One of the favorite arguments given by advocates of gun control is that slavery was once a right, but now it’s not, and thus gun rights can be repealed as well. This reveals a couple of confusions in the anti-rights narrative that we have to be clear on when defending our position.
The first point here is the misconception that slavery was ever properly speaking a right. Yes, slavery was legal in many states at the time of this nation’s founding. That peculiar institution received indirect protection in our Constitution, though the word, slavery, is only mentioned in the amendment that abolishes it. And many of the founders recognized that slavery was not a right but was in fact, as Thomas Jefferson referred to it, a “moral depravity.” Jefferson and others were addicted to slavery, but like many addicts, they understood that what they were dependent on was a great wrong.
But as the Ninth Amendment reminds us, not every right is enumerated in the Constitution. Could slavery have been a right, even while being recognized as an evil? As I’ve said many times before, basic rights are the inherent possession of each human being. This may be regarded as an article of faith in Enlightenment thinking, though I see it as based on our ability to make choices. Someone who wishes to constrain my actions must explain to me on what grounds he or she has any business doing so, and out of a sense of pragmatism, I agree to hold myself under the same obligation if I wish to constrain what you choose to do. Note how slavery is precisely a violation of this implicit agreement. The idea that one person can own another is the antithesis of rights.
To say, then, that slavery was once a right exposes a false view of the subject. The claim here treats rights as a small list of permitted behaviors granted to us by governments that can just as well take them away without our having any just cause to complain. As always, if you want to see a gun control advocate’s head spin, raise the subject of any other right and watch how quickly rights become something sacred and inviolable.
The second flaw is closely related to what I’ve already discussed. In the same way that laws protecting slavery didn’t make the possession of slaves a right, repealing the Second Amendment wouldn’t erase rights. This is something we must hammer home in debates with advocates of control and with people who are undecided. Fundamental rights are neither created nor destroyed by the law. This may seem to be an abstract argument, but when we look at real behaviors, we see that Americans agree with the concept of inalienable rights. Take as an example of this the non-compliance of New Yorkers with the NY SAFE Act. Laws come and go, but the stubborn insistence of Americans that we will make choices for ourselves remain. Just as with Prohibition, if the Second Amendment were to be repealed and guns strictly regulated or banned, lots of good people in this country would accept that being good doesn’t always mean following the law. And just as we recognized that both slavery and Prohibition were violations, not expressions of rights, we won’t be confused by the obfuscations of gun control advocates.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.