It’s a common understanding in Western countries: individual citizens have rights. Issues of human rights come into play when dealing with imprisonment, the news media, and a myriad of issues related to religious practice, personal choices, privacy, health, and so much more.
Some countries are listed by the United Nations for not safeguarding civil rights. The governments of these countries are known internationally to violate the basic rights of their citizens. But are an individual’s civil rights the only thing that’s important to consider when thinking about freedom and liberty? Aren’t there times when the rights of one infringe on the rights of others? Can the exercise of individual rights be related to a decline in public welfare? Where’s the balance between individual rights and that nebulous concept that ethicists call the common good?
I will venture to say that it is considered a universal right among people of the world that individuals should be able to go about their daily lives with a basic sense of safety. Aside from times of war, it appears reasonable to expect that children should be able to attend school, adults watch a movie in a theater, or families attend a house of worship without concern for becoming victims of violence. However, this is not the case in the United States. Because of the primacy placed on a right to own guns, the United States has become a very unsafe place. Even in my own middle class neighborhood, there are nights when gun shots are heard. My neighbors have found bullets in their backyard – probably from people shooting guns in the air.
In June 2001, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that in the United States 6000 people under the age of 20 die from injuries related to fire arms each year. Four times as many are injured by firearms. A UN report found that among the countries of the G-20, 85% of the children killed by firearms died in the United States. (This statistic has been misrepresented as “children in the world” when the study was limited to the G-20 countries – none of whom are at war.) In speaking to the US Conference of Mayors on January 17, 2013, Vice President Joseph Biden reported that approximately 25 people are killed in the US from gun related violence each day. No matter how the numbers are tallied, the number of deaths and serious injuries related to firearms in the United States is at epidemic proportions.
Because I affirm that spirituality is intertwined with the way in which we live, I need to ask a fundamental question: what is it that we, as citizens of the United States, value? What is it that fuels our tollerance of such high levels of gun violence in our communities? Do we value life, safety, and the pursuit of happiness? Do we value guns, violence, and personal liberty at the expense of the safety of others?
In my mind, the question here is not about gun control. Instead, the fundamental question is about the kind of society we want to live in. Do we want to live in a society in which each person needs to be armed with a concealed weapon, on guard, and ready to defend self? Or do we want to be in our homes, schools, places of worship, and other public places in a way that is safe?
My values lead me to conclude that people have a fundamental right to enjoy life free from the fear of violence. I believe we can live together in that way if we choose to do so. But that’s not a choice one person can make. So, I ask: what about you? What kind of society do you want to live in? What is it that you value?
© 2013, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.