Quantcast

Guns Are a Right, Yes—but Do They Have to Be? | The Nation

  •  
Mychal Denzel Smith

Mychal Denzel Smith

All the blackness that’s fit to print. And some that isn’t. 

Guns Are a Right, Yes—but Do They Have to Be?


Protesters, some armed (L), attend a pro-gun rally as part of the National Day of Resistance at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, February 23, 2013. (REUTERS/Jim Urquhart)

We are at a point in the debate over gun control where these are dueling headlines: “At Least 71 Kids Have Been Killed With Guns Since Newtown” versus “A march on Washington with loaded rifles.” Given the status of gun control legislation in Congress, they’re equally infuriating, but one gives insight into why this debate is stalled.

Libertarian radio host Adam Kokesh is planning a gathering of gun owners and gun rights activist where they will…maybe it’s best to read him in his words. From the Facebook page:

On the morning of July 4, 2013, Independence Day, we will muster at the National Cemetery & at noon we will step off to march across the Memorial Bridge, down Independence Avenue, around the Capitol, the Supreme Court, & the White House, then peacefully return to Virginia across the Memorial Bridge. This is an act of civil disobedience, not a permitted event. We will march with rifles loaded & slung across our backs to put the government on notice that we will not be intimidated & cower in submission to tyranny. We are marching to mark the high water mark of government & to turn the tide. This will be a non-violent event, unless the government chooses to make it violent. Should we meet physical resistance, we will peacefully turn back, having shown that free people are not welcome in Washington, & returning with the resolve that the politicians, bureaucrats, & enforcers of the federal government will not be welcome in the land of the free.

Currently, 3400+ people on Facebook have stated their intention of participating (an admittedly shoddy means by which to gauge likely attendance), but it makes me wonder if anyone involved is reading the same news that I am.

What’s telling is the language used to promote this action. On May 3, Kokesh tweeted: “When the government comes to take your guns, you can shoot government agents, or submit to slavery.”

It’s not that he doesn’t know the horrors of guns, but that he views his right to own guns as integral to his freedom as an American. That’s the strain of thinking among pro-gun folks that’s difficult to defeat.

It’s why Glenn Beck doesn’t flinch when co-opting the message and symbolism of Martin Luther King Jr., to promote a pro-gun rights agenda. King’s nonviolent philosophy isn’t as important to Beck as the fact that his life represents a fight for freedom and Beck sees his crusade in the same light.

Here’s a thought this group may want to consider: the rights we have can, and do, have and will continue to change.

Slavery was once a right. Now-outdated notions of privacy and property allowed marital rape as a right. But the costs of those rights were the violation of others’ rights, and we reached a point as a society (through much debate, struggle, blood, sweat, tears and more) where we decided that protecting rights like slavery and marital rape was no longer worth the damage they inflicted. Alcohol was a right, then it wasn’t, and then it was again because prohibiting drinking caused more trouble than we were able to tolerate. However, when the right returned it did not go unchecked. This is how we negotiate rights in a democracy.

Reading this for free? Chip in—fight the right with our reader-supported journalism.

But on guns, we seem unwilling to even consider the idea that a citizenry free to bear arms may impose more of a threat to freedom than it guarantees. I understand why that is, as guns are tied into our national identity, our sense of masculinity, our desire for power, and it frightens some of us to think who we would be without that. And then more headlines read “13-year-old Florida boy shoots 6-year-old with handgun at home” and I just want us to pause to consider: Is the right to bear arms worth the deaths of our children?

We may well decide that it is, but a debate about guns that is afraid of that core question isn’t one worth having.

Assata Shakur is a black woman who dared to fight an unfair conviction—so the US government labeled her one of its “Most Wanted Terrorists,” Mychal Denzel Smith writes.

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.