On Gun Control, Once More from the Top

Gun enthusiasts inspect rifles displayed at the MagPul booth during the annual National Rifle Association (NRA) convention in Dallas, Texas, May 5, 2018. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
Gun-control advocacy, as it stands today, is almost pure demagoguery.

The Second Amendment isn’t about shooting ducks. It’s about shooting people.

Once you really get your head around that, you can begin to appreciate the political architecture of the gun-control debate and the fundamental problem at the heart of it: The purpose of the Second Amendment is to ensure the right of Americans to keep and bear arms designed to kill people in armed confrontations, and everything that makes firearms unsuitable for that purpose is at odds with the Second Amendment.

The usual response to that goes something like this: “Oh, sure, that may have been true, one upon a time, but we no longer have a lawless frontier, and the idea of a bunch of Bubbas getting together with their AR-15s and strapping on their tactical Underoos to take on a tyrannical U.S. government in some hypothetical dystopia is an absurd and adolescent fantasy.” If that’s your argument, then, fine: But that is not an argument for banning 50-round magazines or prohibiting semiautomatic rifles — that’s an argument for repealing the Second Amendment, at which point you have constitutional license to pass whatever gun-control legislation suits your fancy.

Give it a shot.

Of course, it would be politically difficult to repeal the Second Amendment. That is by design. The Bill of Rights, i.e. America’s Great Big List of Important Stuff You Idiots Don’t Get a Vote On, is part of what makes American democracy liberal rather than illiberal. There are rules above and beyond the reach of majorities, which tend to be temporary and fickle, and those rules are there because our Founding Fathers knew that it is easy to buffalo people into giving up their own civil rights and to appeal to their baser instincts when attacking the civil rights of others. They knew from their own experience that demagogues can exploit fear, hatred, envy, and every other vice inherent in the demos.

Gun-control advocacy, as it stands today, is almost pure demagoguery. It consists mainly of urban progressives thinking up bureaucratic measures to inconvenience and humiliate federally licensed firearms dealers and the people who do business with them — one of the least criminally inclined demographics in these United States. When there are atrocities like the ones in El Paso or Dayton, the Democrats will propose new measures that would have done nothing to prevent those crimes and insist that they should be enacted anyway, for . . . some unspoken and unspeakable reason. Point out that they don’t know what they are talking about and they retreat into pop-Freudian analysis (somebody should explain to them that Sigmund Freud was a pseudoscientific fraud whose work is taken seriously by almost no one) and maybe make a sophomoric joke about gun enthusiasts compensating for some embarrassing genital insufficiencies. Which is to say, the anti-gun effort is pure Kulturkampf, having almost nothing to do with real policy issues.

Propose something as radical as, say, actually getting off our national ass and prosecuting those who violate straw-buyer laws, or pushing local authorities to get their illegal-weapons conviction rate up above 18 percent (Hey, Chicago!) of arrests and you’ll hear an uncomfortable silence, which will not be broken until somebody calls you a racist. Hundreds of firearms purchases have been wrongly approved because of defects in the background-check system, but no effort is made to recover the guns. These are real things that can be done, but what we hear instead is cheap invective and ignorant snark. (See all that talk about feral hogs in the past few days.) That’s American politics 2019: dumb and dumber.

Neil deGrasse Tyson recently found himself the target of a two-minute Twitter hate for having the bad taste to tell the truth about what I call the “Consider the Moose” issue. We make scary movies about shark attacks, but in reality we’re more likely to be killed by a moose, and much, much more likely to be killed by a cow or a mosquito. Tyson noted that for all the attention given to the El Paso and Dayton shootings, Americans are much more likely to be killed by preventable medical errors, the flu, car accidents, suicide, etc. “Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data,” he wrote. He was right, and that’s exactly what people did.

Properly understood, that is what terrorism is: spectacle.

We have some pretty good options for measures targeting ordinary workaday crime. We don’t have very good options for mass shootings. Which is to say, we have a few things we could do about the mosquitoes, but not the sharks. The measures that would be most likely to make a dent in El Paso–style shootings are the very ones that Democrats spent years promising us they’d never contemplate: prohibiting most or all firearms, including the ones most commonly used for hunting and other recreational purposes (the AR-style rifle is almost certainly the most popular hunting firearm in the United States) and the ones most commonly used for home defense (semiautomatic handguns), measures that almost certainly would, if they are to be effective, have to be enforced with heavy-handed police tactics including extensive searches and raids of private homes. Because these measures would be flatly unconstitutional, it is unlikely that voluntary compliance would be very high, and it is not beyond contemplation that some law-enforcement agencies or personnel would decline to cooperate with them.

If you want to try to repeal the Second Amendment, then we can have that conversation. If you’re trying to convince me that giving a $9-an-hour clerk at a sporting-goods store another form to fill out is all that stands between us and anarchy, then I trust you’ll forgive me for declining to take you seriously.


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