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One Strike and You’re Out

New Zealand has confirmed that it will ban — and confiscate — any firearm that resembles those that were used in the recent terroristic attack. In response, the gun-control movement has taken a break from assuring gun owners that nobody is talking about confiscation and set about lionizing New Zealand’s parliament for agreeing to . . . engage in confiscation. In future, we can presumably expect to see similar dance to the one that President Obama performed when he spoke of Australia. To wit: Why can’t we be more like New Zealand? How dare you suggest I want to do what New Zealand did.

I noted earlier in the week that there was something creepy and authoritarian about the way in which New Zealand’s prime minister was being urged to act with such haste as to guarantee that nobody could object (Phil Klein has a good column on this topic). Today, I have noticed something even creepier, and even more authoritarian: The suggestion that if a traumatic thing happens to a nation even once, the correct governmental response is to abolish or to curtail the liberties of its citizenry. I keep seeing it argued that Britain, Australia, and New Zealand should be praised for having reacted to attacks by instantly limiting the right to bear arms. But what is the ruling principle here? That people get to enjoy certain rights unless one guy abuses them, and then that’s it? That would be a strange way to run a free country, would it not?

In most other circumstances, this argument would be self-evidently absurd. If a serial killer walks free and then murders again, we do not say, “Right, that’s it, and move to limit the presumption of innocence or to abolish jury trials. If a bomber stockpiles explosives in his home, we do not say, “Ah well, I guess we need to abolish the Fourth Amendment, and before anyone can object, and nor do we praise other countries in which privacy has been severely abridged for their instant leadership in the face of evil. We shouldn’t do it with guns, either. And, thanks to the Second Amendment, which was passed to prevent precisely this sort of behavior, we won’t.

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