Having thought about Barack Obama’s gun plan, I’m still convinced that most of it is a non-issue: the government doing what it is supposed to do with background checks and enforcing laws. The only issue that is likely to be really contentious is the assault weapons ban (and related bans on high-capacity magazines).
I oppose the ban for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is that I think it will be ineffective. There is little evidence that the previous ban or state-level bans accomplished much: crime fell before they were passed and continued to fall after they went. Criminals continued to acquire not just assault weapons but fully automatic weapons.
But I’ve also been thinking about a quote from P.J. O’Rourke Parliament of Whores. In talking about the crack epidemic, he spoke to a doctor on the front lines about what he’d do if were the drug czar. The doctor said he would make a big splash about something unrelated like assault weapons and wait for the problem to burn itself out. O’Rourke noted that this was exactly what William Bennett subsequently did.
Assault weapon bans — indeed gun controls in general — are and always have been a distraction. The real causes of crime — poverty, broken families, educational dysfunction, hell maybe even lead — are far more difficult to address and liberal solutions to these problems have usually proven ineffective. By contrast, assault weapons are easy to address and easy to rally liberals around. They sound sensible to people who don’t like guns in the first place. They make politicians feel like they’re “doing something” even when they’re not.
I also think the assault weapons ban is really a culture war issue in disguise. I recently flew out of Pittsburgh and sat next to a college student from Alabama who talked about guns and how much he liked his AK. We’ve had plenty of discussions in the comments about guns. It’s clear that many of the readers of this blog are comfortable with guns and are even enthusiasts. But that are others who are uncomfortable around guns of any type. And when you look at that way, it’s no different than someone trying to ban porn or whatever because they don’t like it. It’s cultural chauvinism masquerading as common sense.
Liberals often say that no one “needs” an AK-47. That’s irrelevant and I think the attempts of people to justify these weapons under hunting, sport or revolutionary grounds are misguided. Owning guns is a right; it is the government that must justify its restrictions, not we who must justify our ownership. There isn’t a “need” for trashy music. There isn’t a “need” for risque television shows. There isn’t a “need” for Justin Bieber. But we allow these things because we believe in free speech. Gun owners do not need to justify a “need” so that their benevolent government can grudingly let them bear arms.
As is always the case with cultural issues, I think these is best resolved at the state level. If Californians are uncomfortable with assault weapons, let them ban them. If Alabamans are happy with assault weapons, let them keep them. It’s ridiculous to try to impose a national standard of what guns we are and are not comfortable with.
But doesn’t an assault weapons ban violate the Second Amendment? I don’t think so. The American people have long recognized that the Second Amendment does not give an unlimited right to weapons. Machine guns are banned, explosives are banned, nuclear weapons are banned. SCOTUS has upheld this. The difference between tyranny in freedom is much larger than the difference between an AK-47 and a hunting rifle.
Moreover, if we’re worried about tyranny, I would say the Second Amendment is only one of our concerns. Conor Friersdorf made this point some time ago:
I think law-abiding Americans should always be allowed to own guns.
But if you’re a conservative gun owner who worries that gun control today could make tyranny easier to impose tomorrow, and you support warrantless spying, indefinite detention, and secret drone strikes on Americans accused of terrorism, what explains your seeming schizophrenia?
Think of it this way.
If you were a malign leader intent on imposing tyranny, what would you find more useful, banning high-capacity magazines… or a vast archive of the bank records, phone calls, texts and emails of millions of citizens that you could access in secret? Would you, as a malign leader, feel more empowered by a background check requirement on gun purchases… or the ability to legally kill anyone in secret on your say so alone? The powers the Republican Party has given to the presidency since 9/11 would obviously enable far more grave abuses in the hands of a would be tyrant than any gun control legislation with even a miniscule chance of passing Congress. So why are so many liberty-invoking 2nd Amendment absolutists reliable Republican voters, as if the GOP’s stance on that issue somehow makes up for its shortcomings? And why do they so seldom speak up about threats to the Bill of Rights that don’t involve guns?
I am very happy that people are passionate about the Second Amendment and eager to defend gun liberty. I just wish they brought that same passion to other infringements on our First, Fourth, Five and Sixth Amendment rights. Because if we pay attention to those, we will never need a “Second Amendment Solution”.
Ah, those dreaded words. It’s become fashionable on the Left lately to mock the idea of rebellion. They’ve been dismissive of the Second Amendment because, they argue, a revolution against a tyrannical government would be impossible given that the government has tanks and nukes. That sounds clever and it certainly is snide.
It’s also absurd. Our own military — the one with the tanks and nukes — has had a devil of a time with a bunch of guys with small arms and improvised explosives. I know the Left likes to pretend our wars ceased to exist once Obama was elected, but the shattered bodies and souls coming back speak otherwise.
Sheer numbers tells us that a revolution is possible, tanks be damned. There are 1.4 million active duty members of our military. Assuming they all turned on us, they would still be outnumbered by the legal gun owners of Kentucky. Every hunting season, my state of Pennsylvania fields one of the largest standings armies in the world to take out a bunch of deer (and with remarkably few accidents, I might add). The idea that the Second Amendment isn’t a bulwark against tyranny is absurd.
I don’t believe that our government will ever become truly tyrannical. I don’t think that a “Second Amendment Solution” will ever be necessary. At the same time, however, I don’t think we should be gambling our future on my optimism.