by Mad Rocket Scientist
A lot of ink, both physical & digital, has been spilled discussing the nature of Rights. Are they natural, inherent, divine, granted, or won? Are they positive or negative? What is the relationship of government & society with respect to Rights? I’ve read a lot on Rights, some of it straightforward, some of it so esoteric or abstract that the few philosophy classes I took in college are inadequate to the task of really understanding it. But I do have a pretty good handle on how the general population views Rights, which essentially boils down to:
This is something I can do, I don’t have to explain myself, & the bar for saying no is very high.
When politicians & pundits start talking about restricting Rights (something that is relevant in light of the proposed AWB, and the Presidential Kill Power), I try to listen to what is being proposed, & I run a few internal checks against the proposals (something I wish more people did).
What Right is really being limited?
Is this a “feel good” law being rushed due to some high-profile event? Does the new law sound good because the instigator of the event is unsympathetic? (A yes answer automatically makes me suspicious of it – I am allowing my emotions to get the better of me; someone is probably making a power grab, or trying to pay off political favors easily).
Is there a metric by which the efficacy of this law can be measured? Has the person proposing this law, or any other public supporter proposed such a metric? If not, then should it include a sunset provision? If so, is it a reasonable metric that could actually be measured? Does the law provide for data acquisition of that metric (e.g. this law will reduce the rate of X; no one is permitted to track statistics regarding X)?
Has anyone supporting the law attempted to explore unintended consequences, or at least acknowledged (& preferably addressed in a logical manner – instead of just poo-pooing them) the potential problems the opposition has pointed out (assuming the opposition is not being obviously hyperbolic)?
Finally, how would I feel if such a restriction were placed upon any other of my Rights? Is such a restriction worth it?The last one is important for one reason – any restriction that can be placed upon one Right can form the basis of argument to restrict another. It may not be politically a good idea, and it might not stand up in court – but then again, it just might. Since Bush the Lesser – hell, since Nixon – I’ve seen the government decide to do things to some of our Rights that I never thought the public or the courts would stand for & allow, in the name of public safety & the War on Drugs or Terror.
The problem is, most people are utterly clueless regarding the inherent value of a Right (seriously, everyone read that link), and what restrictions currently exist on their Rights, or don’t like (or agree with the existence of) a Right, or find such restrictions of no concern (“They don’t impact me, what do I care?”). Think the Pro-Security State folks who tell you, “I don’t care if the government knows everything about me, I got nothing to hide.”, while utterly missing the point that it is a Right to not have the government rummaging around in our personal lives, and no justification for it is needed.
Let me say that again – A Right needs no justification. You don’t have to explain why you want your privacy, it is your Right. You don’t need to explain why you want a gun, it is your Right. You don’t need to explain why you wrote or spoke an opinion, or why you attend a church (or don’t), or why you won’t speak to the police, or why you want a lawyer, or why you want to go somewhere, or live somewhere. It is your Right.
Of course, no Right is absolute. If they were, the Rights of individuals would constantly conflict, so we place restrictions on Rights in an effort to manage those conflicts. No slander or libel (tricky things to prove, however), or shouting fire in a theater (although the background on that is interesting). Religions can not hide illegal acts under their robes, or politicize from the pulpit. Public assembly is subject to permits so civil services can be notified & prepared, etc. But what constitutes reasonable restrictions seems these days to be an uncertain thing. Not everyone cares about certain Rights as much as others, or they believe that restrictions on those Rights would only apply to those people over there. People who are wealthy and law-abiding don’t have the same view of the weakness of the 4th Amendment as folks living in high crime areas. Gun owners bristle under regulations non-gun owners see as reasonable, etc.
This is why I try very hard to imagine a proposed restriction on a Right I value (which is all of them, of course).
I had an exchange with Greginak in a previous post, where I asked people to imagine if the laws regarding abortion were similar to the laws regarding firearms. It’s a valuable exercise, in & of itself; and the abortion debate, in some ways, dovetails nicely with the gun debate, precisely because both involve the clash of personal freedom versus the belief that life is being protected. You can perform similar exercises with other Rights, such as the 4th (another woefully abused Right).
Now first, I want to make clear, as much as I believe in the 2nd Amendment, I also ardently believe in a woman’s Right to choose (same as I believe in everyone’s Right to marry, etc.). What I discuss below is me playing Devils Advocate. If you miss this point & go after me in the comments for being some freak conservative pro-lifer, I will ignore you, or mock you, my mood depending.
So, to begin with, what Federal Laws exist regulating firearms & firearm ownership & usage (since the Bill of Rights was ratified)?
There is the National Firearms Act of 1934 (Full auto weapons, suppressors, & sawed off shot guns require extra background checks & tax stamp), the Gun Control Act of 1968 (must be 21 to own a handgun, no more interstate commerce in firearms except through licensed dealers, prohibited persons defined, banning importing of full-auto weapons), the Firearm Owners Protection Act (no more full-auto except those already in circulation, safe passage act, banning a registry, refined the definition of prohibited persons), Gun Free School Zone Act (no guns near schools except by law enforcement), the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban (no firearms for those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence or under a restraining order), & The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (mandates the background check).
