Politics & Policy

No, It’s Not Cowardly to Be Conservative on Gun Rights

Display at a gun store in Uniondale, N.Y., in 2013. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)
Defending the Second Amendment takes courage, gun-control advocates’ claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

Every single time America is rocked by a mass shooting, the insults come raining down: Conservatives and Republican politicians who oppose new gun-control laws aren’t just wrong, they’re cowards.

The insult is echoed in Congress, on television, and countless times on social media. It’s as if each of these people actually believes that members of Congress and conservative activists know what’s right, but are afraid to act.

Angry voices take an extraordinarily complex social, cultural, and political phenomenon, boil it down to preferred progressive policy provisions, and then declare everyone who opposes their ideas a craven weakling in thrall to the NRA. Yesterday was no exception.

Calls of cowardice came from cable hosts:

From pundits:

From celebrities:

And from professors:

One of the worst aspects of the modern gun debate is the presumption that Republican politicians vote the way they do not out of conviction but out of craven compliance — that they care less about school shootings than they care about NRA campaign dollars or NRA votes. It’s a sentiment that plays very well on Twitter (note the retweets and likes), but it’s detached from reality.

In fact, those making the argument either don’t know or don’t care about the extent to which courage is a cornerstone of gun culture. After all, what good is a firearm if a law-abiding citizen doesn’t have the courage and self-discipline to use it in self-defense or in the defense of his family and neighbors? Countless permit holders don’t just take the time to get carry licenses, they spend hours at the range. They take classes. They aspire to be brave.

Moreover, these insults ignore the fact that conservative politicians consistently advocate government action that they sincerely believe will make a positive difference. Leftist pundits mock the notion that we should arm teachers, yet time and again armed civilians have stopped mass shooters in their tracks. It’s not cowardice to argue that more civilians should be given the chance to arm themselves.

In fact, those making the argument either don’t know or don’t care the extent to which courage is a cornerstone of gun culture.

Nor is it cowardice to argue that we should better enforce existing laws. This is a problem that transcends mass shootings and impacts “regular” gun violence. Prosecutors are notoriously reluctant to prosecute purchasers who lie on background checks, including straw purchasers. We’ve also seen background-check systems fail and multiple instances where law-enforcement officials failed to effectively follow up on leads provided by private citizens that could have prevented an attack.

Conservatives are keenly aware of these failings, and rightfully wonder why there is such confidence that the next legal reform will be more effective than the last — especially when the practical effect is often to inconvenience the law-abiding without offering any meaningful corresponding public-safety benefit.

Finally, it’s not cowardice to note in response to calls for increased gun control that America has seen a sharp decrease in gun violence even as gun laws have liberalized from coast to coast. Given that mass shootings are often the most premeditated of crimes, they may well be the least susceptible to a gun-control solution. A person can easily plan around assault-weapons bans (as the San Bernardino shooters did) and circumvent magazine restrictions. Mass shootings are sometimes planned months and years in advance. Moreover, one shooter inspires the next, creating a contagion that’s hard to control.

The terrible reality is that we don’t have good solutions to this problem. We just don’t. Increased vigilance and governmental competence can stop some shooters. Armed civilians can stop others. Public education about warning signs can prevent a few more tragedies. Each of these things has worked in the past. Each will work again. Calling your ideological opponent a coward hasn’t, and never will.


David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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