A Tale of Two Rights
By John D. Turner
4 Jan 2013

I hear a lot about “rights;” this is a “right” or that is a “right” or ought to be a “right”. So what is a “right” anyway? Walter E. Williams, in the following video, makes the distinction between a right and a wish. Many people today seem to get the two confused.

Our founders believed that rights came from God, as part of our humanity, not from government. “That we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights,” penned Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, “among which are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Thus, government did not grant rights, for what a government can give, a government can also take away.

Judge Andrew Napolitano agrees, writing that “a right is a gift from God that extends from our humanity.” Fulton Huxtable, writing for the Free Republic puts it as “the sovereignty to act without the permission of others,” noting that it is universal; that it “applies to all men, not just to a few.”

The first ten amendments to the Constitution, also known as the Bill of Rights, enumerate some of the basic rights of Americans. Their existence was a condition of ratification demanded by the “Anti-Federalists” who feared that the Constitution, which contained very few explicitly guaranteed individual rights, threatened personal liberties. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison, complained that the omission of a bill of rights was a major flaw in its design, noting that “A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth.”

For his part, Madison was skeptical of the value of adding such a list, which he referred to as a “parchment barrier,” noting that such bills had never worked at the state level. He believed liberty was protected through the division of powers, and by specifically enumerating what things the federal government was allowed to do. Indeed, in Federalist #45, Madison stated: “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”

Madison and others feared that listing specific rights would imply that only those rights were protected and that the government would feel free to encroach in areas not specifically mentioned. For this reason, the ninth amendment, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people,” was added.

Whether one believes, as did Jefferson, that there are unalienable rights that accrue to us as a condition of our humanity or not, the fact of the matter is that now, as throughout history, “rights” truly are determined by governments; “die gedanken” might truly be “frei,” but it is governments that determine our fate here on earth. You can have free thoughts in a concentration camp, but you are still in the concentration camp. Thus it is here in the United States of America, as it is on every country on the face of the planet.

Which brings me to two rights “guaranteed” to us here in the United States; the right to keep and bear arms, granted to us in the second amendment to the constitution and the right to an abortion, granted by the US Supreme Court courtesy of their ruling in Roe v Wade. It is instructive to look at these two because they not only illustrate the polarization in this country between the right and the left, but also illustrate what are to me, extreme examples of how “rights” are and can be treated in this country, and how the government can go about protecting or trampling our “rights”.

In general, the right to bear arms is championed on the right, and demonized on the left, while the right to an abortion is just the opposite. I say “in general,” because like most things there is plenty of grey to go around. There are those who champion the right to bear arms that also have no problem with the right to an abortion, or as the left likes to call it, “a woman’s right to choose.”

There are those on either side who see no problem with “reasonable” limits on either right. The problem here, as with most things, is the definition of “reasonable,” which varies from individual to individual. And there are those on both sides who accept no compromise, believing that any compromise would lead to a “slippery slope” whereby they would incrementally lose that right until the entire thing was gone. I wish I could say that they are wrong, but history seems to indicate that, however long it may take, inevitably such an eventuality will occur.

The right to keep and bear arms is once more under attack by the left, this time given impetus by the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Democrats, led by Diane Feinstein have vowed to bring multiple gun control bills before their respective houses as soon as possible. Vice President Biden has promised that President Obama will pass sweeping firearms reforms by the end of January. How will he do that? My guess is that such legislation will be included in the upcoming bill raising the debt ceiling, an issue that President Obama has already publically stated he will not compromise on.

What is it that Democrats don’t seem to understand about the word “infringed” as it appears in the second amendment: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”? Actually, there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about this word. Currently, at the local, state, and federal level, there are 20,000 gun laws according to some. Other’s dispute this; a Brookings Institute study counts “only” 300 “relevant federal and state laws regarding the manufacture, design, sale, purchase, or possession of guns.” Of course, that begs the question of the definition of the word “relevant” in this instance. Regardless of whether the proper answer is 300 or 20,000 or somewhere in between, how about we take a look at the definition of the key word “infringe” as it is used in the phrase “shall not be infringed.”

Infringe - 1. To transgress or exceed the limits of; violate: infringe a contract; infringe a patent - to infringe is to encroach on a right or privilege or to violate. 2. (Obsolete) To defeat; invalidate. [Root: Latin: infringere, to destroy] - The FreeDictionary

We see here that the word infringe comes from the Latin word infringer, which means “to destroy.” So in other words, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be destroyed. Well ok, so we can’t destroy it, but perhaps we can bend it just a bit, eh?

The second definition, to defeat or invalidate would leave us with “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be invalidated.” That seems to be more in line with the original intent of the amendment as I have read it, historically speaking. But you say, the definition cites it as being obsolete. True. But what does that mean? How long does a meaning have to fall into disuse before it is deemed “obsolete?” Fifty years? A hundred years? This amendment was penned 294 years ago. How long does an “obsolete” word stay in a dictionary before it is dropped all together? Just because a meaning is “obsolete” today doesn’t mean that it was obsolete when written. Of course, there are those in America today who believe that the amendment itself is obsolete.

