Second Amendment civil liberties considered on Martin Luther King Day

Why Gun Rights Are Civil liberties


NEW CASTLE, Penn., January 18, 2016 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrates the life of a great man who changed the world. It is also a time to think about the purpose and impact of the Civil Rights movement.

It is sometimes tempting to reason away the rights of others or deny their existence. When faced with the need to defend the rights of those whose beliefs or behavior are offensive to us, we must remember that the failure to defend the civil liberties of one is a failure to defend the civil liberties of all.

Martin Luther King monumnet / Washington DC (Official photo)
Martin Luther King monument / Washington D.C. (Official photo)

Public safety requires government to balance civil liberties with national security concerns. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, national security advocates have threatened civil liberties in their pursuit of expanded police powers.

National security overreach and government intrusion have threatened America as a free and open society. Although the threat of terrorism is growing ever more serious, the failure to safeguard civil liberties is a failure to protect America.

Crackdown on Terrorism Threatens Civil Liberties

Gun violence, like terrorism, is a serious national concern. Yet the need to balance Second Amendment rights with gun control measures is no different than the need to balance security and liberty. This isn’t a choice between good and bad, but a balancing act between competing values.

Just as free speech and religious freedom from government persecution are civil liberties, so is the right to own and bear arms.

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Civil liberties in the United States are guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment defines the freedom of expression as a fundamental civil liberty, and the Second Amendment enshrines the right to own and bear arms as a civil liberty.

Americans are accustomed to hearing the term “civil liberty” attached to left-wing causes, but that does not disqualify gun rights from their status as civil liberties.

Throughout much of the world, the ownership and bearing of arms is not considered a right. In nations that have not embraced their own version of the Second Amendment, gun rights are not a civil liberty.

Civil liberties, also called cultural or social rights, are fundamental rights afforded to all citizens of a nation. In contrast, human rights, which include many of the civil liberties Americans enjoy, are the rights that the International Community agrees to uphold and guarantee for all people of the world.

Because human rights must be universally agreed upon and enforced, the right to self-defense and the freedom from persecution in the defense of other rights might be considered human rights, but gun rights are not. The embrace of gun rights is a cultural issue that must be properly debated in every society.

The Second Amendment use of the phrase “well-regulated militia” suggests there may be limits on who has gun rights. The phrasing may make the Second Amendment awkward to understand, but it does explicitly require someone to be a member of a militia to enjoy their Second Amendment rights.

A common reading of the Second Amendment would lead almost any American to believe that he or she has Second Amendment rights. In fact, the Supreme Court agreed when it decided McDonald v. Chicago (2010).


Gun Rights versus Security and Safety

The “well-regulated militia” clause reads as an attempt to legitimatize the need for gun rights, yet the Second Amendment does not say membership in a militia is necessary. Meanwhile, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment extended every constitutional guarantee to all U.S. citizens.

When it comes to interpreting the U.S. Constitution, whether it is what most traditionally consider a civil right or the rest of the limitations placed on government by the Constitution, it is best to interpret the wording in loose terms in order to avoid denying people their constitutional rights.

Yes, this probably means criminals enjoy some degree of Second Amendment protection, the right to vote, and so on. It also means that Americans have privacy rights not explicitly written into the text of the Constitution.

Finally, the Second Amendment does not provide an absolute right to own guns nor does it specifically define gun rights, so there is plenty of wiggle room to address gun safety concerns.

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