It seems these days everybody has rights, and don’t we all know them? The right not to be offended, the right not to be upset, the right to have what you want, when you want it. The right of religion. The right to bear arms.
Who gave us these rights, exactly? Here I hear a cry of Americans shouting “The Constitution!” but that’s a document made up and written down by men who were claiming those rights for themselves. They weren’t naturally or intrinsically bestowed.
The truth is, rights turn us into entitled dickheads. At a basic level, people use defence of their “rights” to justify abusing cashiers and servers (because the customer is always right); they use a warped idea of their religious rights to impose upon and restrict the freedoms of others; and by the time we get all the way up to a political level, they’re exercising their rights with such narrow-minded vigour that people are literally dying as a result.
Yesterday there was yet another mass shooting, this time in California. It’s the third high-profile such shooting in less than ten days (the Black Lives Matter shooting in Chicago, and Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs being the other two for those living under a rock). The motivations of the shooters will be played out across the media in the coming weeks and no doubt levied for political gain, but whatever ideology it turns out they do or don’t subscribe to, one fact is clear: you can’t go on a rampage and shoot thirty-one people in less than fifteen minutes if you don’t have automatic weapons.
The logic, statistics, and real-world evidence all speak for themselves: less guns means less gun deaths. Every other nation has responded to a rise in civilian gun violence with stricter gun control, and it has worked. Unequivocally. Only America responds by hand-wringing, sending prayers, and actually relaxing the gun laws, and the number of shootings goes up and up and up. More people have died as a result of domestic gun violence in America in the last fifty years than the cumulative number of the nation’s war dead since the Civil War ended (1.52 million vs just shy of 1.4 million).
So what’s preventing America from following the rest of the world back to the path of sanity? People’s rights. Specifically, a “right” founded on a warped interpretation of the Second Amendment which the NRA has harnessed to wield political clout and keep the guns rolling off the production lines and into the hands of eager consumers, who think their “right” to own an AK47 is more important than a child’s right to end a school day safely, or a demonstrator’s right to peaceful protest, or a woman’s right to healthcare.
The first school shooting should have been enough. Instead, they’ve happened again and again so often that now people are numb to them. I cannot believe that one of the most advanced nations in the world accepts without question their five-year-olds practising what to do in the event of a deranged shooter bursting into their classroom, rather than address the matter of gun control. It boggles me. I will never, ever understand it. Still less can I understand people I consider in other respects perfectly reasonable and decent reacting with a “Yeah, but… I don’t want to give up my guns,” whenever I broach the subject. If you think your “right” to own a recreational firearm outweighs a child’s right to be safe in school, you’re part of the problem.
But that is the problem with rights: we all think ours trump everybody else’s. In my book, that makes rights very, very wrong.