Where does your right to bear arms come from? The answer is intuitive for the pro-gun community but often gets lost when conveyed to skeptics. Gun rights go deeper than the text of the Second Amendment. At their core, gun rights are based within human rights. You have a natural right to life, liberty and property that even the most hostile gun-control advocate must recognize.
The common ground of fundamental human rights is a good starting place. From there, you can build rapport by acknowledging his or her real (if misguided and distorted) feeling that gun rights threaten his or her right to life. From that human-rights framework, you have two strong directions in which to steer the conversation — the right to be left alone and the inherent right to defend your own life.
The Most Sacred Right
The rights to liberty and property are extensive, and for brevity, you can consider them as the right to be left alone as long as you are not interfering with the rights of others. That means that if someone wants to impede your freedom through government action, the burden is on that someone to prove a compelling need to justify that restriction. That burden of justification is paramount. You are free to do or own what you want, and anyone trying to interfere with that has to prove his or her case. The more drastic the proposed restriction, the higher a burden the proposer must meet. Liberty and property give you the important presumption of freedom. That is the logical basis for the quip that you “don’t need a reason to own a gun.”
Advocates often explain the need to preserve our gun rights on the pillars of sporting, self-defense and a fail-safe against a crazed government. Those are all important answers to the challenge: “Why do you even need a gun like that?” But the strongest philosophical argument for gun rights is embedded in your right to life. You have a right to live. You have a long-recognized legal and customary right to meet force with force to protect your life.
To explore self-defense’s relationship to the Second Amendment, invest the time to review the full Supreme Court opinion from Heller v. District of Columbia.1 The majority opinion in Heller is a powerful argument for individual gun rights. The Court delved further into self-defense in the McDonald v. Chicago opinion, declaring: “Self-defense is a basic right, recognized by many legal systems from ancient times to the present, and the Heller Court held that individual self-defense is ‘the central component’ of the Second Amendment right.”2
A boundary without the means to enforce it is merely a suggestion. We may be legally equal, but we are not physically equal. Self-defense has an undeniable physical component: A 200-pound man has a distinct advantage over a 100-pound woman. A gun functions as a self-defense equalizer, particularly for a person of smaller stature, a person who faces physical impairments or limitations, or a person who faces multiple attackers. Gun-controllers must face the practical reality that guns exist in this world in large numbers, and the only way to balance the threat of armed criminals is by giving potential victims the means to protect themselves until police arrive.
There is also an undeniable correlation between disarmed populations and widespread abuses of human rights. Consider any contemporary nation-state with an ugly human-rights record, and you will also find a disarmed populace. Gun control does not immediately lead to or cause human-rights abuses, of course, but it certainly seems to enable them.
There is also an undeniable correlation between disarmed populations and widespread abuses of human rights.
Gun rights appear to be a vaccine against human-rights abuses. A gun is a mechanical way to level the field against a violent threat with superior strength or numbers. In this way, gun rights are women’s rights. Gun rights are minority rights. African-Americans used guns to fend off the Ku Klux Klan in the absence of police protection during the 1960s.
“I was a little girl growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s. There was no way that Bull Connor [Commissioner of Public Safety] and the Birmingham Police were going to protect you,” former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recounted. “And so when White Knight Riders would come through our neighborhood, my father and his friends would take their guns and they’d go to the head of the neighborhood — it’s a little cul-de-sac — and they would fire in the air if anybody came through.”3 Robert F. Williams’ Black Guards and the Deacons for Defense and Justice are two notable African-American groups that used firearms to help protect their communities from intimidation and violence during the Civil Rights movement.
Giving Us an Edge
Gun rights are human rights predominantly because self-defense is embedded in your right to live. You have a right to self-defense and every reasonable means to enforce that right. That is critical in explaining why simply owning a locked-up shotgun fails to meet the needs of gun-rights advocates: A gun in a safe is not relevant in self-defense. A gun may not guarantee your safety, but neither does gun control. A gun gives you a choice and a chance — something better than cowering when things get ugly. The disarmed are guaranteed neither safety nor dignity.
Doyle is a concerned citizen and gun-rights advocate. His opinions are his alone and do not reflect the official policy or position of his or any other agency. References and links to other gun advocacy sites do not imply endorsement of those organizations. He can be reached by email at [email protected]
(1) You can view the entire ruling on the Supreme Court’s website: www.SupremeCourt.gov/opinions/07pdf/07-290.pdf.
(2) You can view the entire ruling on the Supreme Court’s website: www.SupremeCourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-1521.pdf.
(3) You can view Rice’s interview on YouTube: https://youtu.be/s_gphb2Qs7Q.