Wrong Question

Thursday, March 14, 2013

TheBlaze raises an interesting question regarding attempts in a couple of rural towns to require gun ownership:

Would mandating that citizens own guns violate their constitutional rights?
Its hand-waving answer is that it would not.
Some gun owners in Byron[, Maine] even spoke out after the vote, saying that they believe firearms are a right -- but that they should not be a requirement. This idea of requiring people to bear arms is nothing new, as it has roots in the nation's founding. That said, it's a relatively foreign concept in contemporary society.
Law professor Glenn Reynolds elaborates more definitively in reaction to the piece:
No, because it's an exercise of Congress's power to arm the militia under Article I, section 8. In fact, the Militia Act of 1792 required adult males to own guns and ammunition.
This may well be the case, but give some credit to TheBlaze, which raises a better question towards the end: "[D]oes it hamper individual rights?" This is on the right track, but the real question is this: "Does forcing people to own guns violate their individual rights?"

The proper answer is that it does, but to understand why requires one to step back and consider what individual rights are. I'll defer to Ayn Rand on this:
A "right" is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man's right to his own life. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action--which means: the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)

The concept of a "right" pertains only to action--specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.

Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive--of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights. [bold added]
I elaborated previously on how a requirement to bear arms represents coercion by other men (at the hands of their government), but I'll repeat myself here:
What's wrong with crime is that the victim is harmed or forced to act against his judgment. How is this different than someone who deems (reasonably or not) owning a handgun to be unnecessary, troublesome, or expensive, being made to spend his time and money on a gun purchase he otherwise wouldn't have made? (The law also paves the way for the government to tell citizens what to do in other ways, even if, in this case, they would buy guns or already own them.) A wrong decision about gun ownership in this situation does not harm or directly threaten anyone else.
Forcing people to own guns may well be constitutional, but so was slavery until the Constitution was amended. It can be important to ask whether something like a measure to force gun ownership is constitutional, but this is not the same thing as asking whether it ought to be.

Anyone who is genuinely concerned with protecting his right to bear arms in self-defense should steer clear of advocacy of (or even the mere appearance of acquiescence regarding) any requirement to keep arms. He should furthermore advocate individual rights on principled grounds, rather than on hinging his arguments on preexisting law, when such law can (and, in this case, should) be changed.

-- CAV

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