There are few more polarizing topics in American political discourse than guns and abortion. Both have featured prominently in the news recently, following the tragic Las Vegas shootings and the House’s new 20-week abortion ban. The Left and Right use guns and abortion as either a cause to rally around, or as a target to destroy. But the Left is often hypocritical in its theory of rights, where they come from, how they are enshrined in law, and how they can and should be advocated for or protected in the political process.
The debate around guns and abortion often revolves around how they should be regulated on the state level. While my evidence is anecdotal, I believe that the vast majority of Americans do not understand how fundamental rights have been enforced throughout American history as they relate to state action. It’s important to understand this history, and how we got where we are, when evaluating the differing view of rights across the political spectrum.
The History of the Bill of Rights
In 1791, when the Bill of Rights was ratified and enacted, it was applicable to the federal government but not to the states. For example: states still had the ability create an established church and fund it with tax money, and many states did just that well into the 1800s. The First Amendment was inapplicable. Similarly, states could outlaw firearms if they so desired and their state constitution allowed it. The Second Amendment was inapplicable.
In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified and this balance of federalism was altered. The reason for this amendment, of course, was to combat the grave injustices that states would continue to allow against former slaves, their descendants, and other minority groups. Through subsequent Supreme Court cases, the Bill of Rights was applied against the states so that state governments could not deny freedom of speech, religion, et cetera to any citizens—regardless of what state constitutions and laws said.
Predictably, proponents of the Second Amendment argue that if the federal government can’t regulate or forbid gun ownership, neither can state governments because of the Fourteenth Amendment. Similarly, proponents of abortion rights argue that abortion is a fundamental right protected in the Bill of Rights, and states can’t regulate it as their citizens see fit because of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Left Holds Contradictory Views on Guns And Abortion
However, the Left’s philosophy regarding guns and abortion contains a contradiction that it isn’t willing to confront. Jimmy Kimmel, in what I believe was a genuinely heartfelt and sincere late-night response to the Las Vegas shootings, exposed that hypocrisy. “When an American buys guns then there is nothing we can do about that,” he said sardonically. “The Second Amendment, I guess, our forefathers wanted us to have AK-47s is the argument, I assume.”
But have you ever noticed that the Left only makes an “originalist” argument about the Constitution when it comes to the Second Amendment? Several of these originalist arguments have surfaced after the Las Vegas tragedy, and Kimmel alluded to one in his statement. Another common argument alleges that one must be a member of the militia to have an individual right to bear arms. Regardless of whether such arguments have any merit, they seek to understand exactly what the Second Amendment meant at the time of its enactment, and bring that meaning into the present day.
Contrast these arguments with the Left’s stance on abortion rights. These rights stem from a general right to privacy most prominently found in the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures without a warrant issued by a judge based on probable cause.
Justice Douglas, in an opinion for the Supreme Court, wrote one of the most famous phrases in American jurisprudence: “The foregoing cases suggest that specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras [the partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object], formed by emanations [an abstract but perceptible thing that issues or originates from a source] from those guarantees that help give them life and substance. Various guarantees create zones of privacy.”
This type of philosophy, often referred to as a “living and breathing” view of the Constitution, was used to create a Constitutional right to contraceptives and then to abortion.
On Abortion, The Left Changes Their Tune
Now imagine a late-night comedian, with all his holier-than-thou sarcasm, saying, “And when Americans want to abort unborn babies, there is nothing we can do about that. Because when our forefathers said the government couldn’t charge into our houses and seize us or our possessions without a warrant, I guess they also meant that we could terminate pregnancies.”
Such a scenario will never happen. When it comes to the sacred right of the Left—the right to abortion—the living and breathing view of the Constitution is the only one that receives any merit. Yet when it comes to gun rights, according to the Left, the only right we should retain is the right to carry a musket. Because that’s what the Second Amendment, in practice, covered in 1791. The hypocrisy of these simultaneous views is staggering.
Imagine the reaction to a conservative judge writing, “Americans have the right to own and carry high power weapons, often referred to as ‘military style or assault weapons,’ because in the shade of the Second Amendment there is an abstract but perceptible right that we perceive to exist absent any other historical context of what the amendment was intended to create.” The reaction from the left would be predictable, but it begs the question, why is this philosophy good enough for abortion but not good enough for guns?
The Left Hates The NRA—But Loves Planned Parenthood
Of course, if a judge did this, a Republican would have almost certainly nominated that judge to the bench. The reaction from the Left would be that the NRA’s corrupting influence on the political process led to that nomination and thereby tainted the purity of the ruling. This leads me to a second criticism of Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue.
“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and a number of other law makers who won’t do anything [about gun violence] because the NRA has their balls in a money clip also sent their thoughts and their prayers . . . which is good because they should be praying to God to forgive them for letting the gun lobby run this country.”
Do you ever notice how the only lobby that runs the country, according to the Left, is the gun lobby (and sometimes the Koch brothers)? Step back and think about what the NRA is. It’s a group of citizens spending their own money to exercise their First Amendment rights to speech, association, and petitioning of the government to protect their Second Amendment rights.
Contrast this with Planned Parenthood. It’s a group of citizens spending their own money in combination with a lot of taxpayer-funded money, to do the same thing with their preferred right. Sure, not all of the money from taxpayers goes to lobbying, but money is fungible and finite. If an organization has less of it, they have to make decisions about what areas they are going to cut.
The Left Wants To Have It Both Ways
Imagine the following hypothetical speech from Paul Ryan: “We have too many gun related deaths in this country, and many are preventable accidents. We can significantly reduce accidental gun deaths by promoting gun safety. Because the NRA is the national leader in providing gun safety courses, we are going to appropriate $500 million in the next budget to give to NRA educational and training initiatives in order to save lives.”
The reaction from the Left is easily imaginable. “The Right is funding the NRA with taxpayer money so that the NRA can turn around and spend more money on political races and support of Republicans. Its absolute corruption that should not be tolerated.” Why isn’t this same standard applied to Planned Parenthood?
You see, the Left is happy to support a right created by judicial fiat based on a 2017 view of an 1868 amendment that distorts 1791 amendments beyond all recognition. But when the Right says that the Second Amendment protects our right to bear arms—which the Second Amendment literally says—the Left is all too happy to constrain that right to muskets.
When those on the Right use their own money to form an organization, the Left calls the NRA and the politicians it supports corrupt. And yet—the Left tells the Right that it is violating women’s rights by arguing that Planned Parenthood, one of the Left’s key political allies, shouldn’t get public funds. They can’t have it both ways.