Reason: Permits turn right to bear arms into a privilege

Reason: Permits turn right to bear arms into a privilege
(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

All human beings, regardless of where they live, have rights and they have privileges. Rights are things you have regardless of any other factor. Privileges are things that require government permission.

Take driving, for example. It’s generally considered a privilege, but that privilege is really about driving on public roads. You can drive on your property without any government permission but hop on a public road and you kind of need that.

When it comes to the right to keep and bear arms, though, we have to get permission to actually bear those arms and, in many cases, to even keep them.

As Jacob Sullum writes over at Reason, that makes it a privilege.

As of last week, 24 states have decided to let law-abiding adults carry handguns in public without a license. That policy, known as “constitutional carry,” strikes critics as self-evidently reckless, while supporters think it improves public safety.

Both sides in the long-running debate about the practical impact of reducing legal barriers to public handgun possession can cite studies to support their position. But beyond that empirical question is a moral and constitutional issue that may render it moot: If people have a fundamental right to armed self-defense, should they need the government’s permission to exercise it?

Since the Second Amendment protects the right “to keep and bear arms,” and since the threat of criminal violence is heightened when people venture past their doorsteps, that question does not seem hard, especially in light of historical evidence indicating that the right was understood to include carrying weapons in public. It likewise seems clear that a licensing regime like New York’s, which gives officials wide authority to decide who has “proper cause” to bear arms, is inconsistent with that right.

Even after the Supreme Court settles those issues, there will remain the question of whether less onerous regulations impose inappropriate, potentially prohibitive conditions on the exercise of a basic right. Judging from recent trends, state legislators increasingly believe they do.

Basically, if you can be denied a carry permit for much of any reason, particularly when they’re subjective, we’re not talking about a right anymore. We’re talking about a privilege.

And that’s a big problem.

After all, our right to keep and bear arms is supposed to be beyond infringement. However, New York’s law regarding “proper cause” does little else but infringe on that right. It’s a pronouncement that you must have the state’s permission in order to carry a gun.

Plus, let’s not forget that while driving is considered a privilege, there are objective criteria for obtaining a license to drive. If you pass the relevant tests, you’re able to get a license and drive a car on public roads. There’s no “proper cause” requirement for seeking a driver’s license.

In other words, even in comparison with other recognized privileges, New York’s law goes beyond the pale.

The good news is that there’s almost zero chance the Supreme Court doesn’t find the law unconstitutional. Even supporters of the law know what’s coming and it’s an end to “may issue” permitting schemes.

But I’m just going to point out that this is only one battle. Gun control advocates will retreat a bit and then pick a new line from which to fight. Then we’ll go through this thing again and against for as long as we live, then others will take up the mantle.

And so it will go.

None of it will change the fact that so long as a permit is required, carrying a gun is a privilege, not a right.