Recently, the US Supreme Court considered, then declined, to hear a case that would have had monumental ramifications for the issue of guns. The case involved a challenge to a strict anti-concealed weapon carry law in New York. The plaintiffs claim that the law violates their Second Amendment rights.
Though the court declined to tackle the issue for now, the issue is timely. As the Associated Press's Mark Sherman notes, "Legal scholars say the issue of whether people have a right to be armed in public is likely to win high court review at some point." When it does, what principles should guide its decision?
The right to self-defense is inherent in the right to life. But, self-defense implies the use of force. Force is the enemy of a civilized society, and therefor must be legally banned from private relationships. But, there are two types of force; initiatory and retaliatory. The first is always unjustified, and the second is not only justified but required if a society is not to be overrun with criminals. So, how should the issue of force be handled?
In any civilized society, the initiation of physical force is strictly banned by use of all citizens, including citizens in any capacity as government officials. At the same time, the defensive use of physical force must be the exclusive monopoly of the government. A society in which every individual can take the law into his own hands in his own self-defense is not a society at all, but anarchy.
Instead, force must be put under the objective control of a government, and subject to ironclad constitutional limits restricting the government's use of force to defensive or retaliatory purposes. All laws must conform to this principle. The transfer of the individual's right to use retaliatory force to the government is a requirement of any individual who chooses to live among other people.
In a civilized society, where the government holds a monopoly on the use of self-defensive, retaliatory force, government must regulate the use of that force. Private citizens may use retaliatory force only as permitted by government, and government officials may use force only where permitted by a proper constitution. This means that government may not initiate force against citizens who themselves have not initiated force, such as by regulating private voluntary production, trade, and contract.
The government has no right to do so because such regulation entails the initiation of physical force against private citizens where no intended or actual rights-violating actions are evident. Government's sole purpose is to protect individual rights; that is; to act as the individual's agent of self-defense. (See my Where Does Valid Law End and Regulation Begin?)
However, based upon its role of self-defensive agent, with its monopoly on the use of force, the government can and must regulate citizens in the area of defensive or retaliatory force. For example, private citizens may use force in self-defense only when permitted by law, such as when a citizen[s] is in imminent physical danger from a thug. The government may also have licensure authority over private armed security guards and companies. For adult individuals, proof of appropriate training and a criminal and mental background check may legitimately be required for gun ownership, including right-to-carry.
But, given that the right of self-defense is fundamentally an individual right, these regulations should not become a tool of anti-gun zealots to violate rights by unreasonably restricting gun ownership. Getting a gun license, including the right to carry a concealed weapon, should be as easy as getting a drivers license, and no more restrictive. For responsible, properly trained citizens, gun ownership should not only be permitted, it should be encouraged. If morally upstanding citizens can be trusted as armed policemen, then why not as armed private citizens? Imagine a society in which the police force is supplemented by what would in effect be a government regulated private, albeit informal, militia. What chance would armed thugs have in such a society?
The right to life encompasses the right to self-defense, which implies the right to possess the means to protected oneself (and others). This includes the right to concealed carry. Hopefully the Supreme Court will some day take on the issue, and side with individual rights.
Gun Control Should Focus on Principles, not Guns