The idea that gun-control advocates don’t want to confiscate your weapons is, of course, laughable. They can’t confiscate your weapons, so they support whatever feasible incremental steps inch farther toward that goal. Some folks are more considerate and get right to the point. “I have never understood the conservative fetish for the Second Amendment,” writes the New York Times’s new-ish conservative columnist Bret Stephens. Referring as a “fetish” to an inalienable right that has a longer and deeper history among English-speaking people than the right to free speech or the right to freedom of religion is an excellent indicator that someone probably hasn’t given the issue serious thought.
I mean, Stephens isn’t just contending that Americans shouldn’t own five AR-15s. He’s arguing that the state should be able to come to your house and take away your revolver or your shotgun or even your matchlock musket.
“From a law-and-order standpoint, more guns means more murder,” writes Stephens, before pulling a narrowly catered statistic that ignores the vast evidence that the number of guns does not correlate with the murder rate or the crime rate. What studies often do is conflate gun homicides and suicides. If Stephens wants to argue that confiscation would lead to fewer suicides, he’s free to do so. But he’s also going to have to explain why countries with the highest suicide rates often have the strictest gun-control laws. And, despite a recent uptick in crime, since 1990 the murder rate has precipitously dropped — including in most big urban centers — while there was a big spike in gun ownership.
Then Stephens compares justifiable gun homicides — shooting a felon while protecting one’s home, etc. — with unintentional homicides with a gun. After some back-of-the-napkin calculation, Stephens concludes that guns are useless as a means of personal protection. Anyone who’s spent ten minutes thinking about gun control understands that there is no way to quantify how many criminals are deterred by the presence of guns, or how many, for that matter, are turned away in the midst of crime. Has anyone calculated how many non-gun-owning families are safer because their neighbors own firearms?
Without getting into the practicality of confiscating more than 300 million guns, it seems odd that someone would let murderers and madmen decide what inalienable rights we should embrace. It is almost humorous to hear someone advising you not to worry about domestic tyranny as he explains why the state should eradicate a constitutional right and confiscate your means of self-defense. But Stephens comes to the likely true conclusion that you can’t stop random men from killing.
To his credit, Stephens refrains from comparing random madmen to those who kill in the name of a worldwide ideological movement that relies on terrorism as a political weapon. Though we can often do something to detect the latter, the FBI would not have stopped “Mohammad Paddock,” in the same way they didn’t stop Syed Rizwan Farook or Tashfeen Malik or Nidal Hasan or Omar Mateen.
But my favorite part of Stephens’s column is when he asks: “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.”
Setting aside the population scale, Stephens might not know that one of the reasons the Federalists, including Madison, opposed the Second Amendment was that they believed concerns over protections from federal government were overblown because there were so many guns in private hands that it was unimaginable that any tyrannical army could ever be more powerful than the general public. Others, like Noah Webster, reasoned that “the supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any bands of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States.”
“Repealing the Amendment may seem like political Mission Impossible today,” writes Stephens, “but in the era of same-sex marriage it’s worth recalling that most great causes begin as improbable ones.”
Stephens refers to an inalienable right with a long and deep history as a ‘fetish.’
To troglodytes like me, the writing of the Constitution and Bill of Rights was perhaps the greatest cause of the nation. Moreover, same-sex marriage was instituted by the courts. Repealing the Second Amendment is going to take a lot more heavy lifting. There are probably too many fetishists around to make it happen.
I’m one, too. As an American and a Jew descended from people who came here escaping both Nazism and Communism, I’m okay with fetishizing the Second Amendment. As a person who can read history and contrast the 19th- and 20th-century histories of America and Europe — and about anywhere else — I “get” the fetish. And when I read columns like the one Stephens wrote yesterday, I definitely get it.
— David Harsanyi is a senior editor of the Federalist and the author of The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy. Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi. © 2017 Creators.com