Rights 101

Even the most cursory examination of the news will show that a large number of Americans do not understand the nature and source of their rights; particularly those enumerated rights listed in the Bill of Rights. Worse, many believe in twisted interpretations of those rights. As an example, the 1st Amendment’s protection of Freedom of Religion gets morphed into a Freedom from religion. This viewpoint turns a freedom into a prohibition.

To understand something, it’s often necessary to first understand where it comes from. This leads us to Lesson 1:

  • Rights do not come from the Constitution.

Nor do they come from the State. What a State or one of its documents grants can be just as easily taken back by the State or edited out of said document. The rights listed in the Bill of Rights are rights that the People already held. In fact, they’ve always held them and they always will. Amending the Constitution would not extinguish those rights.

The 2nd Amendment reads…

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.

This construction recognizes that the right protected predates the Amendment, the Constitution, and the government itself. How can we know that this is true? Here’s what the text would look like if it were creating or granting a right…

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the people shall have the right to keep and bear Arms.

See the difference? In both cases, the State’s interest in maintaining the country’s militia capacity is defined in the prefatory clause. In neither case, is the right contingent upon the existence or efficacy of the militia.

The meat of both versions is in their operative clauses. In the alternative reality version, the verb is have. More specifically, have in the future tense. In the real version, the verb is infringe, present tense. If we say that someone will have something in the future, the implication is that they do not currently possess it. In the alternative version the right does not yet exist. In the case of real version, the State cannot infringe upon what doesn’t exist. A prohibition against doing something that’s impossible makes no sense. Thus, the right already existed at the time the amendment was written and was not brought into being by the amendment.

  • Rights often spring from other rights

The most basic of human rights is the right to one’s own life. This means that you have the right to live your life as you see fit, not as the State or some other entity sees fit. It follows that you have a right to the use of your own body. No one has a right to claim the use of your body. This is the heart of what slavery is; the use of one person’s body by another. It further follows that you have the right to protect your body from harm. In turn, it follows that you have the right to the means to protect your body from harm. Furthermore, you have the right to the most effective technologies available to protect your own body from harm: firearms. (Saying that the 2nd Amendment only protects the right to a Brown Bess musket is like saying that the 1st Amendment right to Freedom of Speech doesn’t apply to recordings of speech.)

  • You have some rights whether you like it or not

What are inalienable rights? Let’s start by defining “inalienable”. This is something that can not be made alien to you. Your liver is a fine example of something that cannot be made alien to you. You cannot decide that you don’t like your liver anymore and get rid of it. You could try, but you wouldn’t last very long. Inalienable rights have the same nature. You can try to push them away, but there will be consequences; often fatal ones.

This also means that rights are not subject to a popular vote. A majority of voters might decide that they don’t like their livers either, but that doesn’t make them right! Your lever remains inalienable despite popular opinion. Similarly, a majority might oppose the right of the individual to engage in armed self-defense; however, the individual still possesses that right. The majority and their government can pass all the laws they please on the matter, but that right will still exist.