Appeared-to-Blogly

April 12, 2013

What Guns and Fetuses have in Common

Filed under: Ethics,Politics — camcintosh @ 11:53 pm

The following two propositions are prima facie inconsistent:

(1) A woman’s right to decide what shall happen to her person trumps the potential risk of someone being murdered
(2) The potential risk of someone being murdered trumps anyone’s right to decide that bearing arms is necessary for the protection of one’s person

One defense of their consistency might run as follows: a woman’s right to decide what shall happen to her person is a natural right. And natural rights should always trump mere legal rights when in conflict. And because “the potential risk of someone being murdered” in (2) expresses the natural right to life against potential risk, it has trump power over the right to bear arms, which is a mere legal right, an artifact of law. Thus, there is no inconsistency.

This defense will not work. If the right to life against potential risk is the natural right that gives trump power to “the potential risk of someone being murdered,” then it is a natural right a fetus enjoys, too.

“But!” it will be objected, “It’s not clear that the fetus enjoys that right precisely because it’s not clear that a fetus is a human person, and only human persons have natural rights.”

But this won’t do either, for four reasons. First, the point does not rest on whether the fetus is clearly a person or not; rather, it rests on the modest observation that it might be a person. The very possibility of the fetus’s being a person is what generates the potential risk. Again the point is parallel: it’s not clear whether someone will be murdered by virtue of the rightful possession of firearms among citizenry; it’s the potential risk of that happening that generates the trump. Second, it is clear that the fetus is at least a human, if not a human person. Third, it is false that only human persons, or even only humans, have natural rights. Non-human animals have natural rights, too. And there’s no morally relevant distinction that could be made between a human fetus and some non-human animal that would entail the latter has natural rights but the former doesn’t. Finally, it’s not clear that the right to bear arms is not an expression of a natural right (indeed, the very same one). It’s easy to imagine cases where one’s right to bear arms just amounts to, or is an exercise or defense of, the right to life against potential risk (or, more perspicuously, one’s right to decide what shall happen to one’s person). Suppose I live on the worst street of Detroit, and the chances of me getting raped, robbed, or murdered are high. Should I find myself confronted by any one of these dangers, having firearm protection just is a way of defending my right to life, or my right to decide what happens to my person.

So, (1) and (2) are at least prima facie inconsistent. Of course, that’s just a more modest way of saying they’re probably ultima facie inconsistent, too. But what guns and fetuses don’t have in common is media coverage.

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