Sunday, March 09, 2003

Being a news junkie has its downside. It is extremely difficult to not get depressed, or at least ticked off. There is seldom any good news concerning the second amendment & the various gun control efforts that seem to relentlessly attack our rights. The past few days I have been wondering why this is so. I could be wrong but I think I have a conclusion worth further consideration:

A misunderstanding of Rights.

For the pro gun control crowd this may seem obvious. They regard owning & using weapons as a privilege that should be conferred only upon the military & police. They simply do not trust the average person with the responsibility of exercising the Right to Arms.

But here's where things get complex:

The pro gun crowd has a fundamental misunderstanding of Rights, both in the legal & natural sense. They feel that while being a Right it is not an absolute Right & therefore can be restricted under certain conditions. This is their downfall, as once you concede that a Right is subject to reasonable restrictions then it really is simply a matter of bartering over the word 'reasonable' & more oft than not the pro gun side loses.

So I am going to attempt to do what I have been meaning to do since I started this blog, which is to explain what a Right is, what a Right isn't, how it pertains to the owning & possession of weapons, & why it is absolute.

A Right is something that is held in special esteem. It is more than a privilege, but somehow often viewed as less than a necessity. But what exactly defines a Right?
There are several kinds of Rights: Political (such as voting), Natural (such as being alive), Collective (such as the secession of one group from another), Individual (such as freedom of religion). The Political & Natural tend to be opposites, that is deriving from different sources but that does not mean that they must conflict or they cannot be complimentary of one another. The main difference is their source: Political Rights generally being agreed upon by the people & their government, & Natural Rights being presumed to pre-date any societal or political union. Collective & Individual have the same relationship as Political & Natural Rights do. One may say that Political & Collective are akin just as Natural & Individual are akin, but I believe there is a subtle difference. One may have a Collective Right w/o it necessarily being Political, & vice versa. One may also have a Natural Right that is not Individual & vice versa. But Political rights may fluctuate whether they are Individual or Collective. Natural rights however are constant, even though they may not be treated as such by individuals or collectives.
So where does the Right to Arms fall in? All of them actually.
In the U.S. the Right to Arms can be viewed as partly being a Political Right. The most vivid example that comes to mind happened a little over 50 years ago. It is popularly known as the Battle of Athens, Tennessee. Also look here & note the NY Times seem to have the same editorial philosophy concerning armed citizens.
It can be viewed as a Collective Right, both here & abroad. From the Minutemen of our Revolutionary War to the modern day militia of Switzerland the use of arms by citizen-soldiers can be a valued & necessary tool in defense of a city, or county, or state, or country.
It is a Natural Right. It is a Right that is not conferred solely by society or government. In fact its origins pre-date society & government. More on that in a minute.
It is an Individual Right. It is one of those Rights which apply just as much to the individual as to the collective. In fact the Collective Right could not exist w/o the Individual Right, although the reverse is not true.

The Political & the Collective parts of this Right do not concern us much, though they probably should. Nevertheless those are subjects to be pursued at a later time.

The Natural & Individual Rights are what seem to cause the most confusion, so let's begin there:

