One of the annoying questions that gun control advocates ask those of us who exercise the rights protected by the Second Amendment is why we need to own a particular firearm or why we need to carry it in public. This is yet another example of framing the debate, but it raises important points about the attitudes our opponents hold.
It’s a common observation among people on our side that the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution isn’t called the Bill of Needs. This risks being a cliché, but read the text. Two kinds of rights are enumerated here, natural or basic rights and civil rights. For purposes of this discussion, I’m using “natural or basic rights” to describe the rights we’re born with, while “civil rights” are rights we agree to give each other due to a contract or a law. The First, Second, Fourth, and Ninth Amendments use language that implies those rights are ones we possessed before the Constitution was written. None of those use words like create, give, or grant. No law shall be made, shall not be infringed, shall not be violated, and shall not be construed to deny or disparage others—all of that assumes the rights are pre-existing.
The other amendments list acceptable procedures in court cases or address the powers of the states. I’d call the right to a jury trial for any dispute that exceeds $20 a civil right, since it’s an arbitrary monetary value that depends on the currency the nation has created, but underlying these procedural rights is the idea that we are presumed innocent and free by virtue of being alive. It’s the government’s duty to provide evidence if we’re accused of crime and the government’s duty to follow the rules.
Some will point out that guns are the product of a society and are therefore not the subject of natural rights. This is true as far as it goes, but owning property and defending ourselves from violent attack are the basic right of each person, and even if human beings weren’t born with gun rights in the ancient world, guns as effective tools had existed for centuries in 1791, and the Framers treated them as a right we already had.
All of that addresses how our organizing law treats rights, but to return to the opening question, how does this relate to need? The question of what we need is complex. As a science fiction writer, for example, I spend a good deal of time at the start of a story considering what human beings need to survive in a given context. We have to have food, water, and air, of course, though the minimums are a matter of debate, but we also need gravity, artificial or real. In psychological terms, we have Maslow’s hierarchy, running from the physiological requirements that a hypothetical starship must supply up to self-actualization that involves testing our limits and achieving great things (there’s that ship again). The lower levels of the hierarchy are the same for everyone, more or less, but as we move up the list, things become increasingly individual. While we all need actualization, what that means to me is not necessarily the same for what it means to you.
But do we need rights? Survival experts say we can live three weeks without food, three days without water, and three minutes without air. How long can we survive without rights?
Physically, we can live in a police state, so long as we’re careful not to step out of line. In a tyranny like North Korea, survival is a matter of luck—of avoiding suffering under the whims of the Dear Leader. So do we need free expression of our thoughts, participation in the governing of our society, or, yes, possession and use of firearms?
To be fully human, we do. At least, that was the assertion made by our Declaration of Independence. The pursuit of happiness is stated as our birthright, as something that is inherent in human nature. Now “happiness” meant good fortune, not good cheer (same root as happen and happenstance), and got at the idea that to be human, we have to have the opportunity to find out for ourselves what we can do, not receive our lives as a gift from our masters. In that way, rights and needs do merge if we accept Maslow’s claim.
Thus the answer to the question—Why do you need that?—is that we need to be free to make our own choices. We can wander through the endless details about what is best for self-defense or hunting or target shooting, but those are all practical, not fundamental matters. I need to be myself, and unless I’m harming you, my decisions are my own business.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.