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…