The NRA agrees bump stocks should be regulated like automatic weapons and the NYT calls the 2nd Amendment a cancer that should be repealed outright. Remind me again who’s the extremist? Yikes.
It’s a sterile debate full of passionate non-sequiturs.
I’m aware of no other issue that can rival this one for misinformation. It’s akin to people who’ve never seen a movie or used social media wanting to restrict the 1st Amendment because the founders could never have envisioned modern communications technology. If you’re one who thinks a semi-automatic is a “machine gun” and that there is something called a “gun show loophole,” you have not done enough homework to argue, oftentimes angrily, about chipping away at the fundamental liberty to self defense. A liberty that is meaningless if you are denied the means.
Over at The Federalist, Meredith Dake-O’Connor writes that “The loudest voices are often the most ignorant and propose policies that have nothing to do with the tragedies.”
Whether it is an explosive news story or a late-night show host, journalists and celebrities are pretty ignorant about guns. I can see why the Left constantly feels right-wingers are deflecting the gun debate because we get pedantic at details, constantly correcting things like the inappropriate labeling of “assault rifles.” While this is an extremely emotional issue after a tragedy, it’s also a policy debate.
Good policies should be extraordinarily specific, explicit, and, you know, accurate in describing what it’s actually legislating. It’s hard for Second Amendment advocates to believe that the loudest voices are approaching this policy issue with seriousness when they constantly get even the most basic details wrong. I don’t want legislation that’s been emotionally manipulated into existence, I want legislation that is shown to actually do what it is intended to do…
I find it hard to have an honest and vulnerable conversation about a deeply held right when the starting point is often challenging my motives while coming from a place of ignorance on firearms. If you’re really looking to win over your gun-loving friend, try reading up on firearms, dumping anti-NRA talking points, and assume her or she is equally committed to preventing these evil acts.
Charles C.W. Cooke responds more directly to the NYT’s description of the “fetish” with the 2nd Amendment here:
I have never understood the conservative fetish for the Second Amendment,” writes Bret Stephens today. And then he proceeds to prove that.
His column is not a rigorous one. Indeed, it is barely a column so much as it is a brusque list of ill-considered assertions that do nothing to grapple with the many arguments to their contrary. … Had Stephens thought about this topic for the first time yesterday, it is hard to see what would be different about his essay. What a pleasure it must be to sync up with the editors.
The logical jump at the heart of his case is an astounding one. Stephens concedes that the gun-control crowd is a hapless bunch, unable to get even modest measures through Congress, and he concedes that this is because voters know that the Democrats are only paying “lip service” to the Second Amendment and thus don’t trust them around the edges. And then he submits that these same people should switch their focus to all-out repeal. Or, put another way, Stephens argues that the people who can’t get anything because the voters think they want everything should now move to the most extreme position available.
… the Second Amendment was not an “amendment” at all, for, unlike some of the subsequent changes to the charter, it represented neither a change in policy nor a remedy for an error. Rather, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights it was the product of a disagreement as to how to best protect freedoms that were generally considered unalienable. For reasons outlined in The Federalist Papers, Madison believed that the power of the federal government would be constrained by its structure; if the central state had only a handful of carefully enumerated powers, he contended, it would not be able to exceed them. Others, the “Anti-Federalists,” disagreed, demanding a belt to add to the suspenders. The debate that followed was strictly structural — not a fight over speech or due process or arms, but over how best to ensure the maintenance of ancient liberty. Madison acknowledged this when introducing the Bill of Rights in Congress. The rights he had included, he made clear to his peers, were those “against which I believe no serious objection has been made by any class of our constituents.” …
They were also responding to the lessons of history. Stephens seems convinced that the Second Amendment is contingent; that is, that its meaning and relevance rely upon the continuing prevalence of redcoats. Surely, Stephens insists, if Madison could see the modern world he would change his mind. I must venture that the very opposite is true. Were he to pick up a history book today, Madison would be shocked indeed. But his surprise would be at the sheer scale and disgrace of the tyrannies that have scarred us since he died. The American Revolution was a beautiful and necessary thing, and yet if one were to have read the litany of complaints to a man in the Warsaw Ghetto, or in Dachau, or in the Gulag, or in the Laogai, or, yes, in the Reconstruction-deprived post-bellum South, he would have laughed in your face. The colonists were that upset over . . . that?
Well, yes. They were. And they should have been. But let us not pretend that their anguish was equivalent to what came next — in Germany, in Cuba, in Russia, in China, in Mississippi. And let us not pretend that there was more need for safeguards against George III and the Declaratory Act than against the blood-soaked 20th century. … Power, ambition, human nature — these are constants, not variables. And it is for that reason above all else that our enduring Constitution must be cherished. There is rarely a good reason to kick over Chesterton’s fence, even when it is chipped and knotted around the edges, and the villagers are scratching their chins.
