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Only the rights I want

I’ve opined in the past that denying felons the right to vote or the right to arms opens up a whole can of worms. We’ll call it can of worms because if I call it slippery slope, someone will say that’s a fallacy. Then I’ll tell them to leave their high school debate team bullshit back in high school (see rule #4). The reason it’s a can of worms is because if we accept that we can deny felons those rights, why not limit others? After all, we may not want them assembling peaceably, because that could be gang activity. We may not want them to be free from self-incrimination because, well, they’ve obviously done something wrong before. We may want them to convert to Christianity because those who find religion are more likely to reform. Yes, those are ridiculous extremes and that is the point. Where do we as a society draw the line?

This brings up Sean Braisted who writes:

I have trouble comprehending people who think just because a person doesn’t have legal status in this country, they should have no legal rights whatsoever. If that were the case, than the Government could easily just strip legal immigrants/citizens of their citizenship, thus making the Government unaccountable to the laws. This notion that illegal immigrants are somehow less than human, and shouldn’t receive medical treatment or have any basic human rights, is just ludicrous.

I like Sean’s blog. He’s a smart guy and reasonable. But I asked a simple question:

So, should illegal immigrants have the right to keep and bear arms? The right to vote?

Illegal immigrants cannot legally own a firearm (of course, they cannot legally be in the country either). In response to the first question, he answered:

As for Guns, unless they are members of a well regulated militia…well…you know the liberal position

Yes, and that position is total bullshit that is unsupported by any documents around at the time of the founding. And there is nothing to support the position without either making stuff up or disregarding the structure of the English language. So, for question two:

As for the right to vote, it is specifically limited to citizens of the United States.

Most matters regarding voting are left up to the states. The constitution doesn’t enumerate a right to vote specifically but mentions the right to vote. Determining those who can vote is generally up to the states:

The Constitution contains many phrases, clauses, and amendments detailing ways people cannot be denied the right to vote. You cannot deny the right to vote because of race or sex. Citizens of Washington DC can vote for President; 18-year-olds can vote; you can vote even if you fail to pay a poll tax. The Constitution also requires that anyone who can vote for the “most numerous branch” of their state legislature can vote for House members and Senate members. Note that in all of this, though, the Constitution never explicitly ensures the right to vote, as it does the right to speech, for example. This is precisely why so many amendments have been needed over time – the qualifications for voters are left to the states. And as long as the qualifications do not conflict with anything in the Constitution, that right can be withheld.

The amendments that do refer to the right to vote contain the phrase The right of citizens of the United States to vote . So, you know, he may have a legitimate out on that one.

Since Mr. Braisted believes in the fictitious collective right model of the second amendment (which says there’s no right at all and that the amendment doesn’t mean what it says) and thinks that the constitution grants the right to vote only to citizens, he’s avoided the question. Mind you, he thinks there is a right to health care and there is a right to being innocent until proven guilty, neither of which I can find guaranteed in my copy of the constitution. I’m not going to take his word for it since he ignores rights specifically enumerated. Getting Mr. Braisted to answer the question is like pulling teeth. Do we acknowledge that illegal immigrants can be denied rights or not? Or do we pick and choose which rights are restricted? Do we, for example, strip them of 5th amendment protections (though Mr. Braisted may or may not think that amendment means what it says it means) and deport them without due process of law?

Conversely, what if a State gave illegal immigrants the vote?

So, let’s try again. Mr. Braisted will not answer the question directly, so, dear reader, what are your thoughts?

Update: Publicola weighs in:

Most people reason that the enumeration of certain rights in the constitution are for the benefit of the citizens of this country. If you’re not a citizen or if you happen to be outside the country then the governmental gloves are off.

My take on things is that this is wrong. The constitution is a document which was designed to limit government as it was created, not grant protection from the almost almighty government to certain classes.

So does J0e:

… my position has long been that if someone has proved themselves so dangerous to society they can’t be trusted with possession of a gun then they can’t be trusted with a can of gasoline and a book of matches either.

11 Responses to “Only the rights I want”

  1. gattsuru Says:

    I think you’d need due process of law to show an illegal immigrant to be one in the first case, so I don’t know if there’s a valid .

    I think the issue is that you’re trying to lump together human and civil rights. It’s a common choice, but not really a good one. Human rights, like the right to arms or speech, exist regardless of the government or even a government, and as a result, the United States government must protect regardless of the person’s citizenship or status as a felon or not. Human rights can only be removed after due course of law (which is why it’s possible to punish individuals at all). They can not be given or limited by the government, only infringed or recognized. Civil rights, such as civil marriage, political office, the right to vote, only exist because they are given by the government. As a result, they can be and are limited on a regular basis : you can’t run for public offices until a certain age, and civil marriage is usually limited to protect minors.

    Human rights are parts of being, well, human or even near it, and thus the government has no right to take away from innocents (or those who have served their time) what it didn’t give. Civil rights are given as a result of an automatic contract with society, and violating your end of the bargain makes it quite reasonable for society to take its side back.

    Oh, and as to the right to assembly, we already killed it. Clinton, no surprise, signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which made “gang membership” a felony.

  2. The View From North Central Idaho - Released felons and RKBA Says:

    […] […]

  3. Bob K Says:

    There are occasional incidences of those not not normally qualified to vote, actually being allowed to vote. For example, in Franklin, TN, non-resident land-owners are able to vote in city elections. When that election is concurrent with another election, they are limited only to the city issues.

    Somewhere in the back of my mind, I recall a move by a community either in California or Oregon to extend local voting rights to children. I believe they were given a fraction of a vote. (There’s a very bad historical precedent for the 3/5ths fraction.) If that rule had passed, it would not have applied to federal elections.

    However, you bring up an interesting scenario. Imagine the state that does choose to extend voting rights to all residents. It could markedly change the electorate and the government in that community.

    But don’t worry. This candidate for state senate will not vote for allowing Tennessee to become such a state.

  4. Sean Braisted Says:

    If a State wants to give an illegal alien the right to vote in state and local elections, I don’t particularly see a problem with that. However, I don’t think illegal aliens should be allowed to vote in Federal elections until they are at least on a pathway to legal citizenship.

  5. Sean Braisted Says:

    As for Health Care, it is a basic human right enumerated in the UN Declaration of Rights. I never said it was a constitutional right, but a human right.

    As for Guns, my comment was really more of a tongue in cheek one. My personal position is that the people have a right to own a gun, but the state has the right to control the trafficking and sales of weapons. Also, I think “arms” is too broad a word in this day and age, and we have to put it in some context to what the founders were thinking. For instance, Nuclear Weapons, Skud Missles, RPGs, should not be in the hands of every Tom, Dick, and Harry who has the money to buy it. If a person wants to own a certain item deemed too dangerous to be sold in the neighborhood WalMart (ie Fully-Automatic Machine Guns, RPGs, Etc) they should have to be licensed and go through rigid training.

    I do think the people have the right to keep and bear arms, but the State in it’s modern form has the need to decide where said Weapons can be carried, and also they have the responsibility to insure dangerous individuals can not (legally) purchase them.

    Guns aren’t my thing, I’ve never fired one beyond a BB gun, and I have no real desire to, but I do work with people who carry and I am comfortable with that. Whether Handgun permits, background checks, waiting periods are “Constitutional,” really comes down to how you view the constitution. As a “Liberal” I view it as a living document and as such we need to occasionally adapt it to changing conditions. However, I think current gun laws are still in accordance with the basic premise that the people should be able to own firearms.

    As for Illegal Immigrants owning guns…if that gun can be sold without a background check, than they should be able to purchase them. However, if it is a weapon that requires a background check, then I don’t see how an undocumented person can qualify.

  6. SayUncle Says:

    As for Health Care, it is a basic human right enumerated in the UN Declaration of Rights.

    So, it may as well be written on toilet paper for all the legal authority it holds.

    My personal position is that the people have a right to own a gun, but the state has the right to control the trafficking and sales of weapons.

    Good to hear. However, regarding your but, seems to me the point where control becomes prohibit or too cumbersome for the law-abiding (tried to buy a gun in NYC?) is not something a lot of liberals are too concerned about.

  7. Sean Braisted Says:


    Guess you’re gonna have to take it up with the fine people of New York City. Having never lived there, I’m not really qualified to say what is the best course of action for them to regulate weapons. Considering they have drastically lowered their crime rate in the past 15 years, I’d be interested to know which Gun laws were in place before and after the decrease in violence. However, if they bar their citizens from bearing normal firearms, I think there is definite grounds for legal action.

  8. SayUncle Says:

    Guess youíre gonna have to take it up with the fine people of New York City. Having never lived there, Iím not really qualified to say what is the best course of action for them to regulate weapons.

    The point is not what they do in terms of taking it up with them. The point is restrictive gun laws can be too, err, restrictive to even meet your definition. Regarding new laws, I only know of the AWB and a few other smaller ones. They’ve essentially had most restrictions for quite a while.

  9. tgirsch Says:

    Mind you, he thinks there is a right to health care and there is a right to being innocent until proven guilty, neither of which I can find guaranteed in my copy of the constitution.

    It’s right there next to the right to buy, sell, and manufacture arms. ūüôā

    Seriously, though, these “where do you draw the line” type questions are non-trivial. Given that the 2nd amendment talks about the right of “the people” rather than the right of “the citizenry,” I’d have to say that citizenship isn’t a prerequisite for RKBA. (Coming from me, I bet that answer surprises you.)

    Concerning the right to vote, I’m not familiar enough to say whehter this is constitutionally mandated, but I think citizenship in good standing ought to be a requirement for voting.

    On the issue of whether felons ought to be denied certain rights, and if so, which, I’d have to say that ought to depend on the felony. Marijuana possession and armed robbery are not even close to being the same thing, although both can be felonies. Where exactly to draw the line is a tougher nut. Clearly, violent crime ought to deny you both the right to vote and RKBA, at least from a practical perspective. (I’d argue that in committing those crimes, you forfeited those rights.) Meanwhile, I don’t think there’s any crime you could commit that would cause you to forfeit those rights designed to protect the accused (e.g. 5th, 6th, and 8th amendments) since these specifically address how accused criminals are (not) to be treated.

  10. gattsuru Says:

    Wierd… I actually agree with you on most of that. One thing, though : once it’s proven someone has committed a crime, it’s not unusual for them to lose right to protection from warrantless searches (probation). I assume you meant ‘accussed’ or ‘alleged’ somewhere in there?

  11. tgirsch Says:

    once itís proven someone has committed a crime, itís not unusual for them to lose right to protection from warrantless searches (probation)

    There’s no constitutional prohibition against warrantless searches of any kind. The fourth amendment only prohibits “unreasonable” searches. Whether a warrantless search is “unreasonable” depends upon the other circumstances involved. In the case of probation, the convicted party in question is still in a sense serving their punishment — their debt to society has not yet been paid — and thus, continuing searches related to the crime committed can reasonably be construed as, err, not unreasonable.