Gun Rights: What Does Body Count Have to Do With It?

By Jared D. Van Vranken

Since the Newtown massacre, proponents of civilian disarmament compare the United States to the United Kingdom. They point out that the UK’s total firearm death rate (which includes suicides) is less than half than ours. Therefore, the argument goes, we should severely limit the availability of firearms. As the President said, if we could save just one more life, then a new Assault Weapons Ban is well worth it. . . .

The pro-gun side asserts that the UK has seen their overall violent crime rates soar; up 250 percent since 1992, according to the Home Office. This despite their limited gun rights and availability. As America has a lower violent crime rate, it shouldn’t change its gun laws. Doing so would increase the number of violent assaults and rape and cost lives.

I submit that when discussing what the appropriate breadth of civil rights should be, body count has no bearing on the matter. In fact, determining what civil rights we should have based solely upon the expected amount of casualties that may result from those rights is exactly the method necessary to justify violating all of our civil rights.

For example, let’s say State X passes a law mandating that everyone who is a resident of that state must also be an organ donor. Instead of having to check a small box to choose to be a donor at the DMV, the state makes that choice for you. This law would no doubt enlarge the pool of organ donors, and certainly save many lives (surely at least just one, to satisfy the President’s test), but it would be fundamentally wrong to do so.

Similarly, what if instead of enjoying the strong 4th amendment rights we have, instead we submitted to randomized searches of our homes and persons? Let’s imagine that on any given day there is a 1/10,000 chance that authorities will search your home or person.

Further, imagine that this is a “white glove affair,” where a person’s home and body are respected, and generally speaking everyone views it as their civic duty in order to make the community “safer.”

Certainly such searches would reveal plenty of criminal activity, have a deterrent affect on certain crimes and save some lives. But, regardless of the benefits, most of us wouldn’t agree to such searches because we respect each other’s right to privacy.

Even when the topic of discussion isn’t fundamental rights, but rather just the regulation of activities and possessions, people don’t like to give up freedom in the name of “safety.” For example, I’m sure we could save many lives if we banned all residential swimming pools over three feet deep. Many children die annually from accidental drownings in the family pool.

Besides, why does anyone really need a pool over three feet deep? You can certainly cool off and do laps in three feet of water, and if you want to jump in, or play volleyball, go to your local YMCA, where they have lifeguards.

Most people don’t like that line of reasoning, despite the number of lives it would undoubtedly save annually. People generally would rather have the freedom to own whatever kind of pool that they want and take personal responsibility for safeguarding their children, rather than having the state limit their freedom of choice.

Most of us would view calls for taxation of pools over three feet deep and hefty liability insurance requirements as not being “reasonable,” but as an indirect means of doing what the state shouldn’t be doing directly.

In the same way, cars really don’t need more than 200 horsepower. In fact, “high horsepower” vehicles have no place on our neighborhood streets. They belong on the race track, in the hands of experienced drivers in a controlled setting. Certainly not in the hands of the average person. “High horsepower” vehicles only encourage the average driver to be reckless behind the wheel resulting in more traffic fatalities.

Furthermore, we should mandate a national speed limit of 65 mph and electronically limit a car’s ability to go over 65 mph. Of course some may have a legitimate need for a “high horsepower” vehicle, such as building contractors who need powerful trucks.

If that’s the case, then they will need to file papers with the local department of transportation and a judge can rule as to whether they have adequately demonstrated a need. They will then be required to go through a training course, get certified to demonstrate they can operate these vehicles and get re-certified every few years.

Obviously, these aren’t serious suggestions. There is no such thing as a “high horsepower” car, yet when we select some arbitrary number (why not 150 horsepower, or 100?), anything above that can be labeled “high.” All of my fictitious measures would certainly save hundreds, if not thousands of lives annually (certainly at least one), yet I doubt that most people would consider them “reasonable” or wish to enact anything so restrictive.

Many of the people calling for stricter gun laws, including bans on semi-automatic rifles and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, have little-to-no experience with firearms. If they did, they probably would view their ideas not as being “common sense” and “reasonable,” but more like my proposed swimming pool and car regulations.

Those of us who have experience with firearms liken the AR-15 with a 30 round magazine, pistol grip, flash suppressor, and barrel shroud see them as being akin to a nice Corvette, not a Formula One race car. The former can be driven safely by anyone with basic driving experience, while the latter requires racing know-how and an appropriate racetrack.

Arguing that a rifle with a pistol grip should be banned, but the very same rifle with a traditional stock is permissible is like arguing that cars with gear selectors in the center console should be banned, but those mounted on the steering column are just fine. Most everyone would agree that such legislation is silly, but that’s because we all have experience with cars. Unlike firearms.

Arms-bearing rights are fundamental. Curtailing rights some see as trivial, in the name of safety, can be a cure worse than the disease. We are a rights-based society. We respect individual rights over those of the community, even when doing so may mean a more injuries and deaths.

Whether we’re discussing fundamental rights (like choosing what happens to our remains) or more trivial rights (like being able to own the swimming pool or car you want), focusing solely on the number of potential casualties is dangerous and inadequate. It causes us to frantically sacrifice liberty at the altar of safety and to give up on searching for less restrictive means of accomplishing the same goal.