Which is a more precious right: freedom to travel or guns?

Note that I did not ask which is constitutionally protected. I’m asking which is more fundamental to a free people.

Whenever we talk about barring people on no-fly lists or terror watch lists from obtaining firearms, Bryan or someone else will make the point that we would then be taking away a constitutionally protected right without due process — since those travel lists maintained by law enforcement don’t involve judgments by courts.

Good point, logically and legally sound. It “is a lucid, intelligent, well thought-out objection.”

We have the freedom to put on out travel vests and go where we like, no matter how ridiculous we may look.

We have the freedom to put on our travel vests and go where we like, no matter how ridiculous we may look.

But for me, it raises another question. Which is more fundamental to our basic, everyday liberty: The freedom to travel, to go where we choose within these United States whenever we like? Or the right to bear arms?

I would think the first one is. No, it’s not plainly addressed in the Bill of Rights the way guns are, but it’s protected by the Privileges and Immunities Clause — in other words, in the actual main body of the Constitution as opposed to the afterthoughts. (And in a sense the whole Constitution was an attempt to break down barriers between states and make a more perfect union, which would include moving about freely from state to state.)

We who are not on watch lists sort of take it for granted. People in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union did not, with their internal passports and other requirements to have the right papers to be here or there at a particular time. When I read about such things during the Cold War, I thought that difference as much as anything else illustrated the contrast between our countries. (Actually, I see that Russia, China, Iraq and Ukraine still have such systems. Huh.)

The right to bear arms is not such an essential divider between free and unfree countries — other liberal democracies don’t share this, um, “blessing” with us.

No, it doesn’t have a whole cult built up around it the way the 2nd Amendment does. But isn’t the freedom to move about even more precious than the right to go armed?

13 thoughts on “Which is a more precious right: freedom to travel or guns?

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    No, the right of movement doesn’t have its own Amendment, but as Wikipedia notes, that’s because “the right was thought to be so fundamental during the drafting of the Constitution as not needing explicit enumeration.”

  2. Bryan Caskey

    The right to travel is part of the “liberty” of which the citizen cannot be deprived of without due process of law under the Fifth Amendment.

    The Supreme Court has consistently treated the right to international travel as a liberty interest that is also protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

    1. Brad Warthen

      I appreciate your concern, but I assure you I had enough.

      There are some inside, as well as a couple of huge ones on the back.

      I never travel without a sufficiency of pockets….

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        To carry it further…

        Y’all have only seen my tropical-weight travel vest — aside from being lightweight and a nice tropical khaki, the top half of the back is made of mesh to make it cooler in 100-degree Thai days.

        I also have a winter travel vest. It’s dark blue and of solid construction. I wore it when we went to England right after Christmas in 2010-2011.

        Actually, I wore that one more than this one. I wore it every day, everywhere, under my winter coat that also had about 10 pockets, so it wasn’t noticeable. Helped keep me warm in the English winter.

        Even with the mesh back, this one was too hot to wear except when I was packed up and traveling from town to town. When staying in town, I left it at the hotel or guest house with my backpack. But fear not! My cargo shorts provided me with pockets, and I always took one of those little bags with the pull strings that you can use as straps to carry like a backpack — for water, iPad, other necessities…

  3. Doug Ross

    It’s too bad the freedom to travel via plane has been affected negatively since 9/11 with the implementation of the TSA. Every week when I go through security, I marvel at the levels of ineptitude and waste that our tax dollars pay for. Charlotte now has two people at each id check station, multiple people within 5 feet of each other on both sides of the scanner, several people who just appear to be standing around, and other important workers who push carts with plastic trays around. Never mind that the TSA has failed repeatedly in tests of their security capabilities. Never mind that the moron/bureaucrat who determined that the optimum size of a baggie to prevent terrorism is a quart sized Ziploc bag with items no larger than 3.3 ounces didn’t understand that someone could bring in 10 3.3 ounce bottles of the same liquid. Never mind that the scanner system is so inefficient that I get patted down 50% of the time in various regions where nothing could possibly exist. Side note: when a TSA agent recently told me he needed to pay me down in my abdomen region, he kneeled down and said “Are you sensitive in any area?” I replied “Only my feelings”.

    Billions and billions of dollars has been wasted on this function that was primarily driven by the fact that cockpit doors didn’t have a lock on September 11.

