When Rights Collide

Mama Liberty's picture

Sometimes a seemingly simple question - or a misunderstanding - can create great rifts between people and challenge deeply held ideas... I may have lost a very long time friend - and he's an incredible champion of freedom - over this. I really don't understand why and he, strangely, is not at all clear why he disagrees with me. I would really appreciate any feedback.

When Rights Collide
By Susan Callaway, Editor
March 03, 2008

States consider anti-property gun access laws
USA Today
“Some companies in several states could be barred from telling their employees to keep their guns at home if lawmakers prevail in a battle that pits gun rights advocates against private businesses. While no state allows workers to carry weapons into the workplace, at least six states — Alaska, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi and Oklahoma — have enacted legislation prohibiting some employers from barring their workers from leaving guns locked in their cars in employee parking lots.” (02/20/08)

Is your right to control your own property absolute, or subject to the needs of others?

A dear friend and I had quite a serious discussion about this in email last week. He insists that such access laws would not be a violation of property rights, or if so, necessary to preserve the greater right of self defense. He agreed that we should all be free to decide who comes on our property and what is done with it, but somehow an employer should not be able to prohibit an employee from storing a gun in their vehicle. He also said that, in the event of private ownership of such things as roads, that nobody should be able to prohibit the customers from carrying a gun either.

I have not yet figured out how that's supposed to work. You either own your property or you don't. You control it completely - or you don't own it!

So, which came first? Property rights or the right to life, specifically the right of self defense?

Think about it. Are they not the exact same thing? The entire premise for private property is ownership of our own bodies and minds. This includes the right to exclude that which is not wanted, to defend what we own. One is simply not possible without the other. All human rights stem from the only legitimate law: No human being has the right -- under any circumstances -- to initiate force against another human being, nor to threaten or delegate its initiation.

In order for someone to enter your property (or your life) without aggression, for whatever reason, they must first have your consent. Most of us give that consent upfront and only exercise our right of exclusion if there is a problem, but that doesn't negate the necessity for that consent. Entry without permission is trespass. Trespass can be intentional or accidental, benign or aggressive, but it is always trespass. Our rightful response must be in relationship to the actual offence, of course.

The solution here would seem to me to be found in that consent, and in the contracts we must make to facilitate all of the interactions in a free society. You would have to agree to the conditions of employment before you accepted employment, and before the business accepted you as an employee. What those conditions were is immaterial. You have the choice to comply or not. They have the choice to hire or not. You are both free to use your life and property exactly as you see fit.

What if there was no contract, and you entered the property of another based on that assumed prior consent? If you were asked to disarm (or whatever), would you consent to that or would you leave the property? Seems simple enough to me, since asking you to comply or leave would be the only real options for the landowner unless you had made threats or caused harm in some way. Where is the controversy? You have the choice to comply or leave. If you don't leave when asked to do so, YOU are the aggressor.

Conditions made by a land (or business) owner would not in any way negate your right to self defense or any other right. If you chose to accept employment (or to stay as a visitor), accepting restrictive conditions, all rights and responsibility for yourself and your actions would remain the same. Your host might accept some responsibility for your safety, but this does not diminish your rights to self defense by any means. You might just be without your best tool - but that would have to be part of the decision process.

How that would work out for privately owned roads and other infrastructure is impossible to know ahead of time in any detail, of course. People would work together to arrive at a rational and workable contract for such use. The road owner (or other business owner) who set up arbitrary restrictions on what customers could carry would be faced with very unhappy customers and would certainly have a tough, expensive task trying to enforce them. There would be a number of ways to bring pressure to bear in such a situation, and it might well get to be quite a problem before the solution was found.

But would some "law" to pre-empt the property rights of the individual be the best solution?

Freedom is going to be messy at times. People have different interpretations of this sort of thing and have to work it out in everyday life in thousands of similar situations right now! It seems obvious that even greater effort to cooperate will be needed when there is no central "authority" to force things.

Many people will have a difficult time recognizing absolute property rights - their own or that of others - after so many centuries of being owned by the "king" or the state by whatever name. It's not all going to be sweetness and light. Nobody is going to be happy with it all the time. Utopia is not an option.

The real question is, "who owns your life?" If the right to life and private property is not absolute, then who decides? If not individuals working within the free market, the free interaction of people in voluntary cooperation, arbitrators, contracts, and simple peer pressure within the framework of that absolute right...

Who owns your life?

We did this dance once before

Mama Liberty, Bear brought up this very same subject here previously—Human Rights vs. Company Rights. We didn’t get very far before the conversation disintegrated that time.

I agree with your view: property rights are fundamental, and if they are not absolute, they become worthless. I believe your correspondent recognizes this at some level, given this statement, with my emphasis:

He insists that such access laws would not be a violation of property rights, or if so, necessary to preserve the greater right of self defense.

That statement suggests to me that your friend knows full well that access laws do violate property rights, but a “greater value” justifies it in his view.

To my mind, the really sad thing about these situations is that such arguments tend to also justify the state’s existence and meddling in some form or other—in this case, via laws, and in so-called intellectual property issues, via copyright, patents, and other state-enforced artificial scarcities. They also focus away from a real solution to the problem—voting with one’s feet and educating others who might be inclined to join one.

Who could have predicted it?

Even Goldwater turned his back on opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Places "public" in the English sense are now "public" in the American sense.

All things are nothing to me. Except bacon.

A question

I understand the property rights of company owners, but the car and its contents are my property. If I never take the gun out of my car, what's the conflict? As you write, either I control my property or I don't own it.

I'm not asking because I have formed an opinion, I'm asking because I want to understand the issue better.

Nested properties

I understand the property rights of company owners, but the car and its contents are my property. If I never take the gun out of my car, what's the conflict? As you write, either I control my property or I don't own it.

If you take your property—your car, with your firearm safely stowed inside it—on to someone else’s property, then it is subject to their rules, is it not? Your property has become nested, so to speak, within theirs while it’s there, and so their rules ought to apply for that duration. That’s how I see the issue, anyway.


First, in a free society this would probably not even be an issue at all, regarding firearms anyway. In our present society, it's an issue because so many people do not understand the shreds of property rights we still have. And this isn't just about guns or self defense. That's only one possibility here.

First there is the problem of integrity. If you enter someone else's property, having agreed to their conditions, how do you justify doing exactly that which you agreed not to do?

No, I wouldn't suggest that an employer or business owner has any right to search your body or locked vehicle, but I would assume that - again, in a free society - he might sue your pants off if you were found in violation of your agreement at any point.

What would you do, and what would you think if the roles were reversed? Do you allow people on your property indiscriminately? If you made a condition, would it be immaterial to you if it were violated? Would it be ok if you didn't know about it? If it was important enough for you to insist on a contract or agreement, would it matter TO YOU whether or not it made any sense to anyone else?

I also don't suggest that this owner has any right to detain you, shoot you or even threaten you for this violation, UNLESS YOU become violent or threatening, of course. He can properly ask you to leave, and refuse to consider letting you enter again later, regardless of your subsequent promise since you proved your word was no good!

We have talked and written at length about how reputation and integrity will be vital to establish trade and relationships, so this would seem to be a no brainer. Much of a free society will depend on those mutual agreements and mutual trust.

If we are not willing to honor our word/contracts and recognize the same rights for everyone - we don't have a leg to stand on.

(The good news is that my friendship seems intact. We will continue to discuss this. :)