I often see causes that I believe in dismissed as petty or unimportant. People who object to their rights being violated are accused of “whining.” What the people who make these types of arguments do not understand is that it’s not usually about the specific thing, but about the general principle behind it.
An example of this is the recent protests against authoritarian measures designed to slow the spread of Covid-19. The other day, while listening to the radio, I heard a medical ethicist who was being interviewed refer to these protesters as “the people who want haircuts.” Separately, in a tweet that I saw today, someone described these protesters as “whining ’cause the barbershop closed during a pandemic.”
These criticisms completely miss the point. It’s not about barbershops. It’s not about nail salons, or restaurants, or malls, or gyms, or parks, or casinos, or even churches (although those who argue that their religious freedom is being violated by the lockdown orders have an excellent point). It’s about individual liberty. It’s about the principle that freedom should not be sacrificed for the sake of safety. It’s about the principle that individuals should be able to make their own decisions about their own lives and to decide for themselves what amount of risk they are willing to take.
Supporters of gun rights face similar criticisms. We are called “gun fetishists” and “gun kissers,” and ridiculed for being irrationally obsessed with our “murder toys.” But it’s not about the guns. I have never owned a gun and have only used one a couple times, but it would be difficult to find a more ardent supporter of gun rights than me. Just like with the lockdown protests, it’s about the principle that freedom should not be sacrificed for safety. It’s about the principle that an object should not be banned, or made more difficult to obtain, simply because some people choose to misuse it. It’s about the principle that the correct response to a crime is to punish the person who did it, not to punish innocent people by taking their freedom away.
These moral principles are important. Without them, people would not have any freedom at all. Barbershops and guns are just examples of instances to which the moral principles apply. Personally, I can do without a gun and I can do without a haircut. But the government should not be able to take the freedom of owning a gun or getting a haircut away from people. Once a moral principle is violated in one case, there is nothing to stop it from being violated in other cases as well. Think about that before accusing protesters of “whining.”