I was asked (when I said that I think federal voting reform would be entirely appropriate, and we could even throw Republicans a bone with national -funded- Voter ID; ideally, guarantee that all adult citizens are automatically registered to vote and have or can -trivially- get identification proving it; along with establishing standards for polling places and voting machines throughout the nation such that a national popular vote for President is a real possibility; oh, and abolish the Electoral College), whether I thought there shouldn't be artificial barriers to all our rights.
Well, I do think that in general there shouldn't be artificial barriers to our rights; the government should put up artificial barriers to things only when it has a compelling interest in doing so. However, I don't think all rights are of equal value--and our rights need to be balanced against the rights of others.
Of the highest level are the rights that allow a democratic society to function at all: Free political speech (and press, and association), voting, equal protection from the law as it affects self-government. Also sitting here is the right to, as long as our government is republican, not simply pure democratic, ensure the government answers to the people and we are protected from corruption.
One level down from this is the right to life and freedom from undue imprisonment; the right of fairness under the law. Here lies general equal protection under the law, protection against torture and other methods of imprisonment and intrusive search without a plausible indicator of guilt, etc. Here also lies an obligation that the state protect our personal freedom from threats both external and internal, just as the first set of rights obligate the state to protect our rights to think and vote and debate free of external constraint.
On a third tier are rights of personal autonomy--the right to be left alone. Here lies the right to have consensual sex with anyone you want, to undergo any medical procedure you wish that doesn't harm other people, own whatever property you are given by others, hold and practice any religious views you profess, and, yes, practice whatever martial arts and use and own whatever objects you can and do accquire and make (including weapons).
These rights are tiered--they are not of equal importance; nor can they be. So while I honor weapon use as a matter of personal autonomy--the right to be left alone--just as I do the right to abort an unthinking fetus, it must yield (to an extent) to the right of others to live; reasonable background checks are entirely appropriate, as are restricting weapons of mass murder. On the other hand, voting and speech rights are utterly central; one simply cannot make decisions as a free society without them, and it is hard to justify any restrictions on them that are not similarly ensuring the fairness and incorruptibility of elections.
FWIW, I don't think this style of tiering is particularly in-obvious or controversial. Of course, people disagree vociferously on which categories appear in -- some people think that a 5 day old foetus is covered in tier #2 (which would cause its rights to trump it's mother's tier #3 rights), which I can't agree with, and there are some people who think personal weapons ownership is still part of tier #1 (which, um, sorry, but I can't agree with that). But as long as we agree that not all rights are equal, there is still some room for discussion.
This entry was originally posted on Dreamwidth, where there are comments. Comment there or comment here below.