Kevin D. Williamson further explains why this is essential, and not some fetish:
Put another way: The right to keep and bear arms would still be there without the Second Amendment. Like the right not to suffer political or religious repression, it exists with or without the law. It is an aspect of the human being, not an aspect of the governments that human beings institute among themselves. The state does not grant the right — the state exists because the right exists and needs protecting from time to time. The state protects our rights from criminals and marauders, and the Constitution protects our rights from their protectors.
No doubt that sounds like a lot of crazy talk to many of our progressive friends. “Rights from God! Imagine!” That is a critical failure of our most progressive institution, the schools, which consistently neglect — or decline — to provide our students with even a rudimentary education in American civics and the history of the American idea. It isn’t that the modern left-winger is obliged to accept the intellectual and philosophical basis of the American order, but he ought to understand that things are the way they are for a reason. The idea that the Second Amendment could simply be repealed —that’s that! — isn’t only an attack on the right to keep and bear arms: It is an attack on the American constitutional order per se. That our progressive friends often are so pristinely ignorant of the moral order underpinning the American founding is one of their great intellectual failures. They do not understand the American idea, and, as a result, they do not really understand their own ideas, either…
Our modern progressive friends scoff at the notion that the Second Amendment could really allow ordinary Americans to frustrate the tyrannical ambitions of a modern federal government with the modern U.S. military — gunships, nukes, and all — at its command. That’s probably true, though one need not be a sophisticated military tactician to appreciate the fact that the mighty America military has been bogged down for 15 years in Afghanistan, unable to tame a raggedy gang of modestly armed rustics — there is more to warfare than armaments.
But there is much, much more to that question than revolutionary fantasies. The government’s ability to maintain order does break down from time to time, if only locally and temporarily. The Second Amendment is not only for imaginary revolts against overbearing authorities in Washington. It is for events such as the Los Angeles riots of 1992, during which the local police authorities comprehensively failed in their duty to protect the lives and property of citizens…
The right to bear arms is intrinsically linked to citizenship, another fact well understood by the Founders but lost to many of our contemporaries. From the ancient world through feudal Europe to the American colonies themselves, some people enjoyed the right to bear arms and some did not. In the latter category were serfs and slaves. Slaves and free blacks were of course widely and generally prohibited from owning weapons in the antebellum United States: Under Louisiana law, a black man carrying a cane in public was subject to summary execution; Maryland law forbade free blacks from owning dogs, which were considered a potential weapon. If you desire to know who is really considered a full citizen, look at who is permitted to bear arms. For the Founders, a society in which only government officials enjoyed the right to bear arms could not be a proper democratic republic at all, because the vast majority of the people would have been excluded from full citizenship.
Again, there is nothing requiring the modern American progressive to share this philosophy. But we ought to ask ourselves what the alternative is. The short answer is totalitarianism, in principle if not in practice. If rights come from the state, and if we enjoy our liberty and our property only at the sufferance of the state, then nothing is outside the state, and there are no limits on it other than passing democratic whimsy. (If you think “whimsy” is too loose, consider this progression: Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama, Trump . . . ) If everything is negotiable, then there are no rights at all, properly understood.
Daniel Henninger offers politic advice to those making the NYT‘s argument:
Gun control is by now the oldest, most sterile, wheel-spinning issue in American politics. It has nowhere to go, but it keeps coming back…
Once again—this may be among the reasons the Democrats lost the 2016 election, have lost control of most state governments and could lose Senate seats next year.
The NRA and pro-gun sentiment doesn’t defeat them. What defeats them is that their compulsive moral condescension impedes their ability to see the country clearly.
Because this debate comes up every time a male brain convinces itself that it should murder masses of people, the opinion polls frequently plumb American opinion about it. The findings are more complicated than what passes for public debate about guns…
Whether that security applies to one’s person, home, neighborhood, city or the nation, progressives and conservatives see humankind and the world it inhabits through a different mental lens. Progressives embrace the benign, while conservatives fear the malign. Liberals say, give peace a chance. Conservatives say, Annie get your gun.
But on this issue, the center in the U.S. has shifted. Conventional Democratic liberalism admitted the reality of security needs, an accommodation being displaced by a progressivism that is largely disdainful of security. So the division is more acute. No matter: The chance that the American people will ever disarm remains zero. Spin on.
