a case about bump stocks. The bump stocks are the presenting issue. This is really a case about a giant constitutional question, and I just want to remind Christians that we have a great interest not only in a constitutional order but in limited government. And one of the greatest threats to liberty is an unlimited government, and an administrative state, which of course was basically born in the 19th century in Germany and then was transported to the United States in the early decades of the 20th century, only to explode in the late 20th and early 21st century.

An administrative state in which unelected bureaucrats effectively promulgate law. That is a threat to our entire constitutional order. It is a threat to the most basic liberties. Because the Administrative State, a technocratic administration set up of bureaus, and departments, and offices, and the ever extending reach of federal regulation. The fact is that is a giant leviathan threat to personal liberty. And for that matter, to constitutional government. One of the things we need to note is that even as it is sometimes said that there is no worker as happy as the one who isn’t working, there is evidently also no Congress which is happier than the one that isn’t actually fulfilling its constitutional responsibility. And members of Congress, if they don’t have to take a stand on so many of these issues, well they will take the back door and simply say, “Let the Administrative State handle it.”

Now, Liberals have been doing that for a very long time, because quite frankly, those on the left, following a progressivist understanding and following a progressivist activist agenda, they understand that through the Administrative State they can accomplish what they could never achieve by legislation. And that’s why the administrative state from the get go has been the friend of progressives and the enemy of conservatives.

But the fact is that if you just take homo politicus, that is to say a political human being, a politician, that politician will see some advantage to not having to take a stand on any number of issues. It’s one of the reasons why Congress has been so incompetent in recent years at just absolutely basic legislation. Conservatives need to recognize that the enemy of our constitutional order is an administrative state, which is first of all not in the Constitution, and secondly, undermines the three branches of government that are in the Constitution.

And we should recognize that the last thing we should hope for is a government by experts. Even more dangerously, unelected experts who never have to face the voter. That is in itself a refutation of our constitutional system of government and our constitutional logic. The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal got it exactly right when, in an editorial on the oral arguments, the editor said, “The significant question in Garland versus Cargill is who gets to make the law?” And in this case, the “who” is answered by our Constitution as Congress, not the Administrative State. So we’ll be following the story. It’s going to be very interesting. It has been widely assumed that the conservative majority on the Supreme Court has been waiting for just the right opportunity to strike a blow against the Administrative State. This case, at least, would appear to be that opportunity. We’ll see.

Part II

Government’s Proper Role Made Clear: FDA Rightly Responds to Lead Exposure in Children

So we started out today with the danger of an administrative state which seeks to do too much. It’s extreme government overreach, that fits a progressivist understanding of the government, and is a threat to our constitutional understanding. But at the same time, headlines have also come out in recent days that remind us of why government is important, and why we do need some kind of executive administration. And even as it’s authorized duly by Congress, and assigned by legislation, we do need a functional government to serve several limited purposes. One of those purposes should be ensuring the safety of food.

Now, the absolute small government advocate might say, you don’t need the government to do that. The population will figure these things out and will punish those who do the bad things, and will reward companies that do the right things. Well, that is something that certainly works on a small scale economy. But we are now in a vast global economy, and frankly a global marketplace when it comes to food. That turns out to be really crucial in the headline news story here. And the fact is that there is no opportunity for local action, because this isn’t a local problem.

Well, it certainly shows up first as a local problem because, children, and this includes babies and toddlers in 44 states were reported as being victimized by being fed apple sauce that included potentially harmful, even toxic levels of lead. And so yes, that’s local in the United States, 44 states. Some of these children registered amazingly high levels of lead, which as you know would be very, very dangerous, particularly in the smallest of us with developing brains. But 44 states, that sounds at least somewhat local. But in this case, the cinnamon was sourced to Sri Lanka through Ecuador. So the cinnamon in the tubes of apple sauce, came from Sri Lanka, and then it went to Ecuador where it was processed, and then it went through further processing arriving in the United States used by food manufacturers in the production of these tubes of apple sauce for very young children.

The lead paragraph in the New York Times article says this, “Cinnamon flavored apple sauce pouches sold in grocery and dollar stores last year poisoned hundreds of American children with extremely high doses of lead, leaving anxious parents to watch for signs of brain damage, developmental delays, and seizures.”

Once again, the Food and Drug Administration said that the problem was traced to Ecuador and beyond that to a spice grinder that was “likely responsible for the contamination.” The FDA, once it figured that out, issued an almost immediate cease upon the distribution of that apple sauce. But in one sense, the damage had already been done.

Now here’s what’s even scarier. The reason it was eventually found was that in one family, two very young children, a baby and a preschooler, were found to have abnormally high levels of lead. Out of concern, they were trying to track down the problem. At the same time, the levels of lead skyrocketed. Then, as medical authorities began to look at this young family, they noticed that the lead was not going up in the parents. It was only going up in the children, and thus they isolated what part of the diet was in the food eaten by the children, but not by the parents. And the apple sauce pouches immediately were determined to be the problem. And in the pouches, the problem turned out to be not the apples, but the cinnamon and the cinnamon compounding.

