Dave Bangert has a column in the Lafayette Journal & Courier about an exchange between Congressman Todd Rokita and a constituent that speaks to a bigger problem with political discourse.
A constituent asked him about the government’s role in regulating firearms. Rokita says, apparently, that government has no such role, “See, that’s why you’ll never be able to communicate with me this way, because you have a fundamental different perspective on who gives someone the rights found in our Constitution.” The facile reasoning here being that because God gave us the Second Amendment or the right to bear arms, Congress has no role in regulating such rights. It immediately falls apart if, say, Congressman Rokita recognizes a role for Congress in regulating the broadcast spectrum through the FCC or otherwise despite our “God given” right to free speech.
This is a variation of “‘Shut up,’ he explained.”
I’ve taken the unpopular view that when someone speaks of “natural” rights (God-given or otherwise), from Thomas Jefferson up to and including Congressman Rokita, it suggests that the individual is appealing to authority either to foreclose further discussion or because the proponent’s claim to a right is on less stable ground than he or she would like to acknowledge. For example, in 2010 on the subject of god-given gun rights, I wrote:
I’m not really sure what a “god given right” might be. Those strike me as less enforceable than those rights protected by government force.
But, in any event, I’d argue that your right to protect yourself and your family doesn’t extend to putting me and my family in danger. So, if you start blasting away when you feel threatened, the corollary would be that I have a right to set you on fire or otherwise subject you to physical harm until I feel like I’m safe.
And then we’re back to a state of nature, with man in a war of all against all where life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
Without government, there are no rights, just a Hobbesian war of all-against-all with individuals being able to bring greater or lesser levels of force to bear, protecting or obtaining what they want.
But, that’s straying a bit far afield for the incident noted by Mr. Bangert. What’s really going on in this particular case is that there is no real upside to Congressman Rokita in discussing the issue. Wavering on gun rights might prompt a primary challenge which, in his District, is the only real electoral concern he has. Foreclosing further conversation on gun rights in the name of God carries no political downside for him.