“We give up our rights one piece at a time,” a West Virginia banker named Charlie Houck stated to West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin recently during a meeting the Senator was holding in Beckley, WV on gun control.
Yes, we do, Mr. Houck.
Let’s go over some of the many rights we have already given up, one piece at a time:
We’ve given up the right to force ourselves sexually on other people.
We’ve given up the right to murder someone else.
We’ve given up the right to abuse children.
We’ve given up the right to take anything we want from anyone too weak to defend her or himself.
We’ve given up the right to drive an automobile without insurance or a license. We’ve given up the right to just keep driving—speed limits, red lights and stop signs deter us.
We’ve given up the right not to hire someone just because she or he is a racial or ethnic minority, a woman, disabled or gay.
We’ve given up the right to sell food that’s spoiled or adulterated or to sell products that don’t meet safety standards. Or to sell products that don’t do what the sellers say they will do.
We’ve given up the right to burn down our neighbor’s home.
We’ve given up the right to steal words and images that other people created and say that we did it.
I could go on and on for pages about the rights we no longer have, some of which we gave up millennia ago, some of which we gave up before recorded history.
And I for one am delighted that all these rights have gone, because without these restrictions on rights and hundreds of others, we—the people—could not have a civil society. Civilization is all about restricting rights. When we are part of society, we agree to restrict our rights for the greater good and to protect ourselves from the harm that others would inflict on us if they exercised those “rights.” It’s called the social compact.
Rights change over time. In the past, many societies, including much of the United States, had the right to own slaves. No more, thank goodness. Through most of the history of the United States, employers had the right to hire children, work them long hours and pay them pennies. No more, thank goodness.
Many of these restrictions evolved as society changed. For example, when automobiles first came out, there were no rules of the road, no stop signs, no red or yellow lights, no speed limits. But soon there were so many cars around, we had to develop rules and we had to require that those operated cars have insurance.
Often we give up one set of rights to gain another one, or some people gain rights at the expense of others. For example, when minorities and women gradually gained workplace rights, racist and misogynist employers lost the right to discriminate. And it’s a damn good thing they did!
At this point in time, only extremists (like me) want to outlaw private ownership of guns. What mainstream organizations and elected officials are asking for is to restrict the absolute right to own and carry a gun—for the safety of society. What’s so problematic about requiring that there is a background check before all gun sales? Why should anyone have a problem with restricting the right to carry a loaded weapon in public places such as college campuses, hospitals and schools? Why should gun owners object to paying insurance to cover the damage done to people in gun violence?
And why can’t pro-gun extremists see the necessity of outlawing a type of weapon responsible for most of the mass murders in the United States, a weapon that, as Senator Manchin has noted in the past, is not used by hunters or target shooters?
As society evolves, we—the people—uncover more rights we have to give up and more rights to give to ourselves. That’s called progress. We already have given up the 18th century views of women’s rights, slavery and intellectual property. It’s about time that we progressed from our 18th century mindset when it comes to guns.