And of course now you’ve got Sri Lanka, you’ve got Ecuador, you’ve got American food companies, distribution companies, you have retailers including dollar stores, and you have children with too much lead. Toxic levels of lead. The FDA determined the problem, once it had been reported. Investigation led to sourcing the problem, and eventually the FDA put a cease and desist upon further sales of this tainted product.

Now, the reason we mention this is because, when you look at the necessity of government, and remember the Bible makes very clear that some level of government absolutely necessary. Romans chapter 13 makes that abundantly clear. As we’re thinking about what government should and should not do, we do not want an overly ambitious, overly powerful Administrative State, but we do need a functional government, which does for us what must be done in order to protect, for example, children from exposure to toxic lead levels.

Now, once again, if this were a local problem, you wouldn’t need the government. If this were a local problem, it could be sourced in a local way and dealt with in a local way. But the fact is, I think we all understand, we are all vulnerable to having products that could be sourced from one country in the Southern Hemisphere, to another in Central America, and then into the American food system. And if there is no government oversight over any of that, well, vast damage can be done, not only to these children, but to all children everywhere, and frankly, to everyone.

As conservative Christians have understood for, say, the last several decades. The biggest problem we face is a problem of a big government assuming too much power, unanswerable to the people, especially in the form of an out of control, ever-expanding administrative state. At the same time, we understand that it can be a problem for government to be too small, or for that matter to be incompetent at some basic responsibilities. And when it comes to, say, food quality, we don’t want the government thumping melons and handing us self-selected bananas. But we do want somebody making sure that tainted compounds with heavy metals don’t get into the food for our babies.

So what are we demanding here? Well, we have to be careful lest we just fall into the Goldilocks Fallacy of saying we don’t want too much. We don’t want too little. We want just the right amount of government. In a fallen world, that is never an easy equation. Although, it’s very clear that the greatest threat is coming from the Left and an ever-expanding government that claims absolute competency over everything. On the other hand, we do need a minimal government that is at least competent at something.

Part III

Words Matter: French President Macron Goes Out of Bounds With NATO Allies — Contra France’s President, NATO Does Not Need to Put Ground Troops in Ukraine

The third issue for today has to do with headlines coming, not from the United States, but from Europe. And the big, stunning development over the last couple of days in Europe is the French president making a statement that led almost all of his fellow heads of state in the free world to recoil in absolute horror.

French President Emmanuel Macron made a statement just in the last couple of days, in which he said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing war must be won by Ukraine, even if it would mean putting NATO troops on Ukrainian territory, fighting against the Russian army. That led almost immediately to his allies crying out they intended no such thing. It also led to a statement coming from the Russian Government, in which the official spokesperson simply said that such words should be unacceptable and such an idea should be unthinkable. And frankly, in the West right now, it is unthinkable. It is unthinkable that there would be NATO soldiers put into active battle, or for that matter, any sort of active responsibility in Ukraine against Russia. That would mean NATO fighting Russia in terms of nuclear powers facing off over this kind of terrain. It would be an unprecedented and horrifying escalation of the Ukrainian conflict. But frankly, it also points to the fact that Macron is not alone among Western leaders in saying more than he can deliver. And frankly, speaking at some level, not responsibly in support of Ukraine, but irresponsibly as if options are on the table that Russia knows are not actually on the table.

But there’s another part of this development that should have our attention too, and this goes long into European history. For the better part of the last several centuries, the understanding of peace in Europe has come down to the necessity of peace between France and Germany. They’re in the heart of continental Europe. When France and Germany are at peace, at least to a considerable extent, most of Europe is at peace. When Germany and France are at war, almost inevitably, Europe is at war.

So in the 19th and 20th centuries, some of the main diplomatic efforts in the entire European project, and frankly also involving the United States in turns, was to find a way for France and Germany to be in peace. Now, the period after World War II, and let’s just remember that World War II was all about Nazi Germany invading France, and of course the allies fighting against Nazi Germany. But since the end of World War II and the Allied victory, France and Germany have had an unprecedented peace, and frankly, an unprecedented European partnership. And that has led to peace in most of Europe since 1945, which is absolutely remarkable. 80 years of peace there in the center of Europe.

Now, with that as background is to understand that when France makes a statement, or when Germany makes a statement on a major issue, the other nation has usually been rather quiet in response. Not this time. When the French president mentioned NATO troops there in Ukraine, on Ukrainian soil, fighting on the Ukrainian side against Russia. That was too much for the German government. And that government responded with an emphatic statement that it was separating itself from the French president’s statement.

Just in case anyone missed the point, the official statement said that according to Germany, there was no chance it would join the French president in that kind of effort. All that to say that we should continue to watch France and Germany in this larger context, because this kind of open statement conflict between France and Germany, and their two respective governments, this hasn’t happened in a very long time. It shows you the pressure there in Europe caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And it shows you how even some of the major European leaders are tempted to say too much on the Ukraine issue. And involving NATO was certainly a step too far, almost assuredly, by the way, not only for the Germans, but perhaps even more importantly for the Americans, who at least at this point have been a bit quieter than Germany in responding to the French president’s statement.

