First Principles

Over the years, I’ve met several people who opposed the right to keep and bear arms. In some cases, these meetings resulted in discussion and debates on US firearm law and policy.
For the first year or two that I had these discussions, I found it very difficult to understand the other person’s position, and they had difficulty understanding mine. Eventually, I discovered why: we each held fundamentally different first principles.
For example, I hold the belief that the default state of rights is “on” — if someone wishes to create a new law or restriction, the onus is on them to justify their restriction. I’m consistent in the application of this belief: all rights default to “on,” whether they’re the right to speak freely, possess and use arms, maintain one’s privacy, have sex with any other consenting adult, end one’s life, ingest or otherwise consume intoxicating substances (( With the caveat that some substances may require a doctor’s perscription, as they might have harmful side-effects if not taken in a particular manner. )), operate a vehicle, and so on so long as one exercises those rights in a manner that is safe, does not infringe on the rights of others, and takes responsibility for any effects of their actions.
Some people I know hold an opposite belief: that the default state of rights is (or should) be “off,” and that unless a specific thing or behavior is allowed, it is forbidden.
Some people straddle the line in that they believe that certian rights default to “off” and others default to “on” — a person may have a right to speak freely, but needs to justify their desire to possess arms. Perhaps they think that a person may have a right to own arms, but simultaneously think that one may not have consensual sex with another adult that does not fit with their personal beliefs. Another common one is that that one may own arms, but has no right to privacy.
When it comes to guns in particular, some believe that guns serve no useful purpose, and so one must demonstrate a “need” (such as being a member of the police or military) prior to being allowed to own one, while I believe that guns are useful, and one must demonstrate a “need” to justify a restriction on their ownership.
Once I discovered this fundamental difference in first principles, I realized why I was having so much difficulty understanding and being understood: discussions and debates are impossible if the participants do not agree upon a common set of first principles.
As such, I’ve stopped figuratively bashing my head against a brick wall when it comes to debating gun-specific issues, but instead focus on the two of us agreeing on compatible first principles, if possible.

4 thoughts on “First Principles”

  1. I have had a number of discussions too. Another fundamental principle is trust of the government to always do right. When gun related discussion comes up and I am asked “Why do you need a gun?” my next question is always do you trust the government. Usually (95% of the time) the answer is “Yes, why wouldn’t I?”, or some variant of that.

    1. Chris,
      I must admit that I had read your post a while back and it had been churning around in my brain for a few years.
      While I’d like to say “great minds think alike,” I have no evidence that my mind is, in fact, great. 😛

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