An illustrated Lady Liberty with her hair down sits while reading a book that says 'Stay Home' on the cover

Opinion columnist Wyatt Hall argues that personal rights shouldn't come before the lives of others. 

Opinion

At the very core of the United States of America is our shared value that rises above most others: freedom. Personal liberties come up in almost any political debate you can think of, and a big part of that is because it’s one of the values this nation was founded upon. While our freedoms are extremely valuable, and something not everybody around the world can say they have, it’s time to stop putting them ahead of public health and safety.

We’re in the middle of a global pandemic that’s getting worse every day. Hospitals are getting overrun, people are dying, and we’re not even close to flattening the curve. With all of that going on, local governments have started working on preventative measures such as ordering businesses to close and telling everyone to stay at home. Even with our representatives working to stop the spread of this disease, the public can’t seem to listen.

There have been images posted from all over the world of people ignoring what their elected officials are telling them and gathering en masse at public places that haven’t been closed, such as parks and beaches. Despite this being a clear violation of what the Centers for Disease Control and other experts have recommended for the health of the public, some think enjoying spring break comes before limiting the spread of this deadly virus.

The arguments are always the same — "the coronavirus isn’t that big of a deal," or "I have the freedom to do whatever I want." These claims sound strangely similar to another plague that’s been affecting our country for far longer than COVID-19: mass shootings.

Despite there being more mass shootings than actual days in 2019, gun right activists have claimed that if any gun control measures are put into place, their second amendment rights are being infringed. Thousands of lives are lost simply because people don’t want their freedom to own a deadly weapon to be touched.

And now it’s coming up once again. This disease is spreading like wildfire, and yet there are still those who are going out without good reason simply because they don’t like social distancing. They think being told to stay home for a while is equivalent to being locked up in a country without any rights for their citizens. It’s not the American way to restrict ourselves. We live and breathe freedom. It’s in our blood.

It’s not like this is a new debate. People have been discussing whether security is more important than liberty for years. It came up when airports got more strict after 9/11. It came up after Edward Snowden leaked how the NSA was surveying Americans to watch for terrorist threats. 

But in situations like the one we’re currently dealing with, there’s a line between being patriotic and being entitled — and that line is being crossed. It’s not like the military is marching through the streets and enacting martial law. You’re simply being asked to try to avoid human contact until the virus can be contained a bit. 

In the end, this whole argument comes down to where your priorities lie. If people dying doesn’t make you take a step back and rethink whether your personal liberties being limited a bit are more important than saving human lives, I don’t know what else will convince you. Please, just stay home. Practice social distancing. This is literally a matter of life and death.

Wyatt Hall is a sophomore from Bonner Springs studying business analytics.

—Edited by Brianna Wessling