by Greg Hopkins and Rob Morse
Is there a human right to self-defense? The answer might change once Republicans control the federal government. Legislative and judicial decision will rest on who makes the rules rather than who makes the best arguments. The argument will not be if there is a right of self-defense, but rather which particular right of self-defense is recognized. Here is what is at stake.
As a concrete and current example, California can regulate the cars that California citizens can drive. So far, you can visit California with a “non-California compliant” car. California applies a different standard to visiting gun owners. California does not recognize any other states’ concealed carry permits. California also requires customized guns and ammunition, just as they require customized automobiles. California refuses to recognize your right to self-defense.
In California, even local governments have the right to infringe on your right to self-defense. You don’t have much of a right left if the state, county, and city can establish their own regulations. It shouldn’t surprise you that California state politicians and the police are exempt from these same firearms regulations.
California gun laws are stranger still. It seems that some “local control” is approved, but some local control isn’t. Regulation only goes one way. One government body can say “some guns are outlawed”, but a second government body cannot say “everyone must be armed” because guns save lives. Before you think a law like that is absurd, remember that there is already legal precedent for exactly such a law. The US Supreme Court recently ruled that citizens can be forced to buy health insurance. Therefore, citizens can also be forced to buy firearms, and be fined if they don’t. “It’s only a tax.” to quote Chief Justice Roberts. You see, rules matter after all.
Determining the rules will determine who defines the right of self-defense.
A recent ruling by the 9th Circuit leaves individual sheriffs to decide which California citizens may carry a gun in public. That decision is based on nothing more than each sheriff’s personal prejudices.
Civilians and law enforcement look the same on the firearms training range, yet, ultimately a sheriff gets to arbitrarily decide who lives and who dies out on the streets. It is ironic that law enforcement officials disarm honest gun owners, yet violent felons remain armed. Criminals ignore our gun laws, including the licensing requirements that disarm private citizens. Lives are at stake.
As I say in my book, self-defense is the difference between you getting to tell the cops what happened; and cops guessing what happened as they draw a chalk line around your body. In California, the courts and legislature are perfectly okay with the risk to your life by letting sheriffs make the rules. This patchwork application of a fundamental right is clearly a violation of “equal protection” under the 14th Amendment.
What kind of right do we have?
Is the right of self-defense a super-right, like the right to abortion? Judges ruled that the failure of government to provide subsidized abortion everywhere was the loss of a human right. If the right of self-defense is treated the same way, then we should subsidize guns, ammunition, and shooting ranges for poor people in remote areas.
Is the right of self-defense granted by law, or is it merely recognized by law? The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that we have “the ancient right of individuals to keep and bear arms”. In other words, the natural right of self-defense, and the necessary tools to exercise that right, do not depend on the Constitution. The Constitution merely recognized this God-given right which is inherent to every person.
In sharp contrast, California passed a law in 2015 that any person alleged to be mentally unstable or dangerous can, without a hearing, have their guns seized until a hearing is held. This tramples the 2nd Amendment and also the 4th Amendment right of individuals to be secure in in their persons, houses papers and things. In California, you’re no longer innocent until proven guilty.
Since the right of self-defense is a fundamental right, can local governments forbid it? The Supreme Court said the right of self-defense must be preserved, but can be regulated. For example, felons and the mentally ill may be denied the use of firearms. Guns may also be restricted in some sensitive areas like courthouses. These restrictions have been recognized for hundreds of years.
The founders allowed ordinary citizens to own cannon, yet today, California restricts the legally allowed color of guns that ordinary citizens can possess. In addition, California dictates the smallest details of a firearm. That sure sounds like infringement to us.
Is the right of self-defense a fundamental right? We can easily make this case:
-An armed populace is critical to the government interest of public safety. (Remember that the cops are not there to protect you.)
-Acknowledging the right to be armed imposes the fewest restrictions on the general public compared to the broad regulation necessary to provide the same level of public safety.
-Armed civilians offer the greatest scope of private action compared to the oppressive police state required to achieve the same degree of public safety.
Is regulating the right of self-defense in the interest of the general public, or are politicians regulating for their narrow benefit? Politicians usually take the political positions which get them the largest campaign contributions. Are the gun laws that restrict your rights motivated by statistical research into public safety, or are they motivated by campaign donations. Sadly, we can follow the money to determine which legislators will deny your right to self-defense.
Politicians are lured by more than money. Some politicians love to exercise power over others. Like Hollywood celebrities, these politicians will have armed security with them for the rest of their lives. They travel and are protected at taxpayer expense, while at the same time these politicians deny you the right to protect your family in public. Many politicians would deny you the right to own guns altogether if they could.
Do legislators only have to offer up a good sounding justification for regulation, or do legal restrictions actually have to make us safer? Politicians and their hired consultants will provide mountains of excuses why they had to restrict our rights in the name of the public good. Politicians will claim that private gun ownership interferes with the police powers of the state. History shows us the bloody results when governments are armed and citizens are left defenseless. (and here, and here)
Politicians will tell us the science is settled, but a politician’s opinion isn’t historical fact. There is no real data that conclusively shows the benefits of gun control in reducing the rate of homicide. In contrast, we’ve seen the rate of gun ownership double in the last few decades. Homicide rates declined by half over the same time period.
Those are the nature of the arguments that will be made, both for and against the right of self-defense. Unfortunately, politicians and regulators will continue to accept campaign donations and violate our rights until they are prosecuted in court for doing so.
Is the right of self-defense merely a matter of politics? Elected officials may resort to brute politics to get their way. Federal officials may say to the states, “Do what I say, or no highway and school funding for you.” We’ve seen that done before. As we stated, the right of self-defense is a fundamental, inherently human, and preexisting right affirmed and enshrined by the 2nd Amendment. It is the “life” part of the “self-evident” truths of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Without the right to life, and the right to defend it, then liberty and the pursuit of happiness are moot points.
Fundamental rights should not be subject to politics except to make them inviolable by courts or legislatures. It is up to citizens like us to hold our legislatures to their true purpose of protecting our rights.
Image: Shutterstock; ID:516406285; Copyright: larry1235