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Your Rights Stop Here

November 20, 2011

Who owns you?  It is a simple question once you get past the distractions.  In America we say that you are born with rights that can’t be removed: we say you own yourself.   In theory you have the right to protect your body from harm since you own yourself.  This is the most basic right you have.  That is theory, and then there are the many exceptions you find in practice.  A bill in congress, HR 822, would require states to recognize some firearms permits issued by other states.  The bill is pretty simple.  If a state grants concealed carry permits to its own citizens, then it has to recognize those permits granted by other states.  Some legislators claim the bill violates states rights.  They claim each state may violate your civil right to self-defense as the state sees fit.  I disagree.  I think their opposition is a poorly disguised discussion over who owns you.

But we can’t let you defend yourself in public!  

You might have the right of self-defense in your own home if you own your own home, but not if you rent a house or apartment.   In some states your rights stop as you step into your back yard or your garage.  You loose the right of self-defense in your home if your home is a mobile home, an RV, a bus, a van, or a long haul truck.  Then your fundamental and inalienable right to self-defense is denied.  The state where you live can recognize your rights and give you a permit to carry a concealed firearm.  Across the street in the state where you work they might deny you that same right for any of a number of reasons.  The most frequent reason is that you are not a citizen of that state.  Your rights stop at the border.

But we don’t want crazy people and criminals to have guns in our state!  

Each state demands the right to its own background examinations, interviews and fingerprint search.  I think that is a distraction.  Why should the state decide who is armed rather than the county?  Why  the county rather than  my small town?  For that matter, why not have my neighbors decide rather than the town government?  My neighbors know me better than any law enforcement agency, and I am the person most at risk if my neighbors are reckless with a gun.   By this logic I should need a new permit each time I change apartments.  My rights stop at the street corner.  May I see your papers please!

But we need to review your permit every few years!

Your permit might expire in five years or in one year, but why not require a new permit every month.  We would be safer if states required residency for a decade before you can apply for a permit.   Wouldn’t it be safer if my permit was only good for a week?  If safety is the goal, then a daily permit renewal would probably be best.  To me this seems like the southern sheriff that wants to know about my grandparents before he will grant me a permit.  Your rights come with an expiration date.

But we need to cover the cost of registration and renewal!

How much should it cost you to exercise your rights?  In some states there is no cost for concealed carry, while it is far from free in other states.  My experience has been that all state registration costs go up with the size of the state debt.  In some states, you are welcome to all the rights you can pay for.  Will you be paying for your rights today with a cashier’s check or cash?

But guns are different because they kill people!

Most firearms provide self-defense without ever being discharged.  Proof is in the fact that most policemen never fire their gun in the line of duty.  It is unfortunate that we will have accidents with guns just like any other tool, and we want to minimize those accidents.  The answer is training rather than prohibition.   We don’t outlaw cars because they are dangerous; we encourage driver training classes for new drivers.  I have to wonder if the issue is promoting safety or if the issue is about advancing state control.  Our rights stop when we are not granted a permission slip from the state.

But we want to keep guns away from criminals!

Stopping an honest citizen from having a gun has never disarmed a criminal.  Instead, gun prohibition has disarmed the victim and increased violent crime.  The reasons are simple. Citizens are more likely to see criminals break the law than are the police.  Citizens are more likely to be the victims of crime than are the police.  Citizens are far more likely to stop crime while it is in progress than are the police.  Despite those facts, some legislators think that only the police should have the means to defend themselves.  That sounds like we are prescribing more of the problem and calling it a cure.  That sounds like our rights stop unless we are a government employee.

But guns are too dangerous for citizens to handle responsibly!

Yes, guns can kill.  So will cars and bicycles.  Here in the United States, automobiles will injure a hundred times more people that handguns.  We should outlaw cars and free speech if  our only goal was safety.  After all, free speech is dangerous, and so is the internet.  This ignores the other side of the utilitarian argument because, like our other tools, firearms will also save lives.

It is a bad bargain to restrict freedom by balancing risk and reward, by telling us a tool is too dangerous for us to handle.  The judgement is influenced by who is at risk and who is rewarded by restricting our rights.  Soon the government decides if we could be a possible threat as well as the tools we use.  There are legal and historical precedents for such laws.  The Jim Crow slave laws said black people were a threat.  Your rights end when you’re a minority.

Self-defense isn’t the real issue!

I think some legislators talk about safety while they are really seeking control.  The heart of the issue is that they fear your freedom.  This isn’t a trivial concern because bad laws take generations to be overturned, if they are overturned at all.  Legislators are arguing about the weight of your shackles and the length of your chains when they regulate the right of self-defense.   They are not worried about your safety, but about theirs.  Now we are trying to find out who owns you.  Are you owned by the nation, the state, the county or your neighbors?

Me, I don’t own slaves.  I think you are free and should remain free.  I think HR822 is a step toward recognizing your freedom.  Yes, some politicians disagree,  and it is important to know who they are.  This bill might not pass the senate.  It might be vetoed by the president.  That is important because each vote will tell us something.  Each vote will tell us more than a thousand campaign promises.  We will learn where our rights stop.  We will learn who thinks they own us.

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