Right to Live v Right to Own a Gun

Competing Rights Life v Gun OwnershipTaking Kids’ Rights Seriously, then Trading-Off Those Rights with Gun Rights

Yes, this is another article on the painful subject of the recent mass killing of five and six-year olds in Connecticut. And yes, it is another article that argues for tighter gun control. What I hope distinguishes this essay from most others is how I frame and support my argument for tighter gun control.

Let me begin by recalling one sensible sentence uttered by George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. “If you can’t solve a problem,” ‘Rummy’ said, “make it bigger.” When I heard him say that, I figured that he was advising people who faced problems they couldn’t solve ‘to try pouring gasoline on them’. But, that didn’t make sense to me.

What did make sense to me — and I make no claim that Rummy had intended “make it bigger” in the sense that I now suggest for it was to expand the context in which either the problem could be understood or actions intended to remedy the problem could be deemed allowable, or both.

And that brings me to a crucial observation about how the public debate over guns got constructed. Pro-gun people have couched their arguments in terms of Constitutional rights, which they defend by characterizing gun-control efforts as challenges to THEIR rights. Against such arguments, gun-control advocates have been left spinning their wheels.

Here’s where Rumsfeld’s comment enters. If gun control advocates could somehow “make it bigger”, they might be able to overcome the rights-based argument advanced by gun-rights people. And one potentially effective way to do that might be to expand the historical context of “rights” back to the time when the Framers wrote the Constitution.

When I imagine myself shifting back to that time, I find it easy to imagine that none of the big names there thought to ask, should we be explicit about the relative importance of [A] the rights of five and six-year olds to live long enough to become adults as they could imagine, to NOT be shot dead by assault rifles that they most likely cold not imagine, compared to [B] the robert letcherright to keep and bear arms, and whether that right was granted collectively or individually.

If the Framers would not have chosen “A” as being so obviously more important then we probably face a bigger Constitutional crisis than we already fear. But if we assume that the Framers would have cried as much as we are now, then maybe gun-control advocates could carry the gun-control debate beyond into a case of Rights v Rights, and trade-off solutions might become possible.


Robert Letcher


  1. harry wood says

    So you believe in the right of life the unborn have. I think that is good, I believe in the right to live of those that are born. I am not happy about the number of the children of Chicago that are killed each year by guns. I wonder how that will be stopped, gun laws are stiff there already and killings still take place. As long as nuts can steal guns , they will shoot people, I think the death rate is higher than it was in the wild west when everyone, from farmer to policeman carried guns. Maybe that is the answer, require all the retired combat vets to carry a weapon, they are trained to come to the aid of others and may save some citizens, even at the risk of their own lives.

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