The Right to Live, The Right to Kill
Absurd and dangerous ethical confusion in the campaign.
October 27, 2004
It doesn’t matter who the candidate in the above reference is; I'll use him as a stand-in for all candidates and noisy evangelicals who, righteously and often, have juxtaposed the right to life and the NRA. They seem not to care why some of the other evangelicals, me included, are laughing at them. They think they are being persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
Politics is not ethical, in the sense that ethics is the study of behavior as to its rightness and wrongness. I suppose politicians are moral, as defined by their willingness to pronounce Moral Positions. Without ethical study, however, they do not notice when their positions contradict each other or otherwise make no sense. Hence, both the Right to Life people and the Right to Kill people endorse the same candidate. If ethics mattered, the Right to Kill people would be the deadly enemy of the Right to Life people, but not the other way around. If the Right to Life people live up to their name they cannot be the deadly enemy of anybody.
In another place and time, not as Barnabas, I argued that the right to life is not absolute. This was the norm for evangelical ethics back in the '80's, according to the statement of the National Association of Evangelicals at that time.
Further, when the right to life is not treated as absolute we accept "first come, first served" as the rule when resources are limited, even though it may mean death to those who come last. In a disaster we go further by accepting triage as a responsible, though tragic, rule in emergency disasters: first treating those in danger of dying if they go untreated, before giving attention to who will die no matter what is done for them. If the right to life were absolute, such practicality would stand aside; random selection would be the only fair way to decide the order of treatment.
The NRA disagrees with an absolute Right to Life because it asserts that the second amendment protects, under certain conditions, the right to kill.
The NRA interpretation is very broad. As I understand it, one guy with an automatic pistol next to his pillow falls within the definition of "a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State" - the justification given in the amendment for the right to keep and bear arms.
This is a novel interpretation. Wyatt Earp seemed to know nothing of it. In his biography, he described how, as a lawman, he enforced a line in the precincts of his town - as I recall, Dodge City - beyond which no one but lawmen were allowed to carry firearms. Gunsmoke would have been a boring show if the fictional Marshall Dillon had imitated his historical counterpart. It's also a certainty that the historical Wyatt Earp would never have been hired as a spokesman for the NRA.
There are sound reasons for citizens to own weapons, but the right to kill is not one of them. Killing in self-defense or other justifiable homicide may be a tragic necessity, as determined by a court of law, but it is not a constitutional right. An armed citizen acting on his or her own responsibility is hardly a well-regulated militia necessary for the security of a free state. Common sense asserts that the state has the obligation to regulate weaponry among its citizens, just as it regulates our use of automobiles. I am neither a pacifist nor a libertarian.
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it. —Omar Khayyam
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