Written by: Jason Ronczka
So much time is spent in gun circles pondering how to bring more people into supporting the passion that is the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. All manners of arguments are created, some using empirical data and statistics to show that crime is not caused by guns or that guns actually reduce crime; others citing historical significance showing that our history and the basis for the power and security of our citizenry is an armed populace.
Personally, my experience is that if you attack the issue from the basis of ALL rights; that all free people have them at birth and they cannot truly be taken away (not even by law) and that they are all important in order for a free people to flourish despite promises of safety or prosperity in the absence of said rights, it’s much easier to bring people around to the support of the Second Amendment.
However, in order to do this, the deliverer of said message has to believe it as well. So many pro-gun people aren’t really pro-rights, they’re merely on the wagon of the Second Amendment because they have a personal connection with firearms (i.e. hunting, self-defense, hobbies, competition). The problem here arises when an issue of firearms rights crops up where such people have no personal connection. For instance, the issue of private citizens carrying guns for protection. Some people, gun owners included, don’t want to allow others to carry around a gun whenever it pleases them. This belief ignores the premise of an unalienable right; it cannot be given to someone by someone else, they already have it at birth, and thus, it cannot be taken away no matter how good the reason seems to be.
Consider the particularly contested issue of individuals released from prison having their Second Amendment rights honored. Many gun owners believe that any person with a criminal past should lose their Second Amendment rights forever (if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime). This makes sense because such people are often only supporters insofar as it appears reasonable considering their connection to firearms (i.e. you might find a lot of hunters who feel that ex-convicts should be allowed limited access to hunt but should never be able to own a handgun for self-defense, even though the Second Amendment is, in fact, not about hunting or a right to do so). The real conflict here is that again, it ignores what a right truly is and what can be done to it, when, why and by whom.
When one is incarcerated, while their rights still technically exist, they may not exercise them because they are not presently free. An abuse of freedom is not exercising it, and when one abuses their freedom in this country, they relinquish many of their rights, but only to the degree necessary in order to facilitate punishment. People in jail have very limited rights against search and seizure without a warrant, to peaceably assemble, or to be secure in their persons and papers…they also have no right to keep and bear arms while incarcerated. Being unable to exercise one’s rights is not part of the penalty, it is simply a necessity in order to conduct the punishment for the crimes one is convicted of (which is obvious as far as the Second Amendment goes as an armed prison population cannot be incarcerated against their will).
While in jail, the right to practice one’s chosen faith is maintained, so is the right against being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment; this is simply because rights are not taken away as part of the punishment, they are only put into a sort of civil limbo, but again, only when is necessary in the course of the incarceration. If we take an honest look at which rights are conveyed to inmates and which are suspended, it is readily evident that prohibiting the exercise of certain rights is not, and was never meant to be part and parcel to the punishment and/or course of rehabilitation prescribed through the legal system for a given crime.
To suggest that once out of prison, after the reasonable debt required has been satisfied, one should permanently lose the freedom to exercise their rights goes far beyond the scope of power that the government or any authority should have in this country. Even if the majority of free citizens supported such an idea, I would argue that it certainly falls under cruel punishment (of “cruel and unusual punishment” fame). Being punished for one’s entire life for a crime that may have been so minor as to require a two year jail sentence is most certainly cruel, and particularly unusual in that if the crime justifies a lifetime punishment, it would certainly justify a lifetime commitment to incarceration. Now I’m certainly not saying that no person convicted of any crime should be prohibited the use or possession of firearms, I’m actually supportive of the idea if, and only if, it’s actually a part of due process. Mandatory Second Amendment disabilities for any felony in my opinion is where the problem lies. All felonies are not equal, and while I would be comfortable with a judge or jury stipulating that a convicted murderer not have access to firearms if they ever get out of jail, I’m not so sure allowing the government to utilize a blanket prohibition for all felonies when it automatically includes people convicted of say, grand theft or fraud is the right course of action. While I do agree that the latter charges are serious in nature, they in no way speak to how dangerous a person is, nor do they indicate a scenario where I personally feel that someone has forfeit their natural right to defend themselves. Sure those people that commit such crimes aren’t very responsible or trustworthy, but rights aren’t granted with a predication on trust, they’re granted at birth because each person has a right to protect their life and liberty. Should someone that stole an automobile at the age of 22 die on the street or in their home at the hands of a murderer at the age of 27 after they serve their time and get released from prison? Would you not feel more comfortable standing on a firing line with that person as another soldier against tyranny or invasion rather than being one rifle short?