These are just the federal laws. State laws can vary wildly from next to nothing, to labyrinthine regulations of certain parts, configurations, or even silly stuff, like facing a felony for having an empty magazine, or a bullet on your person without a proper government ID card (such laws are also prosecuted unevenly, with the elite getting a pass, and common folks getting the hammer – states & cities are, by far, usually the worst violators of any of our Rights).
Regarding abortion, since Roe V. Wade, there is one federal law – The Partial Birth Abortion Ban (no partial birth abortions except to save the mothers life). This law was actively opposed as the first step down a slippery slope toward a total ban. I know some states have additional laws, some of those quite silly as well.
Now, if Abortion were as regulated as firearms (some of these analogies don’t map exactly, but I’ll do my best):
- You would need to complete a background check prior to getting an abortion. If you are a drug user, or if you have a record of prostitution, you are automatically denied.
- Abortion doctors are heavily regulated & have to keep meticulous written records. Errors in the forms required by the government could result in the doctor losing his license & possible jail time. Abortion doctors are subject to surprise inspections at any time (& often are).
- No morning after pill (AKA the Full Auto Abortion), and the relevant medical technology for abortions is limited to what was available in the US prior to 1986.
- The pill is heavily regulated.
- Children may not get abortions. Not even with parental consent. Children may not even talk about abortions. Discussing abortions, or sex, especially in school can result in suspensions, expulsions, and possible criminal charges.
- You may not cross state lines to get an abortion (so no living in AL & driving to NY for an abortion).
- Some states outlaw abortion, & prosecute it heavily. While the federal government has laws protecting women who have had abortions from being prosecuted for it in states that they are just traveling through, certain states still attempt to do it. The cases rarely make it past federal appeals court (where they are dismissed), but the federal government doesn’t do anything to the abusive states to curb such behavior.
- A woman can be prevented from getting an abortion if a man makes a reasonable claims to be the unborn child’s father. Should the paternity test show the man not the father, he faces no consequence, & is not obligated to pay child support. Should he be the father, the woman is forever banned from getting an abortion.
Living in this world, women would be regularly subjected to seriously regarded opinion & punditry such as:
- Why do you need an abortion? Why do you even need birth control? Just stop having sex if you don’t want to get pregnant.
- We can not interfere in the states ability to regulate abortions! No right is absolute. We know the situation in states like Alabama is bad, what with such an explosion of births. The inability of the welfare system to keep up & the children starving is unfortunate, but we can not have people recklessly killing their unborn children.
- Women who have abortions or support the right are sluts & baby killers.
- We need a registry of all the women who have had abortions! Many women who have abortions are prostitutes & such a registry would help to crack down on prostitution!
- Sex education is discouraged, as it may lead to sex, & unwanted pregnancy, which could result in an abortion. Abstinence only education is the rule.
- Women should have to look at an ultrasound one month before they can have an abortion!
- It’s not a big deal, these are just reasonable restrictions, no one is trying to take away your right to an abortion.
- We need to ban abortions & sterilize all the women who have ever had one!
Now, who thinks any of that is acceptable?
Of course some of you will start by trying to say that some of my examples are not perfect, or good analogies. And I already admitted that, they aren’t perfect. But they are instructive. They show what can happen if a Right is not heavily defended (like someone proposing an ultrasound prior to an abortion, or trying to ban abortion in the case of rape in order to preserve evidence).
For example, would you find a federal, or even state, registry of women who have had an abortion a good idea? If not, why not?
Does it make any sense that you can not cross state lines to get an abortion?
Step away from abortion. Speech is a dangerous thing, as it can set hearts & minds aflame & drive mobs to violent action. Maybe we should make every blogger, journalist, editor, and public speaker register as such, complete with background check. If you aren’t registered, you can not speak in any public fashion.
Cults are dangerous. The Catholic Church has shown that it protects child molesters. Let’s register religious leaders (with background checks), and only accredited persons can be spiritual leaders. Oh, and if your sermons get a bit too ‘culty’, you can expect a visit from some federal agents.
I can go on.
Others will say that some Rights are uniquely dangerous, and thus must be subjected to greater restriction. And I will give you that the 2nd is the most potentially dangerous amongst the Rights we have, enumerated or otherwise. That does not mean we should restrict it so cavalierly. It is still a Right, and as such any restriction we place upon it should be done cautiously, carefully, with a clear intention of purpose, and a remembrance that we may be opening a Pandora’s Box that could negatively affect other Rights.
We won’t go wrong by moving slowly & carefully when considering the restriction of a Right. Our nation was not facing imminent destruction if we did not pass the Patriot Act after 9/11. We are not facing the mass murder of all our children if we do not pass a new AWB. Taking away the power of the President to kill without Due Process will not dissolve the Republic.
We will NEVER face chaos by acting with reserve when contemplating our Rights & the restriction thereof. And we never have to justify not allowing a restriction to pass.