Are Rights ‘Different’?

Again, over the course of the next few weeks I am going to be spending a lot of time listening to the perennial source of annoyance that is the Radio. Today, understandably, the Virginia Tech shooting is pretty much the most dominant news item. This is a terrible event and my heart really does go out to those who have lost loved ones, friends and family in, what appears to be, a senseless act of violence. I am not “touched” by this [*] as much as some people and this blog wont deliberately have a day of silence on 30 April, but I can see why others will.

As could have easily been predicted, an incident like this reinvigorates both sides of the gun control debate. Here in the UK, it is always presented with a touch of amazement that guns are so “easy” to get hold of in the US, and killings like this are trumped up as further reasons to prevent the average person having easy access to firearms. Interestingly on one of the radio news items there was a piece from the US pro-gun lobby going on about how if the students had been allowed to have guns, they could have defended themselves. Ironically the university was, apparently a “gun free zone” which resulted in the law abiding students being unarmed, and the nutcase being armed.

Now, while this is an appealing line of reasoning, I am somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of a “wild west” style shoot out in a university and, for once, this is not the main reason behind this blog post. Following on from the radio debates over gun laws, I am curious as to whether or not some rights are considered more fundamentally important than others.

The reason I ask, is that some of the bodies who are the most outspoken (remember this is based on what I have heard on UK Radio News) about making gun control laws tougher and more nationally standardised, are organisations who are very quick of the starting blocks regarding certain other rights (freedom of speech being a common one). Please don’t make the mistake of thinking I am pro-gun laws (I am not and have discussed this in the past) but I try to be anti-nonsense and anti-bad-logic.

Parts of the debate I heard today ran along the lines of people use guns to do bad things, therefore we should remove the guns. This seems reasonable enough (with a few caveats, it wont stop people doing bad things for example) but hits the hurdle of the right to bear arms. Can the right to bear arms be thrown away, simply because removing it may have prevented this attack?

Personally (and with the caveat that I don’t think people should carry weapons), I don’t think so. One of the main gripes I have with the war on terror and the nonsense legislation it has spawned is that people are throwing away rights and freedoms for the illusion of safety.

Working on the assumption (for now) that the right to bear arms should be removed leaves me with the question of why is that right “less” important than (for example) freedom of speech? Being distasteful is not grounds to dismiss a right, nor is its applicability in other nations (rights are different from one country to the next, is there such a thing as a “universal” right?).

I am not for one second pretending to be a Constitutional Scholar, or even understanding more than the very basics about US legislation, but I would love to see how it can be argued that one right should be dismissed without the same argument applying to any other right. If those who seek to defend rights and civil liberties are able to pick and choose which “rights” get defended, how is that any different from (for example) the Catholic Church refusing to accept the rights of gay people?

Anyway, let me know what you think.

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[*] Footnote: I don’t for one second wish to downplay the suffering felt by the people directly affected by this shooting but from a global perspective I find it strange that the “Blogosphere” can be in mourning over an event like this. On any given day, thousands of teenagers and children are being killed the world over. If there was to be a day of silence for every group of 30 killed, the blogosphere would be a very quiet place…

7 thoughts on “Are Rights ‘Different’?

  1. No one dies from freedom of speech.

    Thats the quick answer. In truth people can die indirectly due to freedom of speech. I am unsure of my personal stance on the gun issue for the exact reasons you pointed out. I will defend freedom of speech at all costs so I can’t immediately say to throw out the second amendment. But gun control does not mean no guns, it means sensible limits. Also the right to bear arms is a throw back to the revolutionary war, if your country didn’t allow us to have guns we’d still be a colony, BTW thanks. But today no one in their right mind would try to out the US government by force it would be suicide. Therefore the main argument in favor of the second amendment is sort of a mute point. Today the claim is guns are for hunting and self protection. Hunting is fine, non-automatic large guns that cannot easily be concealed. Self-protection is a myth as its been shown many times your far more likely to shoot someone by accident than to shoot an assailant. And as you point out a “wild west” shoot out is hardly a positive solution. I’m still willing to be persuaded on this issue but I support gun control, not abolishing the ability to own one, but I think it should be a privilege to be earned not a right that can occasionally be taken away.

