COMMENTARY: If you want to restrict access to guns, the burden of proof is on you
MINOT, N.D. — I was recently invited to be a guest on the Good Talk podcast (an excellent program based out of Minot).
Not surprisingly, given current events, our discussion turned to the issue of gun control.
I've been fascinated at the way this debate has been formulated.
My default position is we citizens are free people and should be allowed to do whatever we want. From there I understand total freedom is anarchy, and incompatible with the sort of ordered society most of us want to live in.
Therefore, we have a process called politics through which we choose leaders and decide policies that curtail our freedoms to one degree or another, all in the context of the Constitution which guarantees we citizens certain rights which cannot be removed.
At least not without amending the Constitution itself.
But the default is freedom. It's not something we have to justify.
It's something that is. The natural state of affairs.
When we debate a proposed policy which curtails our freedom in some way — like a city ordinance saying you have to mow your grass, or a state law setting a speed limit — the onus is on those supporting the proposal to demonstrate it's needed.
They make their case, the rest of us engage in the democratic process to make our views known, and the matter is settled one way or another.
That's how things should work in a society which values liberty.
Unfortunately, in practice, it often works the opposite way.
Take the debate over guns, for instance. "Why does anyone need an AR-15?" is a refrain we've heard often of late. The question demands justification from those who own AR-15 rifles.
It's a fundamentally illegitimate question.
Those wanting to ban certain types of guns must demonstrate that doing so would be in the best interest of our society and not contrary to our guaranteed rights.
I shouldn't have to justify my ownership of an AR-15 any more than an auto enthusiast should have explain owning a muscle car capable of traveling at multiples of even the fastest speed limit.
As another example, here in North Dakota we are in the process of debating a proposed ballot initiative which would legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.
Again, in that argument, we hear people ask, "Why do we need legal pot?"
There are lots of reasons. Some see medicinal value in marijuana. Others enjoy the drug's more recreational properties.
Those answers are irrelevant for the public debate over marijuana policy. The pertinent question is, why should marijuana continue to be illegal? Maybe there are good answers to that question, but they should come from those supporting marijuana prohibition.
You and I may disagree on the regulation of firearms, or the legality of cannabis, but whatever policy we're debating the question should be formulated correctly.
Asking citizens to justify the exercise of their freedoms is fundamentally un-American.