The right to live and gun rights aren't opposites

The right to live and gun rights aren't opposites
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

In the wake of a mass shooting, gun rights inevitably come under assault. That’s certainly true now following events in California. As we have seen, there is a seemingly unending supply of politicians and op-ed writers calling for restrictions on our Second Amendment rights.


It would be comical if it weren’t for the fact that they’re so serious about it.

Yet a recent LA Times op-ed seems to suggest that there’s some balance between our gun rights and others’ right to live (and the issues with that phrase could be a post in and of itself).

I say that in part because the title is, “Will 19 dead in California alter the balance between your right to a gun and my right to live?”

Individualism has been a defining and admirable American trait throughout this nation’s history on a vast, varied continent. But so has its opposite: communitarianism, collectivism — a focus on the common good, even if that means curbing some individuals’ liberty.

The two impulses aren’t mutually exclusive; they coexist, if in tension. In some periods, one impulse is more prominent than the other. When President Hoover’s reliance on what he called Americans’ “rugged individualism” proved woefully inadequate to the Great Depression, the nation turned to Franklin D. Roosevelt for the greatest burst of collective action ever to that point — the creation of a federal safety net that endured and expanded.

Since the Reagan era, however, a particularly strong strain of individualism — insistence on my rights regardless of the common good — has dominated in the nation’s public square. That’s been true even in times of Democratic governance, and amid bipartisan actions such as trillion-dollar tranches of pandemic relief. Initial collective action in the face of COVID-19, which to date has killed more than 1 million Americans, quickly gave way to protests. Millions more Americans opposed mask and vaccine mandates as infringements of their personal freedom, regardless of lives to be saved.

Yet no subject better illustrates the potency of American individualism, and how it can sometimes trump the common good, than the nation’s increasing — and increasingly deadly — fetishization of gun rights since the 1970s. The balance must be righted.


First, the use of the term “fetishization” is a combative term used to denigrate the very idea of gun rights. It makes it clear that the author isn’t really interested in a discussion, but is instead seeking to lecture us as to why we’re so very wrong.

Which is fine because I’m not interested in a conversation with her, either.

You see, from the headline alone, I can already tell she’s simply not well-informed enough to have a meaningful conversation on the topic.

The author seems to feel that there is some balance between one’s right to live and another’s right to keep and bear arms. That’s a fallacy based on a poor understanding of, well, everything to do with this topic.

While firearms are used for bad things far too often, those guns aren’t generally in the hands of people who obtained them lawfully. In a handful of cases, they are, but where she loses the thread is the fact that orders of magnitude more people use guns to protect life than to take it.

Estimates are all over the place depending on who you ask, but even the lowest counts of defensive gun use are significantly higher than total gun deaths. That’s especially impressive since two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides as opposed to murders.

The actual numbers, however, are likely far higher than those.

Further, if one’s right to live is only threatened by one’s right to carry a gun, then how does the author explain the fact that our knife homicide rate–the number of times a knife is used to take a life per capita–is so much higher than in other nations?


See, while she argues that individualism and collectivism can co-exist despite being complete opposites, the reality is that there’s no conflict between one’s gun rights and one’s right to live. In fact, they’re complimentary.

After all, California’s extensive gun laws did nothing to prevent the carnage we’ve seen there recently, but one good guy with a gun in the right place might have.

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