Friday, June 27, 2008

Hallowed Point

Everyone needs to calm the fuck down about the Supreme Court's decision recognizing an individual right to gun ownership and striking down the D.C. handgun ban. To be clear, I am what most Americans would call a stark-raving liberal. I believe in a drastic reapportioning of wealth and a dramatic restructuring of society. But conversations with most people on the Left about gun control routinely exasperate me, for the following reasons:

(1) A failure to identify the relevant questions. A lot of liberals support gun control because, they say, guns are bad. But the question whether people should own guns is logically different from the question whether people should have a right to own them, and this question in turn needs to be separated from what the Constitution guarantees. Thus the relevant questions are: What does the Second Amendment say? What is the proper rule of the judiciary? Should gun ownership be an individual right? Should people own guns? Depending on your answers to the first two questions, you may come to believe that answers to the second two are IRRELEVANT considerations regarding what the Supreme Court should decide. It is not inconsistent to hold that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to gun ownership that the judiciary is obligated to uphold, and also to hold that gun ownership should not be an individual right. Moreover, it is not even inconsistent to hold that gun ownership should be an individual right and yet believe that people should not own guns. (To wit, I believe that people have a right to use hate speech, and yet I do not think people should use hate speech.)

(2) An irrational reaction to guns. I have liberal friends who cannot even think of a gun without immediately thinking of innocent people being slaughtered. They literally look nauseous when the subject comes up, and this is usually followed by idiotic pronouncements about Southern people being stupid (a dubious conceptual link, if there ever was one). In short, their reaction is - what's the most delicate way to put this? - fucking stupid. Guns are tools, and can be used for good or ill. Moreover, not all guns are created equal. A .22 caliber shotgun is relatively wimpy compared to, say, an automatic assault rifle. A failure to make this distinction, or even to acknowledge the possibility of responsible gun ownership, is (to me anyway) an indication of culpable ignorance.

Note that I haven't stated my position on gun ownership! I actually believe in fairly restrictive gun control measures, but that the D.C. ban that the Supreme Court struck down was excessive. Of course, the real questions are whether the Second Amendment guarantees an individual's right to own guns (I think it does) and how this should weigh on the Court's deliberations and judgments.

Sorry if this is a little more "ranty" than usual.

1 comment:

Ragoth said...

Good post, and I think the most important point is the divide between "right to own" and "should or should not own." A lot of people miss that, or want to collapse them into the same question if they do recognize the difference.

Just for my two cents, I too agree that 2nd Amendment allows for individual ownership of guns, and I base this primarily on the Founding Father's continuing recognition that a new revolution may (and probably would) prove necessary to uphold democracy. The whole point was that the government should be in fear or its citizens, and it is the right of the citizens to revolt against the government if they have proper cause. At the time, the only tool with which you could rise up against your government was a gun, and thus, they wanted to protect the right of the citizen to own guns in case the need for a revolution arose. Let's also remember historically that oppressive regimes typically strengthen their hold by denying weaponry to citizens because, at that point, only the sate has weapons and can control everything by force.

The thing that our Founding Fathers failed to recognize (and how could they have?) was that in a few hundred years we'd have smart bombs, tanks, aircraft, etc...all of which makes the individual ownership of firearms a little superfluous. At this point, the individual citizen, or any group of citizens, does not have the ability to stand against the martial powers of the state. Sad, but mostly true.