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Legislation Should be Based on Individual Rights, not Group Averages

As a slew of intrusive gun bills wind their way through the Colorado legislature, some of the discussion about those bills raises fundamental questions about the proper function of government.

Last week, a woman who was the victim of a rape testified against a bill banning the concealed carry of handguns on state college campuses. (The bill did not pass.) In response, State Senator Evie Hudak (who happens to be my state senator) said:

I just want to say that, actually statistics are not on your side even if you had a gun. And, chances are that if you would have had a gun, then he would have been able to get that from you and possibly use it against you. The Colorado Coalition Against Gun Violence says that for every one woman who used a handgun to kill someone in self-defense, 83 were murdered by them.

As the Denver Post reported, Hudak’s claim was an outright fabrication; she was misinterpreting fifteen-year-old data from the anti-gun Violence Policy Center. But even the original statistics are bogus, as the relevant measure of defensive gun use is not the number perpetrators killed. Usually, defensive gun use involves brandishing rather than firing a gun—often a criminal flees when his would-be victim pulls a gun. And, even when someone shoots a criminal, usually that injures but does not kill him.

But the problems with Hudak’s statistical claims run far deeper, as they reveal her collectivist standard for proper government action.

Even if it were true that, on average, a woman is less safe rather than more safe by carrying a gun (and the fact that it is not true is a topic for another day), that would have no bearing on whether a woman should be legally free to carry a gun.

The proper purpose of government is to protect individual rights. The government has no right to violate an individual’s rights—even on the pretext that others may not handle their liberty effectively or responsibly. Should government outlaw large sodas on the grounds that some people sugar themselves to death? Of course not. And the same reasoning applies here.

The fact that some women carry a gun without proper training or maintain relationships with abusive men (a major factor in the statistics cited by the Violence Policy Center) is no justification for punishing or violating the rights of those who train effectively and avoid abusive relationships.

Hudak’s claim is factually wrong. But her fundamental error is that of calling for legislation by a collectivist standard, specifically, by reference to group averages.

When the government violates individual rights on the pretext that some people exercise their rights ineffectively or irresponsibly—or on any other pretext—then the greatest threat to our health, our liberty, and our lives becomes the government itself.

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