Natural implies in a natural state. Something that is & ought to be. Were man to exist outside of government & outside society then it would not seem unnatural for him to be armed. In fact at times it would be necessary. Wild animals have natural abilities that humans do not. We lack claws, sharp teeth, speed, stealth, etc... When compared to some animals, such as the bear or the mountain lion, it is obvious we are overmatched. Unless that is, we use our intelligence. Our reasoning & our ability to think have caused us to devise weapons which take away some of the advantages held by animals. At the minimum it can give us a better chance than we had.
Humans are also a danger to humans, & just as in the comparison of animal to man, man to man can be an unequal contest. Certainly it is not uncommon for women to be at a physical disadvantage when faced with men. But weapons & the skill to use them can negate our physical shortcomings & allow us an equal chance at survival. Thus weapons have a natural role in our lives.
But what makes them a Natural Right? Putting it as simply as I can, no government, nor society, nor creature gave us permission to have weapons. We invented them out of necessity. We used them out of necessity. & we kept them out of necessity, improving upon them over the millennia as best we could. For those of a religious mind, God granted us the Right therefore it is natural & not subject to any power less than God. For the non-religious the best explanation is that Nature granted us the Right the same as Nature made the claws of the bear so sharp, or the legs of the big cats so powerful. For the Art Bell fans let's just say some E.T's said we could. :)
No one would question a man or a woman living in the wilderness 100 years ago having a rifle. 500 years ago no one would have questioned a bow. 1,000 years ago no one would have questioned a sword or spear. It is only the illusion of civilization that causes some to question this Natural Right today. The nature of man & beasts has not changed significantly in the last few thousand years: there is still lust, greed, corruption, jealousy, envy, hatred, hunger & fear. Without a weapon to combat the inevitable consequences of these things then man places himself at an unnatural disadvantage & endangers a Right that few question: Life.
So a Natural Right to Arms was bestowed upon us by God, or if you prefer our very nature, our evolution if you will. Hence it is something beyond the reach of any law or any social prejudice, or at least it should be.
If it is a Natural Right then why are there laws prohibiting it? Mainly because lawmakers do not comprehend the essence of this Right or its importance. Or perhaps they do. Weapons prohibitions have been around as long as there have been societies. Or more accurately as long as there have been dictators. No tyrant or group of tyrants wants an armed subject who may revolt.
Does anyone remember the movie 'Braveheart'? Do you remember that among other things the subjugated Scots were forbidden to play certain tunes? Do you remember they were forbidden to gather together is certain size groups? Do you remember they were forbidden to wear certain kinds of clothes? Honestly I cannot remember if the movie covered all those prohibitions, but the next one I know was mentioned: Do you remember the Scots were forbidden to own & train with weapons? The last thing any tyrant wants is to have to deal with a people that have the means to resist him, so one of the first things a tyrant does when subjugating a people is to disarm them. Slavery goes so much easier that way. It has occurred from ancient times to the present day. From Ancient Israel to Nazi Germany to Communist Russia disarmament is one of the top priorities of any new ruler. For you etymologists out there (both of you, or half my readership) the word disarm dates from about the 14th century (roughly the time of Sir William Wallace) & can be traced back to the Old French. (Insert any French military joke here).
So the recognition of the usefulness of the Right to Arms was never questioned. It was well understood which is why civilian disarmament has been so popular with dictators & tyrants. It's their natural form of job security.
Present day tyrants & dictators have not forgotten this age old principle & it's the reason behind most countries disarming their civilians.
But the U.S. doesn't have a dictator & we have gun control. England is a democracy & they have an almost complete ban on weapons. So how does that fit in?
Easy: dictators don't announce their plans prior to the election. Neither do governments decide suddenly that they want to become a dictatorship. It happens gradually. In some places quicker than others, but a most useful tool to any tyrant when he comes into power is a network of gun control already set up by the previous form of government. Nazi Germany is a good example. Gun control started there in the Weimar Republic. When Hitler rose to power, he really had little need to disarm the whole populace. Instead he disarmed those he felt were a threat to him. But as he was a 'popular' dictator most of Germany could have arms under certain conditions. However he quickly outlawed the civilian possession of weapons in countries he invaded. The JPFO has some useful material on Hitler & the gun control laws of Nazi Germany.
The Jews however were not so lucky. Hitler wanted to kill them. Hitler being the observant little dictator he was realized that this would be easier if they couldn't resist him, so he turned to the ancient rule No. 1 of tyrants: disarm those who could oppose or threaten or resist you, hence 6 million Jews were murdered. It was easier for Hitler to do this because they were denied a Natural Right. (The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 is worth mentioning. Also look here.It was written by one of the survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto.)
In America we have had the same thing happen but on a more limited scale. After the War of Northern Aggression many states enacted gun control laws where none had existed before. This was due to the fact that black people were no longer slaves & thus their rights, both individual & collective, were recognized by law. So they denied the existence of rights to everyone for the sake of disarming blacks. In practice they'd wink at white people who broke the laws. & where was the oppression you ask? Actually it was partly governmental in that certain branches of government, particularly local government were abused, but mainly it was societal. Klu Klux Klan was probably the most recognizable persecutor of the black people, but there were other, less organized groups. No large segments of black society were wiped out all at once, but there were numerous lynchings, beatings, rapes, etc that were just as devastating to local communities. Again this was facilitated by denying black people their Natural Rights. After all a Klansman can't tie a noose if his hands are full of buckshot, so they minimized the risk for the Klansman. That's one lesson the NAACP seems to have forgotten: armed people aren't easily abused.
So that is a partial explanation of why a Natural right is often disregarded.
Now the Individual part:

