The NRA would take away our right not to own a gun

by Alan Cohen

Continuing my stream of gun-control-related posts, a brief reflection on the implications of the gun rights folks’ positions.

Briefly, they are arguing that the solution to gun crimes is more guns in the hands of everyday folks. Rep. Louie Gohmert on Newtown: “I wish to God [the Sandy Hook principal] had an M-4 in her office locked up — so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands.” The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre today: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

What this means is that they wish to push for a society where there is not only the right to own whatever guns we can imagine, but that not owning one becomes dangerous and an abdication of moral responsibility. What if a school principal doesn’t like guns, or is not a good shot? Would they have us move toward a world where she could lose her job?

As with most rights, your rights can interfere with mine. Your right to smoke interferes with my right to breathe tobacco-free air. The Westboro Baptist Church’s right to free speech interferes with the rights of families to have quiet dignified funerals. As in a recent court case here in Canada, the religious right to wear a veil in court interferes with the right of the accused to confront the accuser and to a fair trial. These can be hard questions for societies to negotiate.

Up until recently, the right to bear arms did interfere with the right to life (for murder victims) but did not interfere with the right of others not to bear arms. But these recent statements suggest the gun rights folks would like to move us to a world where, though there is a theoretical right not to bear arms, no one would feel safe without one, and some people might be obliged to have them at work. Personally, I’m happy up here in Canada where people would be disturbed if I carried around a handgun, rather than feeling pressured to.

It’s worth noting that the gun manufacturers are a major force behind many gun rights organizations. Hmmm, I wonder what they would feel about a world where more and more people were obliged to buy their products? The gun rights folks like slippery slope arguments. Well here’s one for them: if we don’t stop this craziness now, we’re moving toward a world where no one can feel safe unless they have a gun, effectively depriving us of the right to live without guns.