What’s Immutability Have to do With Civil Rights?

At first I wasn’t going to respond to the latest Brady screed, where I think they are trying to read way more into a figure of speech than was probably meant. But aside from that issue, I have no real disagreement there’s a difference between race, sexual orientation, and carrying a firearm. I’ve rejected in the past that discrimination against gun owners is on par with racial discrimination. But that’s missing the forest for the trees. What Brady suggests here not consistent with how we treat rights in society. Let’s look at the crux of their argument:

Why?  Among other reasons, they are all impossible to comply with.  All of those traits areimmutable characteristics of individuals and cannot be separated from the person.  It is impossible to comply with those statements because if you exclude one, you exclude both.

The sixth and last statement, however, obviously does not fall into that category, because guns can be separated from people.  A gun is a thing outside human identity.

But we protect many non-immutable characteristics in our society as well as immutable ones, don’t we? Especially when those characteristics are are expressions and behaviors protected in our constitutional structure. Religion, for instances, is non-immutable, yet we generally protect religious minorities in society in the same way we protect racial minorities. Would it not be outrageous if, say, conservative-christian-owned Chik-Fil-A decided to ban people wearing Wiccan symbols, yarmulkes, or hijabs, or refused to make reasonable accommodation for its employees who were religious minorities? These are things that can easily be left outside as well, and proponents could no doubt argue that it’s just the symbols, not the person they have a problem with. But I think most people who valued individual liberty would be appropriately appalled by a practice like this, and we would expect victims of this kind of discrimination to call it such, and to dress their arguments in civil rights language. That would be completely within the American experience when it comes to debating civil rights.

But it’s not just religion. While I would argue that homosexuality itself is an immutable characteristic, homosexual behavior certainly is not. What if Regal Cinemas, largely owned by christian conservative Philip Anschutz, decided that it would allow gays into its theaters, but you have to leave the gay behavior at home. No holding hands, snuggling next to each other in the theater seats, and for God’s sake, no kissing! Would we not expect gay right’s activist to complain of discrimination? Would we do a double take at them dressing themselves up in civil rights language? No, we’d expect it, and I suspect many of the Brady folks would join me in condemning it.

Oh, I’m sure the Brady’s will argue that “religious symbols and gay behavior can’t kill anybody,” but that’s really not that point. Whether they want to accept it or not, it’s very difficult to escape the language in Heller that strongly suggests that carrying a firearm, or bearing of arms, for personal protection is an individual civil right — recognizing the longstanding notion in common law that the right to protect ones own life is indeed fundamental. Why should we be any less outraged than other groups in my examples above, that a group like the Brady Campaign is essentially undertaking a campaign to use private rather than government coercion to frustrate the exercise of this right? A campaign that if successful will essentially mean that people who choose to exercise that right are essentially ostracized from society? It’s not about whether guns are dangerous or not, we all know they are, but the Bradys have lost the debate on keeping guns out of society because they are dangerous.

All our argument has been, all along, is that the Second Amendment deserves to be treated as seriously as other rights, and while I would not advocate government coercion to force private property owners to accept guns, that doesn’t translate into believing that public shame is outrageous, or out of place, as the Brady Campaign suggests. Discrimination against guns, in a society where the right to keep and bear a gun is a constitutional right, is discrimination against people — the people who choose to exercise their fundamental human rights.

12 thoughts on “What’s Immutability Have to do With Civil Rights?”

  1. “But I think most people who valued individual liberty would be appropriately appalled by a practice like this, and we would expect victims of this kind of discrimination to call it such, and to dress their arguments in civil rights language. That would be completely within the American experience when it comes to debating civil rights.”

    Milton Friedman (see Capitalism and Freedom) and many other libertarians would not be among the “most people” you mention–we value freedom of association (a negative right) above freedom from discrimination (a positive “right”). There are many examples of exclusive groups banning people over sex or religion (Christian colleges, boy scouts, mens-only golf groups, etc.). People should have the right to discriminate against others, but they should face the full brunt of the market’s punishment for that decision. In the case of Chick-fil-a, such a rule would probably put them out of business, but in the case of many Christian colleges (which require statements of faith), discrimination is accepted, normal, and key part of a free society.

  2. One doesn’t have to favor government intervention to stop the wrong in order to be appalled by it. Private wrongs can be corrected by private actions just as readily by public action, and I would hope Libertarians don’t favor inaction in the face of discrimination just because it’s a private wrong. By that logic we may as well just roll over while the Bradys go from business to business and get them to ban guns.

  3. “religious symbols and gay behavior can’t kill anybody,”

    That all depends on the religious symbol or the gay behavior in question, now, doesn’t it?

  4. Sebastian,

    Liberarians don’t advocate inaction, they just don’t advocate illegitimate force.

    The Starbucks saga is a case in point. The Brady Bunch tried to get Starbucks to ban firearms; they declined. The only legitimate option we have as firearm owners is to reward Starbucks for their stand, just as if the opposite were true, our option would be to not reward Starbucks with our cash.

    But Brady is free to try to convince businesses to ban firearms; it is the libertarians’ choice to act accordingly based on that businesses’ decision.

  5. And, in fact, Chik-Fil-A does (at a purely nominal level) discriminate against non-christians by closing on Sunday (as is their right).

    There is a point at which rights collide. HOWEVER, there is not right to safety, much less a right to “feel” safe. There is a right to defend yourself. Private actors may infringe on other’s rights when in/on their own propert, but the infringed can and should take action to express their displeasure at such. Adn the .gov should NOT be protecting the private actors when they infringe.

