I was having a discussion on line the other day about whether healthcare is a right. Amid the usual progressive arguments of “you want people to die,” and “you’re a sack of sh#t,” someone asked a good question. What, they said, about police, fire and military protection?
I had made the point that no one has a right to anything that imposes an obligation on someone else or, said another way, the only true rights are negative rights.
They pointed out that protecting the public does, in fact, place an obligation on someone else, namely the police officer, fire fighter or soldier. While that is true, and I believe those are legitimate functions of government, it does not then follow that individuals have a right to the services provided by those functions.
A right is something every single person possesses that the government cannot take away. Said another way, they are universal and unalienable. Therefore, government must ensure that all people’s rights are protected all the time. You don’t have a right to freedom of the press only when resources are available, you have it always. So if police protection is a right, every unthwarted mugging is a violation of an individual’s rights and the police department must be held accountable for that violation to the same degree as if they kicked in your door and searched your house without a warrant. They were required to do something, protect you from crime, and they did not. They, therefore, violated your rights.
Of course that’s silly but that’s what we must believe if we say every individual has a right to police protection. A right is not just something the government makes available; it is something the government MUST do. When they don’t, a citizen has grounds to pursue legal recourse.
So, again, only negative rights are rights. In the scenario we’re discussing, the negative right is the right to self-defense. Government may not interfere with that. While I hope the police will prevent me from being assaulted, I have the right to stop the assault myself whether they show up or not. That is why the right to own and carry a gun cannot be infringed. Because to do so is to violate a real civil right, the right to self-defense.