bookmark_borderGun laws don’t “work” – they violate people’s rights

In the following tweet, California governor Gavin Newsom demonstrates that he doesn’t understand legal or moral philosophy:

Laws can’t “work.” It makes no sense to speak of a law either working or failing to do so.

The purpose of a law is not to achieve any particular result; the purpose of a law is to specify what is morally right and what is morally wrong.

What is morally right is to respect people’s rights, including the right to purchase any product(s) that one wishes, and the right to carry any item(s) that one wishes on one’s person.

Restricting the types of guns that people are allowed to purchase and/or carry – what Newsom refers to as “smart gun laws” – violates people’s rights and is therefore morally wrong.

It’s as simple as that.

Gun rights proponents and opponents frequently debate whether gun laws “work” – in other words whether they achieve their presumed goal of preventing gun violence and saving lives. But in reality, this debate is irrelevant. Gun restrictions violate people’s rights, and that is the only thing that matters. If something violates people’s rights, it is morally wrong, and therefore should not be enacted, regardless of how much violence it prevents and regardless of how many lives it saves.

bookmark_border“Is it ever morally acceptable to visit a Confederate historical site?”

“Is it ever morally acceptable to visit a Confederate historical site?”

Such is the question that was asked in a recent New York Times ethics column.

It sickens and disgusts me that someone would even ask this question.

The Confederacy is my special interest.

It is everything that makes my life worth living.

It is beauty, it is joy, it is happiness, it is freedom.

The fact that I would even need to defend the moral acceptability of the thing that makes my life worth living is appalling and abhorrent, and makes me feel sick to my stomach.

But this very attitude – that the Confederacy is somehow immoral – is not new.

This is the first time that I have seen the question explicitly asked, the first time that I have seen the words “morally acceptable” printed in the same sentence as the words “Confederate historical site.” But the attitude that the Confederacy is somehow immoral is precisely the reason for the pain and trauma that I have experienced over the past three years. This attitude is exactly what motivates the countless atrocities that have been carried out against Confederate statues, monuments, and historical makers of all sorts all over the country and even the world. The atrocities that have been carried out against me.

And the attitude underlying these actions is precisely why they have been so painful and traumatizing, and why I characterize them as atrocities. It is not simply the loss of the statues and monuments – collectively the thing that makes my life worth living – that has inflicted such trauma and pain. It is the fact that their removal is a moral condemnation of the statues themselves, the ideas that they stand for, and the people who like them.

The removal of Confederate statues is a moral condemnation of me.

If statues had been destroyed accidentally – say by an earthquake or a tornado – it would be sad, and I would grieve their loss. But the destruction of the statues is not accidental. It is intentional, systematic, and pervasive. What has made the past three years so bad is that in addition to my grief – layered on top of an already agonizing experience – are the shame, anger, and rage of being almost unanimously rejected, repudiated, and morally condemned by our society.

This intentional destruction is a way of saying: who I am is immoral. Who I am is morally unacceptable.

That is why the removal of Confederate statues hurts so much. Because it is a moral condemnation of me. For being autistic. For being different. For being a rebel. For supporting the losing side. For liking something that most people do not like.

In a society where things that used to be considered immoral – abortion, homosexuality, having a baby out of wedlock – have become almost unanimously accepted, it hurts that the very essence of who I am is morally condemned.

It hurts that someone would even ask the question of whether the very essence of who I am is ever morally acceptable, let alone that someone would answer in the negative, or even think about answering in the negative. (I did not read the column itself, because I know that doing so would be too painful for me to be able to tolerate, but my guess is that the ethicist at the Times did not provide a positive answer.)

It hurts that the question would even be framed in this way.

I am a good person. Many people would likely disagree, but I genuinely believe that. I haven’t done anything wrong by being autistic, by being different, by being a rebel, by supporting the losing side, by liking something that most people do not like. I haven’t done anything to deserve moral condemnation.

So I affirm: not only is visiting a Confederate historical site perfectly morally acceptable; it is morally good. Always. All the time. In fact, it is the most morally good thing imaginable. There is nothing more morally good than Confederate history, the sites, artifacts, and public art associated with it, and the decision to support it by visiting those sites.

The real question that should be asked: is a world without Confederate historical sites morally acceptable?

The answer is no. Obviously not. I feel more strongly about that answer than I do anything else in the world.

bookmark_borderRights are not the same as “convenience”

Inconvenience. This word is used to describe many things, including:

  • Requiring people to remove their shoes and even clothes while going through airport security, or to pass through full-body scanners that reveal their nude bodies.
  • Requiring people to undergo covid testing or receive covid vaccines.
  • Telling people that they must stay home and banning them from existing in public places such as beaches and parks.
  • Requiring people to provide medical and/or psychological records in order to be allowed to own a gun.

Contrary to the opinions of authoritarian-leaning people, the above things are not inconveniences. They are violations of rights.

People have a right to privacy. People have a right to bodily autonomy. People have a right to move about freely. People have a right to bear arms.

Privacy, bodily autonomy, freedom of movement, and gun ownership are not “conveniences.” They are basic rights.

An inconvenience is having to wait in a long line at the post office, or having to pay for something in cash, or encountering more traffic than usual, or finding out that your train is running late, or experiencing weather that is different than you thought it would be so that the clothing you chose ends up being too warm or too cold.

Taking basic rights away from people is not an inconvenience. It is immoral, it is unacceptable, and it should never happen. It is the epitome of moral wrong.

To refer to violations of rights as “inconveniences” is to warp language so that aggressors avoid accountability for their actions, while the burden of scrutiny and criticism is unfairly placed on their victims. Rights are pooh-poohed as something silly and stupid, their loss dismissed as “no big deal” and something we should just get used to. This enables aggressors to be perceived as holding the moral high ground, while those who correctly object to their rights being violated are portrayed as the problem. We are described as entitled, spoiled, immature, petty, selfish, unreasonable, and lacking in grit and resilience, and criticized for valuing our “convenience” over other people’s safety, security, and health. 

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

And nothing could be more despicable than to frame debates in such a way.

Rights are not a luxury. Rights are not a mere convenience, like an Uber ride or a contactless credit card or a smoothly-running subway system or a mobile app that allows you to avoid waiting in line. Having one’s rights respected is a necessity, without which life is not worth living at all.

Whether people’s rights are respected or violated is a matter of moral right and wrong, not a matter of convenience or inconvenience.