In a recent debate on Second Amendment rights in the House of Representatives, Representative Chip Roy gave an impassioned defense of Americans’ right to own weapons as a means to defend themselves against potential tyranny. Unfortunately, he made a crucial mistake.
He said, “The very existence of the Second Amendment is designed purposefully to empower the people to be able to resist the force of tyranny used against them to step over their natural rights given to them by God.”
By claiming that people’s rights are given to them by God, a being for which there is no evidence, Representative Roy and many others who try to defend rights fundamentally undermine their own argument. They perpetuate the false idea that, if there is no God, as an increasing number of people believe, then there is no source for rights.
If, instead, defenders of rights like Representative Roy based their case on objective facts about reality—things that anyone can see and accept regardless of their religious views, or lack thereof—their arguments would be far stronger. Ayn Rand provided precisely this foundation for the existence of rights, saying:
The source of man’s rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A—and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational. Any group, any gang, any nation that attempts to negate man’s rights, is wrong, which means: is evil, which means: is anti-life.Ayn Rand, “Galt’s Speech,” as quoted in For the New Intellectual, (New York: Signet, 1963), 204-205.
In other words, Rand identified that rights are a recognition of the fact that, in order to live fully and according to their nature as human beings, people must be free to act on their own judgment—free from the kind of tyranny Representative Roy refers to.
As long as defenders of liberty continue to claim that rights come from God, they will continue to lose the argument. To effectively defend our rights, we must recognize that they derive from facts of reality.