Politics & Policy

On Guns, Californians Practice ‘Irish Democracy’ and Ignore Bone-Headed Laws

(Gualtiero Boffi/Dreamstime)
Hell-raising is fine — for a time.

It isn’t even St. Patrick’s Day, but we are all Irish now: In Connecticut, the boneheaded state government passed a law demanding the registration of certain firearms, and the people of Connecticut, perhaps communing for a moment with their independent-minded Yankee forebears, mainly refused to comply. On the other side of the country in the heart of California’s technology corridor, the city of Sunnyvale demanded that residents hand over all firearms capable of accepting magazines holding more than ten rounds — effectively, everything except revolvers and some single-shot rifles — and the good men and women of Silicon Valley responded by turning in a grand total of zero firearms. Similar initiatives in other jurisdictions have produced similar results.

Political scientists call this “Irish democracy,” the phenomenon by which the general members of a polity resist the mandates of their would-be rulers by simply refusing to comply with them. It is a low-cost form of civil disobedience, but one that can be very effective at times: Mohandas K. Gandhi was entirely correct in his famous declaration to the British powers that they would eventually be forced to simply pack up their tiffin pails and go home, because 300,000 Englishman could not control 300 million (at the time) Indians if those Indians didn’t cooperate.

RELATED: The Big Three Villains — Laziness, Stupidity, and Corruption — and the Gun-Control Debate

One way of considering the radical potential of simple noncompliance is the “10 percent synchronous subversion factor,” the proposition that if 10 percent of the U.S. population refused to (for instance) pay taxes or answer jury-duty summonses, then the rules would have to change, because they would be unenforceable: There aren’t enough tax agents, constables, slots on court dockets, or jail cells to enforce the rules against 32 million Americans if they should decide to refuse to comply with a given law.

The prospect of the local-yokel police in Sunnyvale, Calif., going door to door, Fallujah-style, trying to collect nonconforming firearms is humorous to contemplate; contemplating the same sort of development in Texas or Wyoming is rather less amusing, because at that point the model of resistance would stop being Irish democracy and almost certainly would mutate into something a lot more like Lexington and Concord. No decent, patriotic person wants to see that.

RELATED: The Left’s Cynical Gun-Control Reflex

Nor does one relish the idea of police forces being obliged to choose between attempting to enforce an illegal and unconstitutional order and ceding the interpretation of constitutional law to mob-ocracy. Even for those of us who understand why the Second Amendment exists and who endorse the reasoning behind it, trusting in the prudence of large, armed crowds of 21st-century Americans requires an act of faith well in excess of the evidence.

#share#The hallmark episode of Irish democracy in the American setting is Prohibition, which is a cautionary tale — and not only for the would-be modern prohibitionist. Prohibition demonstrated several things to the American public, which took the lesson to heart: Politicians are entirely capable of making stupid laws when in the grips of voguish thinking; the American people are more than capable of ignoring and subverting those laws; that subversion often is met with ruthlessness and brutality on the part of law enforcement, but enforcement is by no means even-handed; hypocrisy, like alcohol, is a useful social lubricant in moderation but debilitating in excess; social tensions reveal who has political power and who doesn’t, casting a harsh bright light on Lenin’s fundamental question — “Who? Whom?”; and law enforcement is just as corruptible as any other institution. Prohibition did a lot of damage by providing an enduring model of organized crime, but it also undermined Americans’ faith in the rule of law as such: Favoritism in enforcement, bribery, and institutional incapacity severely damaged the law’s prestige. We have never really quite recovered.

The horror at “gun culture” is about the culture — rural, conservative, traditionalist, patriotic, self-reliant or at least aspiring to self-reliance — much more than it is about the guns.

Our new prohibitionists are a lot like the old ones. The nice corduroy-clad liberals in places such as Georgetown and the Upper West Side use guns as a stand-in for the sort of people who own guns in much the same way as the old WASP prohibitionists used booze as a stand-in for the sort of people who drank too much: Irish and other Catholics, especially immigrants, and especially especially poor immigrants. The horror at “gun culture” is about the culture — rural, conservative, traditionalist, patriotic, self-reliant or at least aspiring to self-reliance — much more than it is about the guns. It’s the same sort of dynamic that gets people worked up about Confederate flags or poor white people with diabetes who shop at Walmart.

A little dose of Irish democracy is an excellent thing in response to that, especially when it is coming from California and Connecticut rather than Oklahoma and Alabama. But winning the fight on gun rights while losing the fight on the rule of law is the very definition of a Pyrrhic victory. It is necessary that we also prevail politically and legally, which we have been, thanks in no small part to the efforts of the NRA and affiliated groups, as well as the increasingly sensible view of the American public that what’s wrong with mass shooters has more to do with the mental-health system — and that what’s wrong with Chicago has something to do with that, too, inasmuch as the inmates are running that particular asylum.

#related#The Supreme Court has been more than clear, on more than one occasion, that the Second Amendment says what it means and means what it says. We also have a long legal and constitutional tradition that prohibits stripping people of their civil rights — including their Second Amendment rights — without due process, generally in the form of an indictment and a trial and a conviction. If the Democrats want to do away with the Second Amendment, let them begin the amendment process and see how far they get. We should challenge them to do so at every opportunity.

In reality, the Democrats have declared war on the First Amendment, voting in the Senate to repeal it; they have declared war on the Second Amendment at every turn; they also have declared war on due process and, in doing so, on the idea of the rule of law itself, beginning with the notion of “innocent until proven guilty.” That isn’t liberalism — it’s totalitarianism.

That’s a winnable fight, and we should welcome it.

— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.

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