One thing that has long fascinated me is when rights sort of collide in some way, shape, or form. Historically, we’ve worked our way through those situations so that we already know how things work.
For example, you have the right to free speech, but my property rights trump your right to say whatever you want on my property.
But in an era when we hear so much about violence, do our gun rights slam into a different set of rights of others?
That’s what one op-ed writer tries to claim.
First, don’t legal arguments always focus on “intent”? One learns in legal-talk “intent” is key in the fairness and application of all legal proceedings and laws. And yet, wasn’t the framers’ specific “intent” in writing the 2nd Amendment the musket-bearing force intended specifically in the case of a battle?
Secondly, aren’t the rights of one population group (gun-owners) equal to but not overriding the rights (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) of another? An alternate way to manage rights was clearly demonstrated by the ultimate huge defeat of the right of smokers to smoke everywhere. Surely, that battle rang clear: one’s public right ends when it destroys another’s.
Looking at the evolution of guns in America, beginning with the development of the ArmaLite rifle in the late ’50s, we rapidly progressed through the military’s upgraded M-16 to semi-automatics for public consumption. Indeed, the NRA so loves the “AR” that, with 16 million people owning AR-15s in the U.S., it has been called “America’s Rifle.”
But what of laws? What of the children? Or public safety? Except for a ban in 1994 on assault weapons, which expired in 2004, have our laws kept pace with easily modified, semi-automatic assault-style weapons, which are created and used to kill large numbers of people, very quickly?
Is the author right?
First, we need to establish whether or not people have a right to be free from violence.
In theory, yes, they do. No one should be subjected to violent attack and we have a right to live our lives free of being molested.
“Ah, so you’re admitting she’s right.”
Not so fast.
Because, you see, we also have a right to keep and bear arms. There is, in this argument, a contradictory right that has to be acknowledged.
So that leaves us with what the role of the government is. Which right trumps which, so to speak.
In that vein, we need to remember that the right to be free from violent attack may exist, but the government cannot prevent that from happening, nor is it responsible for doing so. Numerous court cases have found that the police, for example, have no duty to protect you from harm.
So while the right may exist, it’s not something government will guarantee. They can’t guarantee it, even if they wanted to.
Let’s say that all the guns disappeared tomorrow. That would likely meet the author’s idea of preserving this right to be free from violence, right?
The United States has a non-gun homicide rate higher than most developed nations in the world. That’s in a nation with guns. Take that out of the equation and that number actually goes up. At least some of the gun homicides would still be carried out, only now with something other than a firearm.
Further, defensive gun uses stop, which means at least some of those people will be the victim of violence in some manner.
So, there’s really no way to preserve any right to be free from violence.
Yet making those guns vanish would infringe on the right to keep and bear arms. That’s a right specifically enumerated in the Constitution, one that “shall not be infringed.”
Further, the Second Amendment also makes it so individuals can take the steps necessary for one to preserve their right to be free from violence.
It’s easy for people to offer emotional appeals and platitudes in op-eds about being free from the threat of violent attack, but that simply isn’t realistic. While the right may exist, it’s not something the government has the power to do, at least not without curtailing not just our Second Amendment rights, but our First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights, our Due Process rights, and a whole lot of other things in the Constitution.
But we can preserve the right to keep and bear arms to mitigate the threat, not just from bad people in our society, but from bad people in Washington as well.