Part IV

Germany Decriminalizes Cannabis: The Liberal Legal Move Preceded by Generational and Political Shift

But meanwhile, since we mentioned Germany, let’s go to a major development there in Germany, and that is the decriminalization of the so-called personal use of cannabis. Now, the reason this is so important is because the German legislation is far more liberal than is found in many other places in Europe. Which at least according to many Americans, would be thought of as being rather liberal in itself. Furthermore, I used a very specific term, I said the decriminalization. That means, not so much the legalization, as if you can sell it like chewing gum in the gas station, but rather it is decriminalized in terms of the criminal consequences being found with what would be defined by the government as a level of cannabis appropriate for personal use.

But the big story in Germany is not just that this has happened in a very conservative state when it comes to this kind of issue, a very conservative government. But the fact that it has moved the needle there in Germany, or would move that needle, from being very much anti-drugs, anti-cannabis, end of story, to being decriminalized. And frankly, personal use is going to be pretty liberally defined.

The reason this is so important from a worldview perspective is that that kind of legal shift, that’s only possible if there has been a massive political shift. And in Germany, it’s also interesting to note that the shift a lot of people are talking about is a generational shift. It’s a shift from an older leadership in Germany, an older political class, largely forged in the aftermath of World War II, and a new political class, which is a lot younger. And when it comes to an issue like cannabis, well, let’s just say they would use the language of being a lot more tolerant. I think most of us would say they’re demonstrating a worldview that’s a lot more liberal.

Just to point to this situation in Germany and how remarkable the change is. Sam Jones reporting from Berlin for the Financial Times tells us, “Among developed economies, only Canada, where individuals can possess up to 30 grams of cannabis and buy it from licensed retailers, has more liberal laws. In the United States,” And again, this is continuing from the Financial Times published in London. “In the United States, cannabis is classified as an illegal schedule one drug by the Federal Government, but 24 states allow its use for recreational purposes.”

The other thing for us to note from a Christian worldview perspective is that eventually the laws will fall to a level of tolerated behavior in the public. So if the fact is that the society begins to tolerate cannabis, eventually the law will tolerate it as well. And so looking at the situation here in Germany, it’s very interesting to see one politician simply speaking of the old prohibition versus the new liberalization. He said, “The legal situation cannot stay as it is. It is in no sense acceptable.”

Now, that’s a very strong statement, but that particular politician’s just basically saying, look, the people decided this. It’s now up to the Bundestag to follow the people. It’s a reminder to us that that’s one of the ways moral change takes place. It’s not that a society, a government, at some point wakes up and says, “You know, this has been illegal for say, centuries or decades. Let’s just all of a sudden make it legal.” No, it’s change on the ground that eventually leads the government to say, “You know, we’re not going to be able to prosecute the number of persons who are now breaking this law. So I guess we’ll have to change the law.”

Again, from a Christian perspective, what’s important is that we recognize this is one of the ways that vast, massive legal change takes place. It’s important we recognize it can happen either way. The government can change morality or a changed morality can lead to new laws. It can work both ways in the fallen world. Frankly, it’s important that we recognize both of those ways and understand what’s going on.

Part V

Senator Mitch McConnell Announces Forthcoming Step Down: November 2024 Will Bring a New Party Leader for Republicans

Finally, big political news in the United States. Mitch McConnell, the longest serving party leader in the history of the United States Senate, announced that he will be ending that responsibility at the end of this year.

And so just to put it in perspective, Mitch McConnell, United States Senator from the state of Kentucky since 1985, is going to be stepping down as Republican leader. He assumed that responsibility in 2007, so you can do the math. It’s also important that we as Christian citizens here in the United States, understanding what’s at stake in our constitutional system of government, recognize that 100 senators hold a constitutional office, but the party leader in the Senate, whether the Democratic leader or the Republican leader, or depending upon the composition of the Senate at any given moment, the majority leader or the minority leader, those positions don’t appear in the U.S. Constitution at all. They appear in the rules of the Senate. That’s a very different thing. But given the way the Senate operates, those party leaders have vast power. And arguably no one has represented an understanding of the United States Senate and its rules, and an understanding of the party leader’s role, and its work in the Senate. No one has understood those issues better than Mitch McConnell.

His statement released yesterday said that he would continue in this role through November of this year, that is through the election, and then it will be up to the Republican caucus in the United States Senate to elect his successor, the new Republican leader. And of course, Republicans hope at the same time, that Republican leader will be majority leader as well.

Just in terms of the passage of time, it’s important we recognize that Mitch McConnell is 82 years old, so he is, well, very close to the President of the United States in age. He was born in 1942, and that’s of course within the second year of the American involvement in World War II. He has been astride history for all of those years, so many of them in one of the most important roles in the American government. Of course, the announcement yesterday sets off a race for his successor among Republicans in the Senate. But that’s another story for another day.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’m speaking to you from Pasadena, California, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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