Bryan Griffin: Rights That Can't Be Taken
They’re calling Beto O’Rourke the “AR-15 salesman of the year” after he forcefully stated in the last Democratic debate that an O’Rourke presidency would mean the mandatory government confiscation of such rifles. His exact quote was: “Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47-- We're not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.”
He’s the first to be so direct, but he isn’t treading into empty waters. Many Democratic presidential hopefuls want to curb, regulate, and restrict gun ownership and sales.
America has seen tragic gun violence recently. Everyone can agree that these seemingly regular mass-shootings are horrific and detestable. We can do more as a society to prevent these occurrences. But the guttural reaction of the left to use government regulation to fix the problem is harmful, not helpful, to the safety of the American public.
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not grant the right to bear arms to the American citizen. Here, many misunderstand the basic founding principles of our country. The right to bear arms, just like the right to free speech, assembly, life, and liberty, are all rights we are born with. Neither the Constitution nor any federal law grant those rights, they are our inheritance. The Second Amendment reminds and restricts the government from its ability to interfere with those rights. Here’s the full text of the Amendment:
“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.”
Our founders had no more ability to grant us those rights than the modern American political leader has to take them away. They are natural rights: ours and ours to keep. Even repealing the Second Amendment wouldn’t change this. And we should be so thankful. A government that has the power to grant rights has the power to take them away – and the nullifying, retracting, or ignoring of natural rights by government has been the vehicle by which the most egregious human rights abuses have and will continue to take place worldwide.
Even the most ardent progressive would agree that protecting human rights at home and abroad is a persistent and unending challenge of the civic minded activist. Nothing can secure a people’s rights more firmly than to recognize they are ours by birth, not granted by any human or government. For this alone I encourage the left to rally around the American system and think twice before slashing into any Constitutional protection.
The Second Amendment is not a relic of a more primitive era, but the most advanced conceptualization of a citizen’s right to defend his or herself from oppressive government. The idea behind our Second Amendment is that a citizen should be legally capable of beholding the most advanced personal defensive technology of the day. If we didn’t have guns, then the Second Amendment would mean we had a right to a sword or bow. Perhaps in the future, it means the right to whatever comes next. The point is to have the same individual defensive capabilities as would anyone in a position of governmental authority, so long as it is used in a law-abiding manner.
Yes, there is room within our Second Amendment protections to allow for age limits on gun purchases, background checks, and even some limited mental health acknowledgments. But for every regulation weighed in the debate on gun control, the question should be: who gets to make the definitions? If there is any room for subjectivity—whether speaking about mental health, the type of gun, the quantity of ammunition, or otherwise—then subjective restrictions must be localized and adjustable when necessary, but ultimately as least restrictive as possible.
This is not to overlook the horror of recent gun-related massacres. I wish there were fewer guns accessible to criminals in our country. Likewise, gun control advocates may wish that tighter government regulation would solve the gun crime problem. The facts are with neither of us.
There are about 393 million guns owned in America, or 46% of the world’s total gun supply. After the Christchurch shooting this year in New Zealand, the mandatory government buyback program made underwhelming performance, barely making a scratch in the estimated number of firearms held by the public. And that was in a country with far less identity wrapped around the right to bear arms.
The government simply cannot collect them all.
Cities in America with some of the strictest gun control laws often appear among the list of the top 10 cities with the highest gun-crime rates in the country.
A Boston University study that examined various gun control measures nationwide over a 26-year period determined that some combination of localized background check and licensing restrictions reduced the rate of gun-related homicides and suicides by more than a third. However, neither banning high-capacity ammunition cartridges nor banning assault weapons showed any statistical significance in reducing firearm-related murders.
Limited, localized gun control measures can produce results, but the left’s focus on high-capacity weapons and magazines is misplaced. When it comes to rights, limitations have to be the least restrictive possible and hyper focused on provable results. The left’s approach doesn’t hold water here.
And, despite the best intentions of the gun control crowd, laws will truly only affect those who intend to follow them.
Important yet absent from the gun control debate is an examination of how many crimes are prevented because of legally owned guns, or the role of guns as a defensive verses offensive tool. An Obama-era CDC study estimated as many as 3 million crimes are prevented in the US by guns annually—or 8,200 a day. According to the Foundation for Economic Education:
60 percent of convicted felons admitted that they avoided committing crimes when they knew the victim was armed. Forty percent of convicted felons admitted that they avoided committing crimes when they thought the victim might be armed.
I believe the issue we face in society is not a product of the guns we own but of the lack of morality we are fostering. We are seeing a devaluing of the nuclear family unit, the secularization of society, a de-emphasis of religion and tradition, and an embrace of emotional and identity politics.
America should curb gun violence with a measured and principled response.
The guns we own, and even the Second Amendment that protects the right to own them, is an easy but misplaced target. And it is a starting point of dire vulnerability from which our recognition of natural rights can be dismantled.
I’m not praising guns, I am explaining the rationale behind the sacred rights that we each carry with us by virtue of being born, and how unique and important it is that the American Constitution recognizes and prohibits the government from taking these from us, including the right to bear arms. We shouldn’t be so quick to forsake Second Amendment protections in misplaced attempts to tackle gun violence because other precious rights will become negotiable in the same way at a later time. We can’t stop the bleeding on this one. Either we acknowledge and protect all natural rights, or we have none.
Bryan Griffin of the London Center for Policy Research is a lawyer and author who specializes in American policy in the Middle East.
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