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 further towards 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’ new-ish conservative columnist Bret Stephens today. 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. Or maybe he’s just looking for hits. (Congrats.)
I mean, Stephens isn’t contending 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. Stephens might as well have written “Eww, guns take them away!” and left it that, but instead he offers debunked arguments and misleading statements that are likely borne out of the frustration of knowing his position is untenable.
“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 or the crime rates. They are all over the place. What studies like this do, though, is purposely 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. The fact is that 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, Stephen concludes that guns are useless as a means of personal protection. Anyone who’s spent ten minutes thinking about gun control understands 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 reading 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.
I’m not the first pundit to point out that if a ‘Mohammad Paddock’ had purchased dozens of firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition and then checked himself into a suite at the Mandalay Bay with direct views to a nearby music festival, somebody at the local F.B.I. field office would have noticed.
No, he’s not the first pundit to make this confusing point. To his credit, Stephens refrains from comparing random madmen with those who kill in the name of a worldwide ideological movement that relies on terrorism as a political weapon. We can do something to detect the latter. It should be pointed out that the FBI might not have done anything about a “Mohammad Paddock,” in the same way they were unable to do anything about Syed Rizwan Farook or Tashfeen Malik or Nidal Hasan or Omar Mateen. Yet Second Amendment advocates certainly didn’t call for the confiscation of guns afterwards.
But my favorite part of Stephens’ 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 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.”
To some troglodytes, 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.
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 nineteenth- and twentieth-century history of America and Europe — and about anywhere else — I “get” the fetish. And when I read columns like the one Stephens wrote today, I definitely get it.
David Harsanyi is author of the forthcoming “First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun, From the Revolution to Today” (Threshold Editions).