Protecting the Second Amendment is Not Enough
The right to arms is just as important a concept as the right to vote
At last count, a full half of the US Senate had signed onto a July letter to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton declaring their opposition to any United Nations Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which includes infringement on US citizens’ rights to possess firearms. While I applaud this effort, I have to say that I’m disappointed in the senators’ narrow focus in the letter. Protecting the Second Amendment and warning Obama and Clinton not to agree to any treaty which might infringe on the rights of Americans ignores what the UN is doing to citizens of other countries. The right to arms is not just an American right, it is a basic human right extrapolated from the right to self-defense. Human beings have an individual right to defend themselves and their families, and citizens – regardless of what country – have a moral obligation to also defend others who are unable to defend themselves.
If the UN were forwarding a plan to limit voting to males only or to institute broad government controls over the press, our senators would not stop at our constitution and our borders in their denunciation of the plans. Instead they would expound upon the importance of universal suffrage and the necessity of a free press – for all people everywhere. They would not just “strongly encourage” the administration to “uphold our country’s constitutional protections,” they would demand that the administration reject and actively oppose any treaty which could be in any way construed to support such restrictions on basic rights in any nation.
The right to arms is just as important a concept as the right to vote, the right to express oneself freely and publicly, and the right to a fair trial before a jury of ones peers. It is part of the progressive, liberal heritage of our nation. (From a time before the words “progressive” and “liberal” were co-opted by communists and socialists to mean government controlled.) The constitutional right to arms has roots in English Common Law, but the philosophy runs much deeper and broader than the English could ever manage because they were tied to a monarch. When America broke away from the monarchy we also cut the restraints that system placed on our understanding of liberty. We became the cutting edge, and embodiment, of liberal (libertarian) philosophy and we reaped the rewards of that philosophy. It is part of what made America so exceptional for most of the past 200 years, and the right to arms is as much a component of that revolutionary and successful philosophy as free speech or the right to assembly. It was seen as even more important than the right to vote, as that right was originally limited to only White, male, property holders while the right to arms belonged to “the people.”
Freedom is a religion which demands evangelism. We don’t have to require that other nations meet all of our standards before we will do business with them, but we should encourage right and oppose wrong – and restrictions on the individual right to arms is clearly wrong.
Members of the US Senate should understand the philosophical significance of the right to arms and the importance of promoting US philosophy and principles of freedom. Their letter focusing on only the potential impact of the proposed UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) on US citizens is much too narrow and shortsighted. Unfortunately, it seems the senators are following the lead of the NRA, who should definitely know better.
The UN ATT has been a distant rumble for the past several years with little progress being made and little exposure to the public outside of over-hyped rhetoric in fundraising letters from rights groups. I have tended to downplay concern about the treaty because it wasn’t showing much life, but now the treaty is getting closer to reality and it’s time to start worrying about something actually being passed by the middle of next year. The best way to keep that from happening is to pressure your politicians to return to principled arguments and to demand that Obama and Clinton actively oppose any arms treaty which includes restrictions on any personal firearms, ammunition, or components – not just in the US, but anywhere in the world.
Ask your Senators if they signed the letter – if not, why not – if so, thank them and encourage them to move to a more principled position. While you’re at it, if you’re a member of the NRA you might drop them a line asking why they are focusing only on the potential impact of this treaty on US gun owners rather than espousing and defending the principles of freedom for all people everywhere.
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