If a person were convicted of a crime and sent to jail, no reasonable person would suggest that such an individual should automatically be prohibited from exercising their religion or going to church as often as they saw fit once they were released. No reasonable person would suggest that someone who was once incarcerated should be subjected to torture after their release, nor would any reasonable person suggest that said person should automatically be subjected to random body cavity searches or searches into their homes, persons, banking records or personal property without a warrant and/or probable cause. Furthermore, no reasonable person would support an ex-convict being summarily jailed without due process, without the opportunity to a defense against the charges or in the absence of the state being able to articulate the offense and the burden of proof required to show that a crime had actually been committed by said person.
So why then, do we have gun owners, individuals who live and breathe the very essence of a right when it comes to their guns, so ready and willing to strip someone else of their rights in a manner not explicitly authorized by the Constitution or the Bill of Rights? For the very same reasons that some people think that the religious freedom of the First Amendment doesn’t apply to Muslims, Jews or Wiccans, or if it does, only to the extent that their own religion is given an amount preferential treatment or acknowledgment above all others.
For the same reason why some people feel that the Freedom of Speech doesn’t protect political or social dissidence, pornographic materials or free expression in music, literature, film and art if their own views or tastes are offended.
For the very same reason that some people feel that freedom from Unreasonable Search and Seizure without a Warrant and Probable Cause, the right to a Speedy and Public Trial by Jury or protection from being Deprived of Life, Liberty or Property without Due Process doesn’t exist if the target is the same faith, nationality or skin color as someone that committed an act of war, terror or treason against this country or if the target is merely suspected of being in league with or of having similar convictions, goals or aims as those people.
That reason, which is the same in all of the examples above, and is virtually the same in all cases where an individual or group attempts to make a case for infringing on the rights of others, is that, most people are only into freedom as deep as it personally affects them, they could care less for anything above and beyond what level of liberty they deem useful to their own beliefs or purposes.
Rights are defined in the extreme; privileges are defined by boundaries and limits. If one can do as they please, so long as no harm is being done to another, that’s a right, that’s free, that’s liberty. If one can only do as they please so long as no one’s sense of decency, taste, sensibility, security, morals, reason or politics is being offended, that’s a privilege.
When we say, ‘you have the right to practice your faith, so long as I approve of it’, or ‘you have the right to keep and bear arms so long as I still feel safe and comfortable with the idea of you having a gun’, or ‘you have the right to speak your piece so long as I don’t get offended’, or ‘you have the right to due process and to be secure in your person, property or papers so long as I trust you’, we’re really not saying anything about rights; we’re talking about giving someone a benefit within the boundaries that we’re agreeable to.
Privilege is defined as, “A special advantage, immunity, permission, right, or benefit granted to or enjoyed by an individual, class, or caste”. Pay close attention to the part where it says it is “granted”; rights aren’t granted by anyone, we automatically have them at birth, they’re the default setting. Since no one granted those rights to us, no one can revoke them no matter how sound or compelling their reasoning is. So the issue is not whether or not we are or should be comfortable giving anyone anything (anything granted is a privilege), the issue is whether or not anyone can take certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, away from a free person. Since no one gave us those rights, not individuals, not society, not the majority and not the government, the answer is no, not in this republic. The moment people wake up and embrace this truth is the moment that we will begin our return to a free people, and support for all rights, including the Second Amendment, will be the default, just as it was intended. The Bill of Rights is a package deal, a package of rights which are defined in the extremes (as all rights inherently are); there is no such thing as half-way free. That’s the right argument in support of the Second Amendment, everything else is pleading for the granting of a privilege in lieu of rights we already have.
*This article was published with the full written consent and approval of the above mentioned author*