Coyotes in the State of Nature
From the July 19, 2010, issue of NR.


Kevin D. Williamson

People have a visceral reaction to guns, which is why the reactions to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in McDonald v. City of Chicago have been so emotional. One extraordinarily telling reaction came from David Ignatius of the Washington Post, whose response was headlined: “The Supreme Court Gun Decision Moves Us Toward Anarchy.” Mr. Ignatius  wrote: “My biggest worry with Monday’s Supreme Court decision is that by ruling, in effect, that every American can apply for a gun license, the justices will make gun ownership much more pervasive in a society that already has too many guns. After all, if I know that my neighbor is armed and preparing for Armageddon situations where law and order break down (as so many are — just read the right-wing blogs) then I have to think about protecting my family, too. That’s the state-of-nature, everyone for himself logic that prevails in places such as Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Mr. Ignatius here is remarkably forthcoming: He is not worried about guns in the hands of criminals, but about guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens, people who are willing to apply for a permit and jump through the bureaucratic hoops re­quired of gun buyers. His nightmare is not an America in which criminals run amok with Glocks, or even an America in which gun permits are handed out liberally, but an America in which “every American can apply for a gun license.” Never mind the approval of licenses, the mere application gives Mr. Ignatius the howling fantods. It is wonderfully apt that he references the “state of nature” in his criticism, imagining a Hobbesian version of life in these United States: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, permeated by the aroma of cordite. Mr. Ignatius, like Thomas Hobbes, is casting his lot with Leviathan and makes no apology for it.

That is the essence of 21st-century progressivism: In matters ranging from financial derivatives to education to gun control, the Left believes that we face a choice between a masterful state and a Hobbesian war of all against all. For all of the smart set’s vaunted and self-congratulatory nu­ance, it is this absolutist vision, this Manichean horror, that forms the foun­dation of progressivism.

This, and not the threat of uncontrollable crime, is really at the heart of the subur­ban progressives’ abomination of firearms. Coyotes may be an occasional menace, but the predators most commonly stalking Central Park, Westchester County, or the Austin suburbs go on two legs, not four. Just before the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in McDonald v. City of Chicago, there were in one weekend 50-odd shootings in the Windy City, at least ten of them fatal. Some of the shootings were instances of the random and chaotic violence that plagues urban America. Some were more sinister: Two young black men were found stripped naked and shot, face down in the dirt near the railroad tracks on the South Side. As of June, the murder rate in New York City — which likes to advertise itself as the safest big city in America — was up 7.2 percent over last year.

But the idea that individuals might use firearms lawfully to defend themselves is either anathema to progressives or inconceivable to them. President Obama’s reaction to the Heller decision, the predecessor to McDonald v. Chicago, suffered the in­evitable lacunae: “I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through commonsense, effective safety measures,” he said, unable to consider the possibility that citizens’ arming themselves against criminals is one potentially effective safety measure. “As president, I will uphold the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun-owners, hunters, and sportsmen. I know that what works in Chicago may not work in Cheyenne.” Coming from a city of gangland executions, Barack Obama affirms his commitment to Elmer Fudd’s blunderbuss, and reasonable people might wonder: What exactly does work in Chicago, Mr. President? That is an unaskable question in the world of Barack Obama, because it is a question that penetrates to the center of his philosophy and exposes it as inadequate.