(Manassas, VA, March 13, 2007) When I was six years old my family moved from Wichita Falls, Texas to Sydney, Ohio so Dad could head up the creation of Gun Week newspaper. One of the first things we noticed upon arriving in the land of the Yankees was that the people up north talked funny. Not only did they have odd accents and strange pronunciations, they had different words for things and used terms that were not common where we came from.
One word in common usage in Ohio which, while not completely foreign, was still odd to us, was the word “allow.” Rather than saying, “My mom won’t let me.” Or, “I’m not supposed to.” Ohio kids would say “I’m not allowed.”
There was something very uncomfortable about that word to me and that discomfort has been revived and gnawing at me for the past couple of years. At the Gun Rights Policy Conference in Charlotte, NC last year I discussed some of my concerns about the word ‘allow’ and its implications. In this column I’m going to press the issue further and I expect that this will be a drum I’m going to be beating for a long time to come.
What really bothers me about the word ‘allow’ is the way it is so commonly used in the fight for gun rights; a CCW allows one to carry a gun, we should be allowed to carry in National Parks, the Post Office does not allow guns in their buildings, etc. The problem with these statements and their use of the word ‘allow’ is that they imply authority and privilege and shift the burden of proof in the debate.
The burden of proof in any argument which contains the word ‘allow’ falls on the side of the one seeking the allowance. If a group seeks to ban guns in libraries, the burden of proof is on those seeking the ban; it is incumbent upon them to prove that guns should be banned. Opponents of the ban retain the position of strength defending the status quo.
If the opponents of the ban make the mistake of arguing that guns should be allowed in libraries, they lose the advantage and the burden of proof immediately shifts to their side of the scales, requiring them to justify the presence of firearms in libraries.
Instead of defending an existing right, the word ‘allow’ places rights advocates in the position of requesting a special privilege. It is impossible to effectively demand to be allowed to exercise a right. The demand must be that rights be unimpaired or that existing restrictions or impingements on rights be removed.
The Second Amendment does not allow citizens to own guns. The government does not allow me to worship as I please. The President does not allow me to own property…
The Second Amendment expresses my right to own guns. The government recognizes my right to worship. And the President may not unduly restrict my right to property.
Rights can never be allowed and anything that is allowed is not a right.
Why is this important? Because through use of the word allow, gun rights advocates have allowed themselves to become supplicants seeking favors rather than holding the high ground as the guardians of liberty that they should be. This one word devolves a right into a privilege, a citizen to a supplicant, and shifts the burden of proof from those seeking to restrict rights to those trying to expand privileges. What’s worse, it becomes an invisible trap that makes us believe that we’re moving forward when we’re actually just positioning ourselves for a rapid decent down a slippery slope of our own making.
Consider the following statement: Citizens should be allowed to carry concealed handguns without having to get a permit.
What that functionally says is that the government should grant citizens the privilege of carrying concealed handguns without a documentation process. Is it a privilege or a right?
What that statement should say is: Government requiring a permit for concealed carry is a violation of rights and a waste of resources.
In the mid 1970’s Howard K. Smith presented an editorial on the 60 Minutes television show pointing out the mistake of journalists using the word ‘credit’ when referring to terrorists claiming responsibility for their acts. Smith rightly pointed out that ‘credit’ implies value and journalists should never give any such suggestion of value to the actions of terrorists. From the date of that broadcast to the present, the word ‘credit’ has almost completely disappeared from reports on terrorism.
Let us similarly remove the word ‘allow’ from the vocabulary of the gun rights movement except where it is used to question why we allow government to infringe on our God given and constitutional rights.