Just as Arms are a Natural Right they are Individual. It is true that they can be considered Political for the defense of State or Government & Collective for the defense of community from State or Government, they are by nature Individual. The Individual makes up the Collective & in this case it is dependant upon the Individual & not the Collective. A Collective has this Right because the Individual has this right, not the other way around.

Again, if we go back to our previous example of the man alone in the wilderness outside of society or government we can see nothing artificial about his possessing weapons. We would never think that because he is alone there is something unnatural about his being armed. We'd never insist that he have a companion or two before he owns weapons. We would understand that he has to have weapons to defend his self, not just his community or his state, but his individual self. No one is going to do it for him. & again because the nature of man hasn't really changed, neither has the individual nature of this Right. No animal or criminal is going to pause while he summons a collective so that he may have defense from attack. Likewise I have never found any religion in which the Supreme Deity punishes an individual for defending his self by his self w/o waiting upon a collective or an appointed guard. Society is not obligated to protect the individual: only society in general. Nor can any government afford individual protection to each & every citizen. Defending your life is every bit as much a personal & individual responsibility & necessity as is feeding yourself. These things cannot be delegated to another person or to a group. & weapons are the most effective tools at our disposal for meeting this responsibility. They are necessary for the defense of Individual Rights such as life & liberty & are themselves part of the Natural, Individual Right to Self Defense.

But no right is absolute is it? Yes, there are some Rights that are absolute. Most are in fact. But the nature of Rights are misunderstood so they are easily confused as being limited rather than absolute.
Rights are absolute. Where restraint is called for does not pertain to Rights, but rather to abuse of actions related to Rights.
No one will argue that a person has the Right to choose his own religion or the lack thereof. At least most people in this country wouldn't, nor most people in Democracies. Society may to some degree be justified in trying to influence religion, but no person or group should force someone to believe or disbelieve a certain religion.
Does this mean we are to condone human sacrifice as part of a legitimate religious belief that someone holds? Isn't that a Right? Nope. The Right to religious belief is absolute: no one may forbid a person from believing in a religion that sees value in human sacrifice. What we may do is keep that person from acting on his religion in such a way as to interfere with the rights of another. In this case, the Right to life would be in jeopardy if we condoned human sacrifice. Sacrificing another human against their will is not a Right even if it is a principle theme in a religion. Believing in that religion is a Right. Acting upon it in a way that violates someone else’s' Rights is not a Right. But wouldn't that mean we could prevent any action associated with a Right, such as prayer? Nope, not unless the action directly interferes with the Rights of another. Having the potential to interfere with another’s' Rights does not justify the denial of a Right, only the actual interference. Believing in no God or twenty gods does not interfere with anyone else’s' Rights. Neither does praying in public or private. Murder does even if it is part of a religious belief. The belief is still protected, but the action which interferes with another’s' Rights is not. BTW, freedom from being offended in public is not a Right. In your home it's a slightly different matter as you can & should control the content of your home. You cannot & should not control the content of society except that you should be able to shut it out by staying at home. & there is no Right to be free from fear, not even in your own home. No particular reason, just thought I’d bring it up.

