[To our conservative readers (and we do have quite a few believe it or not), bear with us on the introduction because we’re going to make you mad at first, but then we’re going to make it all better. And then after that, you’ll be free to take any left over anger out on Bret Stephens’ New York Times Op-Ed. So this will be an emotional rollercoaster for you]
Regular readers know that we make no secret of our ideological bent and/or our partisan leanings.
Regular readers also know (or should know), that our liberal editorial slant stems not from a deep-seated hatred for conservatism. In fact, there are any number of issues on which we are inclined to side with conservatives.
Rather, we take issue with stupidity. And frankly, it seems like conservatives get stupider by the year. They have developed an uncanny knack for making what should be a defensible platform completely indefensible. Conservatives have a remarkable (and truly disheartening from the perspective of Republicans who are still some semblance of sane) propensity to pick the absolute worst arguments available to defend their agenda.
You do not, for instance, need to insist that the creationism myth is true in order to preserve America’s historical relationship with Christianity. Creationism is a demonstrable falsehood. It simply isn’t true. It doesn’t make any f*&%ing sense. There is no bearded Zeus in the sky, there was in fact a man named Jesus but he was not in fact a wizard, and the Bible is a collection of fairy tales. That’s just all there is to it. Sorry.
But here’s the thing: that doesn’t mean there’s not merit in religion. That doesn’t mean religion can’t play an important part in people’s lives. That doesn’t mean that we should remove “one nation under God” from the pledge of allegiance. And it doesn’t mean that America shouldn’t identify as a Christian nation. All it means is that you can’t make public policy based on fairy tales and that you can’t force feed children lies about how the earth was created in schools. Look at it this way. I think Michael Jordan might be an immortal and could very well be the NBA league MVP at 75 years old. But science says that’s impossible. So if I get myself elected to public office, I’m not going to try and base my public policy decisions on my deeply-held belief that there is an immortal called Michael Jordan whose physical abilities do not deteriorate with age because I realize that no matter how much I believe it, it is not in fact true. There’s a reason why there’s a separation of church and state, and yet conservatives have a demonstrable tendency to want to blur that line. And please, don’t accuse me of constructing a straw man there unless you want our next post to take the form of a long list of instances where conservatives are mixing religion with policy.
So that’s just one example of how conservatives have taken something completely defensible and made it virtually indefensible by resorting to the stupidest argument imaginable.
Now then, allow us to redeem ourselves with our conservative readership: we are not big gun control advocates. And again, it comes back to common sense. Obviously, it makes some measure of sense to ban assault rifles. There’s really not a good argument for why private citizens need assault rifles for home protection. Unless your home is under siege from an armed militia, it’s hard to imagine why anyone needs an assault rifle. The Op-Ed you’ll read below argues from the opposite side. That is, “here’s why assault rifles aren’t the problem.” But the better question is this: if gun ownership in America is justified by [X, Y, Z], is there a plausible argument for how [X, Y, Z] are not satisfied by firearms that aren’t assault rifles? The answer is: “no.”
That said – and this is just the harsh reality – if someone wants to commit mass murder, there’s not a lot you can do about it. Sure, you can limit their capacity by restricting access to certain kinds of firearms, but that’s an endless regression. You could also limit people’s capacity to commit mass murder by banning semi automatic handguns and only allowing revolvers. Similarly, you could ban sharp knives and force would-be stabbers to use butter knives. And on, and on, and on.
That’s not to say that the NRA’s political influence doesn’t need to be reined in. And again, it’s not to say that there aren’t things we can and perhaps should do from a common sense perspective to at least cut down on the odds that someone can kill dozens of people in a relatively short time span. But – and again this is sad, but it’s true – Stephen Paddock could have walked into that crowd with one handgun and some spare clips and probably killed nearly as many people before anyone could have subdued him.
Further, if what you’re aiming at is home protection, there is no substitute for a gun. Does that mean your household is more likely to be the scene of a gun accident? Well, of course – there’s a gun in there. People trot out statistics about that as though we need statistics to understand it. If there is ham in my refrigerator, the chances that I will die from choking on a piece of ham are far greater than if there wasn’t any ham in the house.
But here’s the thing. If someone breaks into your house armed with a gun, there is only one effective deterrent: another gun. Does that mean Americans should have 15 assault rifles in a gun cabinet? Well again, probably not. Unless you’re expecting al-Shabaab to show up in the middle of the night.
But ultimately, mass killings are a mental health issue. That goes for all mass killings irrespective of circumstances and irrespective of what religion they are carried out in the name of. The Op-Ed you’ll read below has some counterarguments which, while valid, do nothing to change the indisputable fact that if you go out and you murder 58 people, there is something wrong with you. Whether or not it’s “preventable” seems to be more a function of society not having the right tools or not having progressed enough to recognize the signs. History is replete with examples of problems that were completely unrecognizable to people at one time, but which would be easy to spot by future generations.
