Yesterday as I was reading through the posts on Facebook I came across a couple of posts made by friends of mine in Arkansas: Misty Graham and J. David Ferguson. These posts were directed primarily to so-called conservatives, i.e. Republicans, but since I don’t have the open forum they did on Facebook I’m just going to discuss them without regard to your political affiliation.
I was itching to write about this yesterday but chores got in the way, so I had to put it off until this morning. That said, I’m going to approach these questions a bit differently than my friends did; not so much because I’m afraid of just repeating what they said, rather I just had a couple of my own thoughts I’d like to toss into the mix as well.
Let me begin by asking a pretty straightforward question: Do you believe the Declaration of Independence outlines the fundamental stance our early Founders had regarding rights and the relationship between the government and the governed? The reason I ask this is because there is a passage in the Declaration of Independence that ties in directly to the questions posed by my two friends yesterday, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Now I know I’ve discussed unalienable before, but for the purpose of refreshing your memories I wish to discuss it again. Unalienable, according to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, means incapable of being alienated, surrendered, or transferred. What that means is that if you have an unalienable right, no one can take it from you, and you cannot give it away. Now you may choose not to exercise that right, but you NEVER lose it. That is the meaning of the word unalienable, and I want to make sure that is firmly planted in your minds before I continue.
The next question I wish to ask of you is: Do you believe that America was founded to provide liberty for all the inhabitants of this country? Before you answer that, do you even understand what real liberty is; and let me assure you, what you have today IS NOT liberty.
In defining liberty I prefer not to use the dictionary; rather I prefer to use the words of one of the men who risked his life to achieve it in America back in 1776; Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson writes, “Liberty then I would say that, in the whole plenitude of it’s extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will: but rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will, within the limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.”
To sum that up, liberty means that I can do whatever I want just as long as I don’t deprive you of the same right to do whatever you want. Liberty is not based upon whether or not what I do offends you, frightens you, or whether or not you disagree with what I’m doing. So long as I do not deprive you of any of your rights, I am free to do as I please. That is true liberty.
So now that you know the meaning of the words unalienable and liberty, do you think there ever is a time when a person’s rights can be restricted or curtailed? Now in asking that question it opens up a whole new can of worms; so to speak, as it addresses the nature of crimes.
For there to be a crime there has to be a victim. Just think about all the laws that have been passed in which you can be punished; fined, or jailed for doing things that hurt no one, or deprive no one of their rights. Who is the victim in these crimes? The whim of society is not sufficient justification to infringe upon one’s liberty or their ability to fully exercise their rights. Yet we have untold numbers of laws that do just that; from laws telling us we cannot put certain substances into our own bodies, to laws saying we must obtain a permit or a license to do certain things which harm no one if we do not comply.
My understanding of a crime is that I have to hurt you, take from you what is not mine to take, or deprive you of any of your rights. The opposite is true as well; for you to be found guilty of a crime you will have to have harmed me, stolen from me, or deprived me of my rights.
They say we have a system of justice in America, but my understanding of justice is merely giving to each of us our due; allowing us to exercise all our rights without interference so long as we bring no harm to others. So how can we say that we have a system of justice in America when the law often deprives us of the liberty it is supposed to protect and defend?
Now if you recall I mentioned Jefferson’s definition of liberty a bit earlier. I purposefully withheld a segment of that quote until now, that segment saying, “I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’; because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.”
So if the law deprives a person, or a segment of society from exercising certain rights, then that law is, according to Jefferson, tyrannical. Are we in complete agreement so far?
So again let me ask you, do you think that there may be times when a person’s rights may be restricted, while still providing justice?
I would have to answer that by saying yes, there may be times when a person’s rights ought to be restricted. Let’s say someone breaks into your home to steal your TV. Is that TV not your property? Therefore the thief is attempting to take something which does not belong to him, he has violated your right to own your property and should be punished to provide justice.
Let’s say someone uses a gun in the commission of a crime, I believe that the person found guilty of doing so should be punished according to law; as they have abused their right by using that firearm to bring harm to, or deprive others of their property.
That said, every law on the book, (at least those that apply to us), has a penalty attached to it; a certain prescribed punishment; be it a fine, jail time, or death if the crime is deemed deserving of the death penalty.
Now comes the clincher. If society has attached certain penalties for the commission of certain crimes, and if an offender has completed, or fulfilled the sentence attached to those crimes, do you think their rights should be fully restored upon completion of their sentence?
Let’s take that a step further. Let’s say someone is sentenced to 15 years for armed robbery. Now if this person serves their sentence, in good behavior, and is released from jail, do you think ALL of their rights should be restored to them; including the right to keep and bear arms?
If your answer is no, why not?
I do not know all the laws of each State, but I do know that in certain instances felons are not allowed to own guns after being found guilty of a crime. In other instances felons are not allowed to vote, or to travel outside the U.S. Each State and each case is different, but in some instances released felons do not enjoy the same rights as do those who have never been found guilty of a crime.
Do you think this is fair; that it provides justice for all?
