Claiming My Right To Life

human rights blog

Universal Declaration of Human Rights 

Preamble

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, …

Now, Therefore 

The General Assembly

Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance both among the the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction. …

Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I no longer feel especially confident in my security of person or in my right to life. Why? Because the United States, a signing member of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has spent more time and energy going through the moral and political gymnastics to protect an antiquated and misused amendment to its own Constitution rather than to protect the lives of all of its citizens.

I do not feel secure being in public spaces because, all too often, those spaces have become a target for gun violence. Universities, movie theaters, concerts, nightclubs, churches, and even elementary schools have all seen innocent people gunned down for no other reason than they were out living their lives and happened to find themselves in the crosshairs. They had a right to life. They had a right to feel secure in their person. Their basic human rights were violated.

Now I know there are those who will say we shouldn’t talk about gun control in the wake of the horrific shooting in Las Vegas. We should mourn the dead and help the wounded. It’s not the time or the place for politics. But how long do we mourn? How long before we can channel our grief into actions that prevent this kind of thing from happening ever again? Sandy Hook was nearly five years ago. Are we still mourning the slaughter of those little children and the adults who tried to protect them? Or do we stop mourning them so we can mourn Las Vegas? Do we compound the mourning and if so, then do we ever really stop mourning given the number of mass shootings in this country? Is there a body count threshold we need to meet before we should mourn as a nation? Let’s be completely honest, this latest mass murder is exceptionally newsworthy because of the sheer volume of dead and wounded. Would it have made headlines if only two or three people had been killed? Probably not. Maybe the local news would’ve talked about it for a night, two tops. Would it have mattered as much if only two or three died? Absolutely. One life lost to violence is one too many.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written in 1948 by the newly formed United Nations. The member nations were united in their avowal that the horrors of the Holocaust must never happen again. The Holocaust did not happen overnight but rather it began by the incremental, and gradually legalized, stripping away of the most fundamental rights to property, to security of person, and finally the right to life itself. The United Nations recognized the wisdom in protecting human rights from precisely this sort of incremental loss. When we no longer recognize the sanctity and dignity of all human life, our own human rights are in jeopardy.

Why has the right to bear arms become more important than the right to life? How many have to die on the altar of gun rights? At what point do we begin to demand that our basic universal God-given human right to life be honored over and above the right to own a gun capable of killing scores of people in a matter of minutes?

But wait, what about the right to bear arms? What about the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution?

Amendment II

A well-regulated militia, being necessary to security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

The Bill of Rights of the United States of America was written in 1791. These are amendments to the Constitution and are described therein as “proposed by Congress and ratified by the Legislatures of the Several States pursuant to the Fifth Article of the Original Constitution.” When the Founding Fathers included the right to bear arms in the Constitution, they could not have imagined the types of firearms that now exist. The United States was an agrarian society with vast stretches of wilderness that made owning firearms necessary for hunting and as a sensible form of protection, thereby providing security of person. What they did not envision was that a single person would have the ability to amass a cache of weapons and unleash hell on other innocent civilians gathered in a public space.

There are those who would argue that the United Nations Declaration is non-binding as the United States is a sovereign nation with its own laws, standards, and guarantees of rights. For those who would dismiss the United Nations, I need point only to the Declaration of Independence, written in 1776.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

There, in the very founding document of our nation, is the declaration by the Founding Father that all of us has the God-given right to life. We also have the right to peaceably assemble. We have the right to attend schools. We have the right to worship in peace. All of these rights are human rights. These rights have been defined and declared in our own laws and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And every single one of these rights have been violated by those who invoke the right to bear arms.

So do we strip away the right to bear arms altogether? The right to protect self and property? The right to hunt or target shoot for sport? Not necessarily. But we do need to have a serious, soul-searching national conversation about whether the right to life should be held in higher regard than the right to bear arms. We need to have a serious, soul-searching national conversation about defining limits on the right to bear certain types of arms and perhaps by certain people in order to protect the rights of all people to live freely and with security of person.

Would gun control laws be a slippery slope to an incremental stripping away of fundamental rights? I don’t believe so. But what I do believe is that the lack of gun control laws is incrementally stripping away our fundamental right to security of person and our right to life.

Our right to life is God-given. Our right to bear arms is a human invention.

Which do we hold in higher regard?

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