So that’s our long-winded introduction to the following Op-Ed published today in The New York Times. It’s by Bret Stephens, with whom you’re probably familiar. From where we’re sitting, he seems to summarily dismiss a lot of good arguments on the way to backing up a decidedly controversial suggestion (repealing the Second Amendment) with an appeal to what he imagines the Forefathers would do. Draw your own conclusions.
Repeal the Second Amendment
By Bret Stephens for The New York Times
I have never understood the conservative fetish for the Second Amendment.
From a law-and-order standpoint, more guns means more murder. “States with higher rates of gun ownership had disproportionately large numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides,” noted one exhaustive 2013 study in the American Journal of Public Health.
From a personal-safety standpoint, more guns means less safety. The F.B.I. counted a total of 268 “justifiable homicides” by private citizens involving firearms in 2015; that is, felons killed in the course of committing a felony. Yet that same year, there were 489 “unintentional firearms deaths” in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Between 77 and 141 of those killed were children.
From a national-security standpoint, the Amendment’s suggestion that a “well-regulated militia” is “necessary to the security of a free State,” is quaint. The Minutemen that will deter Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un are based in missile silos in Minot, N.D., not farmhouses in Lexington, Mass.
From a personal liberty standpoint, the idea that an armed citizenry is the ultimate check on the ambitions and encroachments of government power is curious. The Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s, the New York draft riots of 1863, the coal miners’ rebellion of 1921, the Brink’s robbery of 1981 – does any serious conservative think of these as great moments in Second Amendment activism?
And now we have the relatively new and now ubiquitous “active shooter” phenomenon, something that remains extremely rare in the rest of the world. Conservatives often say that the right response to these horrors is to do more on the mental-health front. Yet by all accounts Stephen Paddock would not have raised an eyebrow with a mental-health professional before he murdered 58 people in Las Vegas last week.
What might have raised a red flag? I’m not the first pundit to point out that if a “Mohammad Paddock” had purchased dozens of firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition and then checked himself into a suite at the Mandalay Bay with direct views to a nearby music festival, somebody at the local F.B.I. field office would have noticed.
Given all of this, why do liberals keep losing the gun control debate?
Maybe it’s because they argue their case badly and – let’s face it – in bad faith. Democratic politicians routinely profess their fidelity to the Second Amendment – or rather, “a nuanced reading” of it – with all the conviction of Barack Obama’s support for traditional marriage, circa 2008. People recognize lip service for what it is.
Then there are the endless liberal errors of fact. There is no “gun-show loophole” per se; it’s a private-sale loophole, in other words the right to sell your own stuff. The civilian AR-15 is not a true “assault rifle,” and banning such rifles would have little effect on the overall murder rate, since most homicides are committed with handguns. It’s not true that 40 percent of gun owners buy without a background check; the real number is closer to one-fifth.
The National Rifle Association does not have Republican “balls in a money clip,” as Jimmy Kimmel put it the other night. The N.R.A. has donated a paltry $3,533,294 to all current members of Congress since 1998, according to The Washington Post, equivalent to about three months of Kimmel’s salary. The N.R.A. doesn’t need to buy influence: It’s powerful because it’s popular.
Nor will it do to follow the “Australian model” of a gun buyback program, which has shown poor results in the United States and makes little sense in a country awash with hundreds of millions of weapons. Keeping guns out of the hands of mentally ill people is a sensible goal, but due process is still owed to the potentially insane. Background checks for private gun sales are another fine idea, though its effects on homicides will be negligible: guns recovered by police are rarely in the hands of their legal owners, a 2016 study found.
In fact, the more closely one looks at what passes for “common sense” gun laws, the more feckless they appear. Americans who claim to be outraged by gun crimes should want to do something more than tinker at the margins of a legal regime that most of the developed world rightly considers nuts. They should want to change it fundamentally and permanently.
There is only one way to do this: Repeal the Second Amendment.
Repealing the Amendment may seem like political Mission Impossible today, but in the era of same-sex marriage it’s worth recalling that most great causes begin as improbable ones. Gun ownership should never be outlawed, just as it isn’t outlawed in Britain or Australia. But it doesn’t need a blanket Constitutional protection, either. The 46,445 murder victims killed by gunfire in the United States between 2012 and 2016 didn’t need to perish so that gun enthusiasts can go on fantasizing that “Red Dawn” is the fate that soon awaits us.
Donald Trump will likely get one more Supreme Court nomination, or two or three, before he leaves office, guaranteeing a pro-gun court for another generation. Expansive interpretations of the right to bear arms will be the law of the land – until the “right” itself ceases to be.
Some conservatives will insist that the Second Amendment is fundamental to the structure of American liberty. They will cite James Madison, who noted in the Federalist Papers that in Europe “the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” America was supposed to be different, and better.
I wonder what Madison would have to say about that today, when more than twice as many Americans perished last year at the hands of their fellows as died in battle during the entire Revolutionary War. My guess: Take the guns–or at least the presumptive right to them–away. The true foundation of American exceptionalism should be our capacity for moral and constitutional renewal, not our instinct for self-destruction.