Yep, the gun control fanatics on the left don’t seem to have much understanding of the word “infringed” when it applies to the second amendment. They have been chipping away at the right of the people to keep and bear arms for years now. Somehow to them, restricting who can own a gun, what kind of a gun you can own, how many rounds it can fire, even what attachments you can put on it is not “infringing.” Requiring you to register, submit to a background check, submit to fingerprinting, paying a hefty “tax”; forcing you to surrender your firearm to the government upon your death instead of being able to pass it on to your heirs - none of these are, to the left, and “infringement” on your right to keep and bear arms.

But, when it comes to abortion, another right, this time one that the left supports with every fiber of their being, then it seems that the left understands the meaning of the word “infringe”. For when it comes to abortion, nothing, absolutely nothing can be allowed to sully a woman’s absolute ability to kill their unborn child at any time before it becomes totally viable outside her womb. Every attempt to put any sort of restriction on that, to the left, most sacred of rights has been met with court case after court case and gone down to defeat, with the result that, in today’s America, at least in some places, a woman can elect to abort at any point during a pregnancy from conception until the umbilical cord is finally severed after the child has left her body.

Those who advocate banning so-called “assault weapons” cry and moan about the “hundreds of deaths’ these weapons “cause” every year. “How can you defend a right that has led to the deaths of 26 people, including 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary just because of a selfish desire to own a weapon that you have no need for in the first place,” they ask?

And yet they are silent concerning the approximately 1.35 million children that are aborted each year in the United States. Based on data from the CDC and the Guttmacher Institute, more than 54.5 million abortions have been performed since abortion became legal in 1973. That’s 54.5 million children who never had the opportunity to smile, never played, never lived a life, never had even 5 to 10 years to live before being gunned down by a madman.

A child in America has a greater chance of never even being born than they do being killed by gunfire. Yes, what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary was terrible. But why should 60 million Americans be forced to give up their second amendment rights because of the act of a madman?

Each year, thousands of children are killed or maimed by the act of an uncaring individual who gets behind the wheel of a car after having a bit too much to drink. Should we ban cars? According to FBI statistics, more people are killed each year with hammers and clubs than are killed with rifles. Should we ban hammers and clubs? And yet legislation is coming to ban certain kinds of rifles, deemed “assault rifles,” despite the fact that 99.99% of such are used responsibly and are not involved in crimes of any sort.

Guns are tools, used for a variety of purposes from recreation to providing food to self-defense. Like many tools, they are dangerous if used improperly. They can maim, even kill. Each year an estimated 40,000 people are injured in chainsaw accidents; some of these die. I own an electric chainsaw. I have never been to a class on how to operate a chainsaw. There was an instruction manual in the box, but except for information on how to change the blade, I have never read it. I am not a professional chainsaw operator. I store my chainsaw in a shed in the back yard. It is conceivable that my chainsaw could be stolen and that someone could be injured or killed by my stolen chainsaw. It is possible that a child could get into my back yard, sneak into my shed, plug in my chainsaw, and be injured or killed. Should I be allowed to have a chainsaw? Should there perhaps be laws regarding chainsaw regulation?

There are many things which we own in our daily lives that are dangerous if used improperly. There are many things which we own that perhaps we do not “need,” at least by the definitions of others. Should we not be allowed to own such items? The fastest speed limit on the nation’s highways is 85 mph. Does anyone really “need” a car that can go 120 mph or faster? Liberals say that only licensed professionals should be allowed to possess guns because they are dangerous and kill people. Should you therefore not be allowed to own such a car unless you are a licensed professional driver operating it strictly on a racetrack?

Why is it that a right that allows the deliberate killing of 1.35 million American children a year is ok and untouchable, but the right that allows Americans the ability to own firearms for self-protection, where deaths both deliberate and accidental are vastly less, must be tightly restricted? Some on the left have even called for outright confiscation!

It would be nice if we lived in a world free from all danger, but we do not. Believe it or not, about 40 children die each year by drowning in a 5 gallon water pail. Around 350 people die each year drowning in their bathtubs. Shall we ban water pails and bath tubs too?

What we are witnessing here is the fulfillment of an agenda by those on the left who “never let a good crisis go to waste.” This is politicizing a tragedy under the guise of “protecting the children.” This will do nothing to stop such events in the future, but it will go a long way towards the disarming of America, something that in the long run may cause even more deaths than at this time can even be imagined.

Franklin once said that a society that is willing to give up essential liberty to purchase little temporary safety is deserving of neither. How much more so when the “safety” we think we have achieved is illusory. We would do well to heed his advice.