  4. Michael Bramson

    Frankly, Brad, I’m shocked that you didn’t mention this scene from The Hunt for Red October:

    Capt. Vasili Borodin: I will live in Montana. And I will marry a round American woman and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pickup truck… maybe even a “recreational vehicle.” And drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?
    Captain Ramius: I suppose.
    Capt. Vasili Borodin: No papers?
    Captain Ramius: No papers, state to state.
    Capt. Vasili Borodin: Well then, in winter I will live in… Arizona. Actually, I think I will need two wives.
    Captain Ramius: Oh, at least.

      1. Assistant

        He can drive his truck or RV wherever he wants as long as he gets a cracked windshield promptly.

  5. Scout

    This isn’t exactly what you’re talking about but thinking about the arguments for and against gun control that are being bandied about with wild abandon at the moment, an analogy to travel occurred to me. People say guns don’t kill people, people do. They say if a person really wants to kill you, they will find a way – with box cutters or whatever. I do realize this is technically true, but I can’t believe how they can deny the expediency and increased frequency that guns give to the whole endeavor.

    We have letters written between my 3x great grandfather and my 4x great grandfather in the 1850s. My 4x great grandfather lived in Prosperity and then Abbeville. My 3x great grandfather left there, went to medical school in NY, and then settled in Louisiana. It so painful in the letters to see how they would like to see each other and how the father pleads with the son to try and come visit and they discuss what all a trip like that would entail at that time. It never happened. It was too hard.

    So I guess you could say cars and trains and planes don’t travel, people do. But how many of us would ever go more than a few miles from where we are born without them?

  6. Assistant

    In a way you’re tackling two sides of the same coin, survival. Self-preservation is the first law of nature: an organism has to be able to fight or flee to exist long enough to breed or otherwise produce offspring.

    BTW, I think Scott Adams (Dilbert) has found the answer on why gun control can’t be solved in the USA.

    On average, Democrats (that’s my team*) use guns for shooting the innocent. We call that crime.
    On average, Republicans use guns for sporting purposes and self-defense.
    If you don’t believe me, you can check the statistics on the Internet that don’t exist. At least I couldn’t find any that looked credible.
    But we do know that race and poverty are correlated. And we know that poverty and crime are correlated. And we know that race and political affiliation are correlated. Therefore, my team (Clinton) is more likely to use guns to shoot innocent people, whereas the other team (Trump) is more likely to use guns for sporting and defense.
    That’s a gross generalization. Obviously. Your town might be totally different.
    So it seems to me that gun control can’t be solved because Democrats are using guns to kill each other – and want it to stop – whereas Republicans are using guns to defend against Democrats. Psychologically, those are different risk profiles. And you can’t reconcile those interests, except on the margins. For example, both sides might agree that rocket launchers are a step too far. But Democrats are unlikely to talk Republicans out of gun ownership because it comes off as “Put down your gun so I can shoot you.”
    Let’s all take a deep breath and shake off the mental discomfort I just induced in half of my readers. You can quibble with my unsupported assumptions about gun use, but keep in mind that my point is about psychology and about big group averages. If Republicans think they need guns to protect against Democrats, that’s their reality. And if Democrats believe guns make the world more dangerous for themselves, that is their reality. And they can both be right. Your risk profile is different from mine.
    So let’s stop acting as if there is something like “common sense” gun control to be had if we all act reasonably. That’s not an option in this case because we all have different risk profiles when it comes to guns. My gun probably makes me safer, but perhaps yours makes you less safe. You can’t reconcile those interests.
    Our situation in the United States is that people with different risk profiles are voting for their self-interests as they see it. There is no compromise to be had in this situation unless you brainwash one side or the other to see their self-interest differently. And I don’t see anyone with persuasion skills trying to do that on either side.

    Fear always beats reason. So as long as Democrats are mostly using guns to shoot innocent people (intentionally or accidentally) and Republicans are mostly using guns for sport or self-defense, no compromise can be had.
    If we had a real government – the kind that works – we would acknowledge that gun violence is not one big problem with one big solution. It is millions of people with different risk profiles voting their self-interest as they see it.
    So stop acting like one side is stupid. Both sides of the gun issue are scared, and both have legitimate reasons to be that way. Neither side is “right.”


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