Since I do not want to make this about guns, per se, let’s take a moment to discuss whether or not a convicted felon be allowed to vote upon release from prison. Why should their right to participate in the election process be denied if they have faithfully served whatever penalty society has attached to the crime they were found guilty of committing?
These people, upon release, still have to pay the taxes that government imposes upon all of the citizens of this country; they still have to obey all the laws that the government imposes upon each and every one of us; so why should they be denied the right to participate in deciding who gets to make these laws and impose these taxes?
After all, one of the reasons our Founders rebelled against Britain was taxation without representation. If a released felon cannot vote, are they not a slave to a system not of their own choosing? If each of us is entitled to the right to defend ourselves, then if these released felons are ineligible to keep and bear arms, is not THAT right also being denied them?
But Neal, they committed a crime! Yes, they did. But they also served the prescribed time in jail attached to that crime. Upon release they should be found to have served their due to society and have all their rights restored to them.
If you do not believe that is the case, then maybe the problem is that our system of justice is too weak when it comes to punishing certain crimes. If you truly believe that certain crimes are so egregious that those who commit them should not have their rights restored to them upon release, then maybe that person does not belong on the streets to begin with; maybe they should spend the rest of their life in jail…or even be put to death so that society is rid of them.
If the law is designed to protect the individual rights of all of us, (which I no longer believe to be the case), then should not each of us be allowed to defend our rights and our property as we see fit?
In 1772 Samuel Adams said, “Among the Natural Rights of the Colonists are these First. a Right to Life; Secondly to Liberty; thirdly to Property; together with the Right to support and defend them in the best manner they can–Those are evident Branches of, rather than deductions from the Duty of Self Preservation, commonly called the first Law of Nature.”
Now I can’t be certain, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Adams got his beliefs on that from John Locke, who in his Second Treatise wrote, “Sec. 17. And hence it is, that he who attempts to get another man into his absolute power, does thereby put himself into a state of war with him; it being to be understood as a declaration of a design upon his life: for I have reason to conclude, that he who would get me into his power without my consent, would use me as he pleased when he had got me there, and destroy me too when he had a fancy to it; for no body can desire to have me in his absolute power, unless it be to compel me by force to that which is against the right of my freedom, i.e. make me a slave. To be free from such force is the only security of my preservation; and reason bids me look on him, as an enemy to my preservation, who would take away that freedom which is the fence to it; so that he who makes an attempt to enslave me, thereby puts himself into a state of war with me. He that, in the state of nature, would take away the freedom that belongs to any one in that state, must necessarily be supposed to have a foundation of all the rest; as he that in the state of society, would take away the freedom belonging to those of that society or commonwealth, must be supposed to design to take away from them every thing else, and so be looked on as in a state of war.
Sec. 18. This makes it lawful for a man to kill a thief, who has not in the least hurt him, nor declared any design upon his life, any farther than, by the use of force, so to get him in his power, as to take away his money, or what he pleases, from him; because using force, where he has no right, to get me into his power, let his pretence be what it will, I have no reason to suppose, that he, who would take away my liberty, would not, when he had me in his power, take away every thing else. And therefore it is lawful for me to treat him as one who has put himself into a state of war with me, i.e. kill him if I can; for to that hazard does he justly expose himself, whoever introduces a state of war, and is aggressor in it.”
Yet today often those who use deadly force to defend themselves, or their property, are the ones found guilty of a crime, and end up in prison. Now if that isn’t the most ass backwards thing, I don’t know what is. Why should it be a crime for a person to defend themselves, their family, their property, OR their rights?
I think it’s pretty straightforward, if society imposes certain penalties for the commission of a crime, and a person pays their dues to society by serving whatever sentence, or paying whatever fine is attached to a crime, then they should have their rights restored upon completion of the sentence attached to that crime. If you believe otherwise, then maybe we should toughen the penalties so that they remain off the streets; and while we’re at it, stop putting people in jail who have not committed a true crime; a crime which deprives another of their life, liberty or property.
It is NOT a crime for me to sit in the comfort of my home and take substances that society has deemed BAD; such as marijuana or even LSD…not that I would, but nonetheless the premise is true. It is NOT a crime for me to drive down the road without a seatbelt, yet I can be fined for not doing so, or jailed if I refuse to pay the fine. How many laws punish us for doing things that harm nobody? How many people are serving jail time for such crimes?
If we would stop penalizing people for victimless crimes then we could put the really bad people in prison for longer sentences; making our streets and homes safer. Better yet, if we would just let people protect and defend themselves and their property as they deem fit, then we could be rid of these really bad people. As Ted Nugent once said, “I don’t like repeat offenders, I like dead offenders.”
But as far as I’m concerned, if society has attached certain penalties to certain crimes, once a person has paid their dues to society they should be entitled to the full restoration of ALL of their rights. Otherwise change the law to provide harsher penalties for those crimes. But if you disagree, then you truly cannot say that you believe that all men are created equal and that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights; for if those rights are unalienable, released felons would enjoy them as equally as you do.
I don’t normally do this, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. So I’m going to include my e mail address here so that you can send them to me if you have anything to say about what I have just written: firstname.lastname@example.org