  6. I disagree with the thrust of your last two paragraphs, Sebastian. You write:

    Oh, I’m sure the Brady’s will argue that “religious symbols and gay behavior can’t kill anybody,” but that’s really not that point.

    …and then go on to argue that, given Heller, gun rights ought to be treated identically to other civil rights, and defended from even well-meaning infringements with equal vigor.

    That’s fine as far as it goes, but it’s an abstract argument that’s largely unresponsive to the Bradys’ complaint. When the Bradys say that religious symbols and gay behavior can’t kill anybody, the appropriate response is to say, emphatically: Neither does merely carrying a gun.

    The Bradys’ core assertion, underlying all of the ink they’ve spilled on this subject, is that it’s inherently dangerous for an ordinary citizen to carry a gun around in polite society unless that individual possesses some magical “law enforcement training”. That assertion is incandescently, catastrophically false. To the extent that they know it’s false — and they would have to be blithering idiots if they did not, given the empirical evidence from jurisdictions that moved from may-issue to shall-issue — they are shameless liars.

    The handwaving about treating all civil rights equally is nice but beside the point. Religious symbols and homosexual behavior never killed anybody. Neither did merely carrying a gun around. That is the rhetorical club these people need to be beaten around the head and neck with.

  7. The mere act of carrying a firearm isn’t dangerous, but you presumably are carrying around in anticipation of a situation that could turn dangerous. I agree with you that the risk is greatly overblown by the Brady folks, which is part of the reason I think they’ve largely lost this debate, but guns are more dangerous than yarmulkes, crosses, or hijabs. Though I suppose you could strangle someone with a hijab, or maybe poke an eye out with a cross.

  8. How about a kirpan? I suspect there are going to be some very happy Sikhs in the aftermath of Heller/McDonald…

    The Kirpan (English pronunciation: /kɪrˈpɑːn/; Punjabi: ਕਿਰਪਾਨ kirpān) is a sword or dagger carried by many Sikhs. According to a a mandatory religious commandment given by Guru Gobind Singh (the tenth Guru of Sikhism) at the Baisakhi Amrit Sanchar (a holy religious ceremony that formally baptizes a Sikh) in AD 1699, all baptised Sikhs (Khalsa) must wear a kirpan at all times. From Wikipedia, who ends that with a [citation required] – which is a little crass for a religious item.

    So a religious symbol that is a weapon…

  9. “The sixth and last statement, however, obviously does not fall into that category, because guns can be separated from people. A gun is a thing outside human identity.”

    Well, Sebastian, that statement from the Brady folks seems to fly in the face of their anthropomorphicizing firearms — “guns” kill, “gun-crime,” &tc. — doesn’t it? “A gun is a thing;” at last we can agree, “Guns don’t kill people, people . . .”

    Ain’t it grand when a plan comes together!

  10. You guys have let the Bradys change the subject, and they’ve pretty much won the argument because of it.

    This discussion started with that lunatic editorial in SFGate, where some spittle-flecked half-wit spent several hundred words describing an imaginary strawman “gun nut”, and then shrieking bizarre and childish personal abuse at the strawman. He wasn’t criticizing somebody for carrying a gun. He was spewing raw, insane rage at an imaginary representative of certain cultural differences.

    That clown who wrote the editoral believes devoutly in the existence of a terrifying species of evil maniac called “conservatives”. They’re perfectly fungible, just like the Perfidious Jews, or the Yellow Peril. They’re all racists, all white and male, uneducated and unintelligent, they all own guns, they’re all patriotic, fundamentalist Christians, homophobic, Southern, pro-free-market, etc.

    In Mr. Editorialist’s weird little mental world, the population of the United States is divided between people who have all of the above horrible characteristics, and those who have none of them. That’s the essential characteristic of bigotry: That “the Jew”, or “the Gun Nut”, or “the Negro” — the hated Other of your choice — is fundamentally a different kind of being than the “Nice People”, like cats and dogs.

    These people don’t really hate guns. They hate the kind of people they imagine all gun owners to be. Gun ownership is just a shorthand symbol.

    The issue isn’t whether gun ownership is or is not somehow analogous to religion or ethnicity. Notice how happy the Bradys are to argue that point — that’s the one they can win! But really, the issue is the insane hatred directed by many anti-gunners at a wildly heterogeneous group of people, based on the assumption that all of those people are basically alike, and uniformly loathsome and inferior in a ridiculous number of ways. Don’t let them change the subject away from that.

    If you thought that editorial was even remotely sane, you are a bigot. Not all anti-gunners are that crazy, of course. Some are just misinformed.

  11. Maybe I’m crazy here, but I thought the entire point of my post was to show that the Bradys folks are fine with discrimination, provided it’s discrimination against a group of people who’s behavior they abhor. Behavior that’s, nonetheless, constitutionally protected.

  12. The editorialist is not sane – but that doesn’t mean we can ignore him. Nor does it mean he’s not a bigot.

    Take away your first para, and the last two sentences and I’ll agree with what you’re saying; but you’re drawing the wrong conclusion. We have to push back the insanity at the source. It’s not like the Brady’s et al weren’t spewing the same line in 1934, or 1968, or 1986, or 1993… We push back now, we have a ready answer for the people who read it and think “well, he’s a little over the top, but there’s somethign to what he says.” It’s easier to push opinion when it’s going our way; and the best way to keep that momentum is to flatten the molehills before they become mountains.

    (And now I think I need to fix my metaphorical Cuisinart…)

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