Polls irrelevant to Second Amendment


Here's what's wrong with The University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll about firearm carrying laws in Texas. When it comes to rights, polls don't matter. Rights are rights, whether popular or unpopular. They're derived from our Creator, not from popular consent.

"Most Texas voters support the right to carry guns in public, but a large majority would not allow open carry of those weapons with or without licenses, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll," the Tribune reports. "Almost a quarter said Texans should never be allowed to carry handguns in public, and only 10 percent said they should always be allowed with no license required. ... Put another way, 32 percent of Texans would allow open carry — some with a license, some without — while the rest would prefer no legal handguns in public or to leave in place the state's current law, which allows licensed carry of concealed handguns."

Polling has a place in politics, of course. Polls are useful to help determine what people are concerned about, whether they're likely to support a particular candidate or policy, and (sometimes) they're even helpful in predicting the outcome of an election.

But they're not helpful — in fact, they're inappropriate — when it comes to a discussion of rights.

Take the First Amendment. Its speech clause exists particularly to protect unpopular speech.

"If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable," Supreme Court Justice William Brennan wrote in 1989.

If there's no protection for unpopular speech, then there's no protection of speech at all.

There's even a name for the (usually unspoken) opinion that if the majority agrees, then a position must be right. It's called "argumentum ad populum," and it's a logical fallacy. It holds that the majority, by definition, can't be wrong.

History shows us that it can.

Slavery has, at times, enjoyed popular support in the United States, and for a much longer time in the South. Segregation was popular (even in the North), and to this day, the oppression of women enjoys vast popular support throughout many Middle Eastern and African countries.

But rights don't come from majority opinion — despite what CNN's Chris Cuomo said recently. When interviewing Alabama's Judge Roy Moore, who said rights come from God, Cuomo countered that "they come from man."

President John F. Kennedy had it right: "The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God," he said in his inaugural address.

That's why The University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll is irrelevant.

It doesn't matter what the majority thinks, the Second Amendment enumerates a basic right — the right to defense of self and property. That right was most recently reiterated in the U.S. Supreme Court's 2008 Heller decision.

What the Texas Legislature is debating now isn't whether we have such a right, but how Texans should be able to express that right. It's not about popular opinions.

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