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The Right to Live, The Right to Kill
Absurd and dangerous ethical confusion in the campaign.

by Barnabas
October 27, 2004

"Endorsements: ... National Right to Life, National Rifle Association" 
–Voters’ Guide, St. Paul Pioneer Press, October 24, 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.  

Absurdity is in my bag, and one inevitable consequence of public absurdity is public ridicule; but I won't  run  with that side of it. Let the satirists deal with the absurdity, and I’ll do my best with the ethics.

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.  

It’s a common-sense, biblical position. When the right to life is not treated as absolute, those who despise the value of their lives by indulging in reckless, foolish behavior forfeit their "right to life" thereby. They may be treated mercifully if they survive their foolishness, but mercy is a gift, not a right. 

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.  

 An armed adversary who threatens or attacks an armed opponent forfeits, by this action, his "right to life."  I have no problem with that. I have always believed that criminals who flaunt deadly weapons during felonious assaults put their lives on the line. But I can say that because  I do not believe that the right to life is absolute for anybody – not when resources are limited, not when triage is in play, not in a war zone, and not when abortion is medically indicated in the judgment of both physicians and patients. 

The ethical confusion is not in the NRA position, taken by itself, nor in the Right to Life position, taken by itself, but the crazy way both positions are asserted, with straight faces,  by the same persons.  

There are sound reasons for being against abortion, as I am except in medical necessity, but the right to life is not one of them. (I will accept the argument of "no medical necessity" only from obstetricians, when their preponderant argument is that medical necessity never applies to abortion.)

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.  

As this campaign winds down, I will be glad for the rest from slogans that are disguised as moral pronouncements, and from the pious assumption of the past several months that being a Christian, in itself, makes anybody an expert on ethics.

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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