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Plaxico Buress and the Right to Keep and Bear Arms

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Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Plaxico Burress did not deserve to go to prison for carrying a loaded weapon into New York City’s Latin Quarter in 2009. The worst he should have gotten were a few stitches and a Darwin Award for shooting himself in the leg.

As the story goes, Burress had pistol in the waistband of his jeans. He said he was patted down at the door of the nightclub and that security knew he was armed. The weapon slipped as he was walking up a flight of stairs, so the former New York Giant receiver reached down to stop it from sliding all the way to the floor, but he inadvertently caught it on the trigger. As Homer Simpson might say, “D’oh!”

An award for stupidity? Yes. He should have used a holster. Prison? No.

Yes, he broke a New York law by having the weapon, but such a law is more of a violation of natural law and basic human rights than accidentally shooting one’s self.

Self defense — up to and including the use of lethal force if need be — is a basic human right. The operative word, though, is defense. People may use force to protect themselves and their families against anyone initiating an act of force against them.

The good news for Mr. Burress is that he’s now out of prison after completing an 18-month sentence. The bad news is that there are still inane statutes on the books that violate the right to self-defense.

New York and the several other states and municipalities with restrictive gun laws are behind the times. About 40 states are issuing concealed-carry permits for residents and, since the increase in permits, crime in those states has dropped.

In his book More Guns, Less Crime, author John Lott says crime rates have dropped 10 percent in those states. Further, it’s reported that household break-ins in Canada and Britain — where there are stricter gun-control laws — are more apt to happen when residents are home, about half the time. That puts homeowners and family members at risk.

In the United States, residents are home for about 13 percent of the break-ins. Crooks here know there’s a greater chance of meeting an armed homeowner than in other countries and, therefore, are more likely to get shot here. Got a problem with that?

I don’t mean to sound flippant with that rhetorical question. Shooting another person is something no rational person wants to have to do, but sometimes it is an unfortunate necessity. Even brandishing the weapon to chase off a would-be assailant without firing a shot carries a lot of responsibility because that action alone implies a potential shooting. People with a proper and healthy respect for life don’t won’t to take the life of another.

Yet, to hear control advocates, more guns mean more crime and more shootings. Lott challenges those assertions.

In a column written last year, Lott said carry permits went from 5 million to 6.2 million during a three-year period. He cited some statistics from Florida:

Between Oct. 1, 1987, and May 31 this year, permits had been issued to 1.8 million people. On average, the permits had been held for quite a long time, well over 10 years. For all those individuals across the more than 22 years of legal carry, there were only 167 cases where the permit was revoked for a firearms related violation, or about 0.01 percent of permit holders. While the state doesn’t provide a precise breakdown of the reason for those revocations, the vast majority were apparently for people who accidentally carried their concealed handgun into a gun-free zone, such as an airport or school.

Having a firearm doesn’t mean it will be misused. FBI figures show a 5.5 percent drop in violent crime from 2009 and 2010.That includes a 4.4 percent drop in murders — and that during a period of time when private gun ownership has increased.

Statistics are only one part of the issue, however. At the heart of the right to keep and bear arms is that right to defend one’s self and family. Indeed, we have the right to defend life, liberty, and property.

As a right, self-defense is an action that a person may take without permission from anyone else, including the government. As with all rights, it is an individual right — not a group right as some challengers to the Second Amendment have alleged.

In two cases last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gun ownership is an individual right. Even had the court ruled otherwise, it wouldn’t change the fact that there can only be individual rights, not collective ones.

Rights are not additive. Two people have no more rights than one person. Neither do thousands or millions of people. Only individuals have the right to speak or pray or defend one’s life. The only way the concept of a group right can hold water at all is if each member of the group may exercise his or her individual right. In short, there can be no group rights without individual rights first.

Plaxico Burress is out of jail, but the fight for rights — including the right to keep and bear arms without government permission — continues.

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    Rich Schwartzman is managing editor at Chadds Ford Live in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.