Owning & possessing arms of any type is a Right. By Arms let's say anything that can be used by one person against an individual target. This negates nuclear weapons from our definition as well as field artillery, but includes automatic weapons & large caliber weapons. Grenades are debatable but for the moment let's ignore them. The mere possession of arms does not directly interfere with anyone else’s' Rights. Ah, now I remember why I brought up the no right to be free from offence/fear subject. If someone merely owning or possessing arms bothers you, offends you, scares you, upsets you, etc... then that is a problem you must deal with. It is in no way justification for restricting someone’s' Rights. You never know when your boyfriend is going to tell you your favorite pants make you look fat, or you're unpleasant, or he's leaving you for someone else. Those are all horrible things for him to say, but the chance of him saying it or the fear of him saying it would not justify you taping his mouth shut (no matter how tempting) & denying his Right to Speech. Similarly most men are physically capable of doing grave bodily harm to most women. Psychologically they may not be, & hopefully morally they won't be, but physically they are indeed capable. But just because a man possesses the means to do damage to a woman (strong arms, quick reactions, boxed in high school, etc) would not justify the woman in killing him, thereby denying his Right to Life. Even if the woman is scared that he may do so his Right to Life trumps her desire to be free of fear. (Now the situation would be changed a great deal if there was an actual justification for her fear, such as him threatening her verbally or by physical action, but let's assume our example is only afraid because he has the physical capability & not for any other concrete reason.)
Merely owning or possessing Arms does not present any direct danger to the Rights of anyone else. It is therefore absolute.
Walking down the street firing indiscriminately at people, or in a crowded room pointing the gun at people for no justifiable reason is not a Right. It is threatening behavior that directly interferes with or has the very definite & immediate possibility of interfering with another’s' Rights. Such behavior can & should be prohibited & may be stopped by the use of force.
This is where most pro-gun people get tricked, by assuming that since you can prohibit a person from walking in a mall & shooting randomly then the Right to Arms is not absolute. In fact they are conceding that dangerous behavior which only has a vague connection to a Right can not only be prohibited, but can be justification for prohibiting the Right itself which has little if anything to do with the behavior. Once they start down that particular slippery slope, there's little hope of turning back. If they only realized & appreciated the difference between the Right to Arms & the dangerous behavior that is confused with it, then they could stand on firmer ideological ground & not be conned into conceding as much as they usually do. Groups like the NRA are of no help, since for one reason or another they seem to buy into & promote this erroneous regulation by association. As a result most people would automatically say the no Right is absolute, when in actuality all rights are absolute, but all behavior does not constitute a Right.
Ohio is a prime example: There have been two rulings in the last year that confirm that under Ohio's constitution the legislature may not prohibit the carrying of concealed arms, as it is a Right. Yet instead of demanding the legislature respect their Right, they are currently lobbying for the legislature to grant them the privilege of concealed weapons permits. Instead of asking for a privilege license system in which conditions may be set, fees imposed, permits revoked or denied, etc. they should be demanding the their legislature make no laws interfering with their Rights. There are political forces at work behind this effort of otherwise pro-gun groups to take a step backwards, but I fear the main cause is simply their lack of understanding of what a Right is & isn't.

To sum up owning or possessing weapons, even carrying them concealed or openly is a Right. Using a weapon unprovoked upon an innocent or defenseless person when there is no direct immediate danger to yourself or someone else being caused by that person is not a Right. The Right to Arms is a necessary derivative of the Right to Self defense which is itself a necessary derivative of the Right to Life. All three are inter-related & inseparable. All three are Natural in source & Individual in nature. All three are absolute.

Until we educate the people on what Rights are, & perhaps more importantly what Rights aren't, then we will continue to lose the battle for our Rights: not because the enemy has superior numbers or a morally just backing, but because we let them con us into submission.

For related reading please look here, here, here, here & here

No comments: