What is wrong with rights?

red ensign

In my last post on American gun debates I opened the idea that these debates have been less than helpful in my Canadian context.

I aim to show that the classic presumption in English Common Law is for the ownership of weapons, and for their lawful use in domestic self-defence. To do this, we shall examine American history, as a spring board into this debate.

The charge brought by many a liberal on the hapless Canadian gun owner is that owning a gun is a mere “privilege” and is emphatically not a right. We are Canadians after all, not Americans. We can all agree that a Canadian is not an American. No matter liberal confusion regarding identity in other areas, they are right on this point.

So what? Does it matter?

History and tradition do matter. Americans have a 2nd Amendment. It reads,

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Article II 1789 Bill of Rights

We need to ask ourselves what that meant when it was adopted as law in 1789, and what bearing it has on us.

To recount the whole story of American independence and political development is not our aim here, but I will make a few remarks.

The American founding Fathers fought for Independence from Great Britain because they believed that the English Parliament was infringing upon the colonies’ rights as de jure states under the British Crown, and because they believed that the British King had neglected his sworn duties as liege-lord to protect the independence of the colonies and colonists from this infringement. If you do not understand this fact of self-perception, nothing the 13 colonies did makes sense.

In short, the 13 colonies, plus Vermont, (who fought a separate war with Britain) fought to maintain their Rights as Englishmen. Even a cursory reading of the stuff these guys wrote at the time proves this.

They came to see that the best way to protect their ancient liberties was through separation from Great Britain.

We need to see that they saw the world through their eyes, and their immediate context.  Political and religious thought in the 13 colonies were shaped by the events of the English Civil War from the 1640s’.

So what does all this matter to a Canadian? American developments springing from ancient English Common-law traditions do matter. Their developments can be seen as a parallel growth from a common root. To be sure, American law has no legal authority in Canada, but it ought to have an advisory authority derived from common ancestry and common traditions.

However, the common root does have legal authority in Canada. Queen Elizabeth II is our Queen, and via the covenants and traditions we possess in common with the British Crown we have good grounds for assuming all the ancient rights of Englishmen as being ours.

Incidentally, this is why I am a convinced monarchist. This tradition is worth all danger to keep.

What then were the common traditions the American colonists sought to defend? What was it that they thought they ought to have, and were willing to forego all comfort and safety to attain?

We shall sketch the English Civil War and some of the developments from it in the next posts in this series, in an effort to lay out some of these that pertain to the question at hand.