Mona Charen agrees that gun-control advocates need to “live in the real world”:
A nation with a Second Amendment, a strong belief in the right to self-defense, and 357 million guns in circulation is not going to have an Australian-style confiscation. Gun-control absolutists need to live in the real world. The U.S. is not going to become Japan, which has almost no guns, or Switzerland, for that matter, which has a gun in every home and virtually no violence…
Machine guns, grenades, and other weapons have been heavily regulated since the National Firearms Act of 1934. A 1986 amendment made it illegal for civilians to own a fully automatic weapon manufactured after May 19, 1986. Machine guns of older vintage are available, but extremely expensive and highly controlled. That’s as it should be. No one thinks our Second Amendment rights are compromised because machine guns are nearly impossible to obtain. So are bazookas and Stinger missiles.
David French explains that we could “do something!” but it’s not what many think:
This is a vital point — one that Powers and other gun-control advocates miss. Refusing to support ineffectual gun-control policies isn’t the same thing as “doing nothing.” Indeed, Second Amendment advocates have a host of ideas for combatting gun crimes and limiting gun deaths — including ideas that might actually prevent mass shootings.
Encouraging businesses to open their premises to armed customers (i.e., limiting the number of “gun free zones”), allowing weapons on college campuses, and permitting qualified and trained teachers to carry weapons in schools gives innocent men and women literally a fighting chance to stop a massacre, and when men and women have that chance they can stop a killer in his tracks. In fact, just days before the terrible attack in Las Vegas, a concealed-carry permit holder stopped a mass shooting at a church in Nashville. Showing incredibly bravery, he physically attacked the shooter, wounded him in the melee, then retrieved his gun from his car, and held the injured attacker at bay until police arrived.
In fact, there are a host of ways to dramatically decrease gun violence while still protecting the Second Amendment. How do we know? We’ve been doing it for a quarter-century. At the same time that legislatures across the country have been loosening gun laws, Americans have purchased an unprecedented number of guns, and millions of citizens have obtained concealed-carry permits — and violent crime has plunged.
It’s too simplistic to say that increased gun ownership is responsible for this decline in crime (though there’s research claiming that it played a part), but the undeniable fact that American gun violence declined even while Americans bought millions more guns shows that there are multiple ways to combat gun violence.
Do we see spikes in violence in cities? Conservatives ask whether changes in police tactics have produced negative results. They also ask, Are existing gun laws unenforced, permitting criminals to obtain guns in defiance of the law? Are more people committing suicide? Thoughtful conservatives seek creative ways to preserve families and strengthen the spiritual institutions that provide the most vital interventions in troubled lives. Is a mass shooter inspired by jihad? Conservatives try to extinguish the terrorist entities that inspire violence and better monitor potential jihadists here at home.
In other words, conservatives offer prayers and policies. It’s just false to claim that “thoughts and prayers” conservatives throw up their arms and say that there’s nothing we can do. They offer multiple potential remedies, but without promising what no person can guarantee — that any set of public policies can stop every evil person hell-bent on mass murder.
Let’s throw this challenge back to the Left. If you reject “thoughts and prayers” in favor of so-called common-sense gun control policies that wouldn’t stop either the Las Vegas shooting or any other mass shooting in the recent past, I’d ask that you’d do something actually constructive. Start praying. Because prayer helps. Your policies won’t.
Michael Brendan Dougherty points out that there is, still, a valid defense against tyranny within the 2nd.
They ask something like this: “Do you really think Bubba in camo gear hiding in the forest is going to take on the U.S. military? The U.S. military has nuclear weapons!”
Who exactly do you think has stymied the U.S. in Afghanistan for 16 years? The Taliban is made up of Afghan Bubbas. The Taliban doesn’t need to defeat nuclear weapons, though they are humiliating a nuclear power for the second time in history. They use a mix of Kalashnikovs and WWII-era bolt-action rifles. Determined insurgencies are really difficult to fight, even if they are only armed with Enfield rifles and you can target them with a TOW missiles system that can spot a cat in the dark from two miles away. In Iraq, expensive tanks were destroyed with simple improvised explosives…
All great powers take into account the moral and manpower costs of implementing their rules and laws on a people. … The British technically could have deployed their entire navy, blockading the restive island, and starving any rebellion into submission. But they were unwilling to pay the moral price, or the price in blood. …
And just as in the 1770s or the 1920s, governments in similar positions today or in the future would have a difficult time maintaining military morale while trying to impose rule on a people who resist it manfully.
You can acknowledge this and still deplore America’s gun violence, as I do. You can wish and even work for an American future where there are fewer weapons in untrained and unsteady American hands. And, we all should wish to maintain a law-governed and orderly society that doesn’t inspire thousands or millions of Americans to resist its government in an insurgency. But in the meantime, don’t do violence to history itself. With just the moral support of the society they are living in, and a number of rifles, a small group of men can make it impossible for tyrants to rule.