You may or may not have noticed but human rights are perpetually under assault in our world. Here in the United State we are lucky. There are many places in our world where our rights are free men and women are directly and repeatedly violated because governments refuse to recognize that they exist at all. Here in the United States we have organized our society around the principle that we all have intrinsic value as human beings. In addition it is this human nature that gives us a collection of moral entitlements, or rights, that can not be taken away from us.
This idea is also one of the cores of the natural rights theory. This was a school of thought that our founders believed deeply in. Jefferson called them self evident and apparent in nature, being derived from Nature’s God. This is a very clear statement and hedges an immediate position on what rights are and why they are valuable. Libertarians understand this. Some conservatives understand this. They know and intuitively “get” this and we are able to talk about it as such. This is where we get to the problem of this post. Proglodytes do not understand this at a fundamental level. This is reflected in the way we speak to each other about rights, and this difference in language is why we can’t talk about these things in civil society.
Let me explain. Recently we have been discussing the right to bear arms here in the United States due to the tragedy in Las Vegas. This has led to broader discussions about rights in the process. As I often do I found myself arguing with someone about this on Twitter.
He was telling me quite earnestly that these rights could and in some cases should be limited. I told him that by their very nature they could not be limited and even if they could somehow be limited that they shouldn’t be. It was the point, counter point that we engaged in that illustrated the gulf. He cited free speech as an example. “You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, it is illegal.” In other words because The State does not allow it, we are not able to do it. This is not quite right however. This power of The State has not actually limited the right to free speech. Regardless of what the state can and will do, it can not change the very way we speak. Martin Luther King JR. wrote letters and spoke out from jail. So have hundreds of other martyrs in human history.
This proves that the right to free speech can not be limited by governments, or anything other than our own choices. There might be things that we should not do but these are based in rational choices among decent citizens not in arbitrary limits from The State. To his point though this does show that the government can use its supposed monopoly on force to violate the exercise of our rights. Any limiting of a divinely derived right from The State can not be construed as a limiting of a right, because the right itself is self-evidently present in nature. If it can’t be limited then the only other way to perceive these state actions is as a violation of the right in question.
So with this newly found understanding how then does it apply to the original topic of guns and the second amendment. According to the above logic The State can not use its power no matter how great to stop us from somehow defending ourselves when it is justified. Because of their power and finality this is often in the form of fire arms. This is also plainly visible in nature and thus “self evidently” true. If it is true that the state can not actually stop us from exercising self defense whether against it, or against someone wishing us harm then how are we do understand things like weapon bans and regulations? As above, it is the government violating these rights. It is violating these rights in the attempt to remove the right.
Once we understand this, we see this same logic in anything that can be properly understood as a right. We have a right to fair trial. This is the right as it exists, it is an extension of the right to justice. The other parts of the bill of rights addressing trials are in pursuit of stopping the the government’s violation of the right. We even have an amendment reminding us that we have rights reserved to us as individuals and as the states against the federal government.
This difference of understanding is why “liberals” think it is acceptable to take or violate rights. They understand it as a reasonable limit from the government. They reject that rights exist outside of government and therefore do not think that the government can violate rights, at least in this context. This is why we need to be careful about the language that we use. If we ever want to have any hope of convincing them it must be asserted that there is no way to actually limit the exercise of a natural right, only to violate the right in question. Do not give an inch on this of all fronts. Our rights are sacred because they are from outside of government and this can not be lost if we are to maintain our freedom.