Rights versus right?

Guest post by Elaine Sylvester

 

12 people were killed when a gunman entered a theater in Aurora, Colorado, and proceeded to open fire on the captive audience.

Like many news-hungry Americans, I spent a sizable percentage of the days after combing the Internet for insight into the cruelties that we witnessed from afar. And though I still feel cold inside, it can be nothing compared to what the families of the victims feel. Or the terror that they felt not knowing the status of a loved one.

I remember feeling that on September 11th, 2001. I never want to feel that way again.

Unfortunately, we cannot choose to be given happy lives. We can only choose how we live the lives that we are given.

I cannot help but think of my freshman year philosophy class in which we discussed Hobbes’ theory of a social contract. The idea that we must give up some of our lesser Rights to insure the protection of our “natural rights” (or inalienable Rights) by the state. Hobbes posits that it is only through mutual sacrifice that we transcend our “state of nature” and function as a society.

The Right to own guns is a Right given to us by the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. I do not pretend to comprehend the thoughts or beliefs of our founding forefathers in their decision to include this (although it seems reasonable considering the British militia regime). I do not argue with the Justices of the United States when they upheld this Right in District of Columbia v. Heller.

But perhaps, in the pursuit of a great United States for those generations that will come after us, we might discuss the possibility that the Right to bear arms is a Right that we could readily compromise.

To save the victims of future massacres.

Yes, I understand that people feel the need to protect themselves against the world. And, yes, I understand that one way to protect yourself is to carry a gun.

But when the same law that arms you kills you, wouldn’t it just be easier if no civilian had that Right?

And yes, I know guns don’t kill people. People kill people. But, personally, I’ve never heard of a single man acting on his own without a gun killing 10 (Jacksonville 1999, Alabama 2009), 12 (Aurora 2012, Tucson 2011, Columbine 1999), 13 (Fort Hood 2009, Binghamton 2009), 16 (Austin 1966), 21 (San Ysidro 1984), 23 (Killeen, Texas 1991), or 32 (Virginia Tech 2007) people at one time. It only seems to be the ones with guns who do that.

Truth be told, we have given up a lot of our Rights already. The Right to remain unpunished is one. Imagine a world without regulation. There is no ruling body to dictate what constitutes a crime, and thus you retain the Right to live unpunished.

You give up this Right when you agree to live in a community with others. By living in a society we have agreed to live by rules that restrict the Rights of all of us to better the lives of all.

We have simply already internalized this lack of Rights as the cost of living in a civilized society.

No one wants to lose all their Rights. But maybe it is only wise to trade some in to build a safer society, which would ultimately save our inalienable Rights (like the Right to live).

So, in my naiveté, I would relinquish this Right to bear arms. It is a choice; to knowingly accept the risks of remaining unarmed, open to attack. If that makes it even a little bit harder for the mass shooters of the world to get a gun, I’m okay with that.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way unless an entire society joins the social contract. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. People are concerned with protecting their own; and that doesn’t make them bad, it makes them human.

So I guess, I just wanted to tell you all that I’m glad you’re alive. And that if I am ever gunned down by a gunman, I want you to know that I would have much preferred that he didn’t own the gun legally. Then I’d at least know that my country’s inhabitants were trying to protect all of us instead of just the armed individuals.

Maybe I am too young to understand. But I wish that we spent more time on what is right, and not on Rights.

 

 

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