Guns and Privacy
by Scott McPherson
Ask a member
of the mainstream political Left whether he would be willing
to have a camera installed in his house — by the government
— with the explicit purpose of monitoring his activities
for any potential wrongdoing. Like any self-respecting human
being, he would very likely recoil in disgust against so
blatant a violation of his privacy.
assure him that, though you recognize the issue at stake,
it is merely a means of guaranteeing that he is a law-abiding
citizen. Still, he won’t budge.
him that all footage of his personal activities will be
immediately destroyed after being reviewed for unlawful
conduct. Rest assured he will still want nothing to do with
your crimefighting agenda.
Now, ask him
to extend the same courtesy to gun owners and repeal the
background check for firearms purchases. You’ll not have
to wait long before every rationalization under the sun
is brought to bear in an attempt to show you how “that’s
“We have to
know if someone is a criminal before allowing him to have
a gun,” he might proclaim. “How else are we to know if someone
is a good person?” he will ask. And finally, “Of course
all the records will be destroyed. You’re so paranoid!”
And then he will wander off, utterly astonished by your
knee-jerk, gun-nut response to what everyone knows are just
“commonsense” safety measures, while shaking his head in
amazement that you would place so hallowed an institution
as personal privacy on the same plane as owning a gun.
What the Left
doesn’t get is that gun control is an issue of privacy.
In a free society, more is at stake than what we’re allowed
to do and not do. Granted, this is a major factor, but free
people, by definition, should also enjoy the pleasure of
going about their daily lives without having to justify
themselves to anyone. They do not live their lives by another’s
of a millennium of feudalistic, collectivist thinking, dignified
human beings blazed a trail that was expressed by the immortal
words, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident ...” The
entire concept of freedom required a paradigm shift away
from the Old World notion that people understand the limits
of what they could do, to a new worldview expressing the
need for humans to live their lives free of the shackles
of their fellows. As Ayn Rand observed, “Civilization is
the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole
existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization
is the process of setting man free from men.”
about dignity. It’s about free men and women being trusted
to live their lives, choose their morality, make their decisions,
and generally function in society without having to prove
to anyone that they deserve to exercise their rights. Dignity
and self-respect require that others prove wrongdoing before
our liberties are proscribed or restricted — as opposed
to the constant battle of pleading with others to trust
us with our own affairs.
Privacy and the political Left
Today, in our
highly complex society, the political Left views most privacy
issues as essential to that worldview. For them, privacy
is an outgrowth of the presumption of innocence. Asked why
they might object to a video camera’s being placed in their
house or in a crowded shopping district, you’ll hear it
explained as simply a “matter of principle.” This isn’t
a knee-jerk reaction — they’re actually right. The idea
of freedom is a principle, a universal truth that lies as
the foundation for human relationships. It doesn’t need
to be questioned, justified, modified, quantified, or explained.
When told, “You don’t have to worry if you’re not doing
anything wrong,” the principled privacy advocate responds,
“I’m not going to lower myself to the level of a child in
need of supervision.” Such a position requires nothing less
than dignity and self-respect.
on the Left who speak so eloquently about the need for personal
privacy are unwilling to extend that deference to those
who wish to make a private, personal decision about purchasing
a firearm. For them, privacy is about principles — except
when it comes to guns. Ask a Leftist to fill out a credit
application and he’ll grill you mercilessly about corporate
domination and the potential for “winding up on some list.”
Yet, strangely, when a person wants a gun, it’s the idea
of a list that the Leftist sees as panacea. With bitter
irony he will ask, “If you haven’t done anything wrong,
why should you object to a background check?”
But if we can
justify forcing those who wish to own a firearm to prove
themselves worthy of the privilege, then why not subject
other activities to the same rigorous standard? Surely being
a parent is as large a responsibility as owning a gun, if
not a larger one. After all, parents raise the next generation.
Why not demand they get a license before having a child,
as some gun-control advocates have suggested we do with
guns? Child abuse is a horrid and widespread problem. Why
not require all parents to have their children regularly
checked by a government-approved specialist for physical
or psychological mistreatment? No, dear Progressive soul?
Not even if they promise to destroy the records afterwards?
If it will save just one child . . . ?
cause of the Left these days is so-called ballistic fingerprinting,
whereby the barrel markings or “DNA-equivalent” of every
firearm is put on file with law-enforcement authorities.
Allegedly this technique has helped solve some crimes. So
of course we should begin fingerprinting and taking DNA
from every American citizen and filing them with the FBI,
right? It could only prove even more effective at catching
The fact is,
if we can argue which freedoms people will be allowed to
enjoy on utilitarian premises, then the whole caper is blown,
because there is no government control that cannot be justified
on such grounds. The Soviet Union managed for decades to
suppress all basic freedoms because of the damage that a
maverick individual might cause if allowed to speak, trade,
worship, travel without restriction, or own a gun. That’s
why a free society is so dependent on its participants’
hands being tied when they begin to worry too much about
what someone else is doing. Every now and then, the Left
slips up and properly identifies this as privacy.
is a policy advisor at The
Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va.