    Finally though no, not all rights are equal. We have pretty well thrown out the fourth amendment, along with the sixth, eight, ninth, and tenth. (and I’m only looking at the bill of rights) So no not all rights are equal.

    But thats just my opinion. Thanks for the interesting vantage point.

  2. Like most Europeans, I am always taken by the fact that the right to bear your own ant-aircraft weapon seems a right Americans will fight for.

    If we promise not to ask for the tea tax again, maybe you could ban them.

  3. Kilgore, thanks for your comments and it is reassuring to see I was not talking nonsense 🙂

    I find, with this, I am caught between two opinions. My instincts are largely against allowing every body to carry guns, but it remains a “right” allowed to US Citizens. Any caveats added to this “right” can equally be applied to others. For example, allowing freedom of speech as long as it is done in a manner society feel acceptable leaves a sour taste. (I am aware that “freedom of speech” does actually have limits but I am trying to stretch things to make a point.)

    As I said, thanks for your comments and I am glad I live in a country where guns are not sold to unbalanced students. (We still have gun crime though…)

  4. Actually from the early info it sounds like his gun(s) were purchased illegally, but its easy to get illegal guns because there are so many legal ones.

    We have limits on all rights, the most basic stance on this is, “Your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins.” As long as your right isn’t infringing on the rights of others then its protected (maybe). But with guns when you infringe on someone else, that person did not lose a right, they lost their life. Hence why screaming Fire! in a crowded building is NOT protected by the first amendment.

    Yeah we aren’t completely insane although I can understand why you might think otherwise, not everyone has absolute rights to bear arms. For instance a foreign national such as the recent shooter, does not have that right, hence the illegal guns. Felons usually lose that right. There are probably other examples but I’m not real up to date on gun laws. Unfortunately individual states have there own gun laws, so while here in New York I would need a permit to buy a handgun and it would be very difficult to legally conceal it. My cousin in South Carolina who knows very little about guns has a pistol and a holster to carry it concealed, not because he needs it but simply because its legal there so why not? Some states like Florida have even made it legal to use deadly force if you “feel threatened” thats a recent law and hopefully it will be overturned soon.

    Its funny that I found this post, via Planet Atheism by the way, as I had just recently talk to a friend who knows someone who claims they are purchasing a .50 cal rifle. for target practice and maybe some hunting, he’s going to start off practicing on squirrels. If you know anything about this ridiculous weapon you would know that it falls perfectly into the “anti-aircraft” status Heather mentioned. The idea that some random idiot with too much money can purchase one of these is a bit unnerving.

    one last thing, I do think the UK has much lower gun violence than the US, but as long as they are available, legal or otherwise they will be used for violence.

    OK I need to run, If I can find this again I’ll be back tomorrow. Have a good one!

  5. Kilgore, again, thanks for the comments and with incidents like this it does show that as time progresses new information changes the previous assumptions.

    The most recent news I had head over here in the UK was the shooter was from South Korea but had a green card and the guns were legally purchased. Even if they weren’t, I think the “ban / dont ban” issue is valid and this sad event is a good time to think about it.

    Regarding your comment about the limits of rights – I agree totally. To me though, this is where the law (esp criminal law) comes in. Killing some one is not a misuse of a right to bear arms, it is murder. Just the same as killing some one with a pencil through the eye would be murder. The problem with guns is that it makes it easy for discontented people to disproportionately kill lots of other people.

    As I said previously, I find this a confusing issue, with conflicting internal rationalisation, and your comments and input are certainly welcome.

  6. It’s amazing that they test people to drive, yet they don’t make people even have lessons, never mind obtain a licence to use guns.

    And I think I’m not a million miles off-track when I say that the general form of the ‘arms’ that the amendment meant was probably closer to a pitchfork than a mach-10.

  7. Yeah I learned after I posted that they were purchased legally. Just adds to the tragedy.

    Great points. Although the “arms” in the second amendment does refer to Guns, but they would have been single shot muskets which might put them closer to the killing power of a pitchfork.

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