Gun Control: Another Progressive Power Grab

When control costs human freedom.

Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

The reaction after every mass shooting follows a predictable script written by progressives to serve their political agenda. No claim about the efficacy of gun control, no matter how many times repudiated by facts, can stop the Dems and their media spaniels from ritually invoking it to demonize conservatives. 

Why should we be surprised? By now it should be clear that the “party of science” is interested not in truth and evidence, but in ideology and partisan advantage. Yet those with common sense and an awareness of the facts still have to restate the obvious, even though it will make no difference to partisans either ignorant of or indifferent to any reality that doesn’t serve their interests. For what is at stake is not just one right, but the foundations of our political freedom in self-evident, God-given rights.

We all know the worn-out ideas that the progressives predictably trot out after every massacre. And we know they are fallacious. More guns do not lead to more gun murder. Between 1993 and 2013, private gun ownership increased 56%, and gun homicides declined 49%. No, the point is not that more guns account for the declines, a straw-man correlation the media burns down to discredit this fact. The point is, the left’s call for more gun control after every mass shooting implies that fewer guns or more regulations would decrease murder rates. Not only is that idea false, the opposite is true: higher murder rates invariably follow more gun control.

“Common sense regulations” is another nostrum of the left. We’ve had several laboratories for testing this hypothesis––Chicago, D.C., Baltimore, and most blue-state big cities have strict controls on guns, at the same time they have some of the highest rates of gun deaths. That’s because regulations on firearms are effective only for law-abiding citizens who don’t need such restraints. But for criminals they are “parchment barriers” easily ignored. If such government regulations were effective, we wouldn’t still be waging a decades-long war on drugs, which hasn’t stopped any teenager in America from getting any drug he wants. It’s unclear how the most draconian restrictions on gun ownership would be any more effective than the numerous laws that have failed to keep drugs from pouring into our country and being widely distributed.

Most important, the left is indifferent to the fact that the Constitution explicitly states that citizens have the right to “keep and bear arms.” Like all the enumerated rights, this one is not a gift of government, but an “inalienable” right, like the right of self-defense, we possess by virtue of being a human being. The bar for restricting these rights is very high, as it is for the right to free speech.

But the left has always despised the notion of natural rights and consider them a relic of our more ignorant and superstitious past, not to mention a check on their desire to concentrate and expand the government’s power. Contrary to the belief that rights are gifts of “nature and nature’s God,” the progressives argue that a benevolent government should create rights compatible with the its alleged purpose to achieve “equality” and “social justice.” Hence Franklin Roosevelt’s “new bill of rights,” which was promulgated in his 1944 State of the Union address, and included a “useful and remunerative job” and “adequate medical care”––good things to have, but not rights properly understood. But if government can invent such “rights,” the government can also modify or eliminate those it now deems have become dangerous anachronisms or impediments to social improvement.  

After the Las Vegas massacre, the Daily Kos gave a typical example of this sentiment:

America needs to declare total war on guns, and that means reinterpreting or repealing the Second Amendment. The latter would be best. There is no sane reason why you or I should be granted the sacred and inviolable right to bear pistols, shotguns, automatic rifles, submachine guns, machine guns, flamethrowers, grenade launchers, anti-tank guns, and other “hunting and self-defense tools.” 

After pistols, of course, the rest of the weapons are already illegal or strictly controlled. But misinformation and exaggeration are necessary tactics for making this specious argument against natural rights.

The sentiment, however, is an old staple of the left. Last year Rolling Stone made this same argument, saying the “Founders were wrong” about a Second Amendment that is “outdated, a threat to liberty, and a suicide pact.” Hence “the Second Amendment is wrong for this country and needs to be jettisoned.” Like the progressives of a hundred years ago, the author argues that technological change has made the right to bear arms a dangerous anachronism.

The same reasoning lies behind the other modifications of our natural rights that progressives propose. New technologies for dispersing information and opinion more widely have made the First Amendment dangerous, for now it empowers socially disruptive “hate speech.” Hence the calls for restrictions on free expression like those existing in Canada and the E.U. So too with religious freedom: since science has allegedly discredited religion and exposed it as dangerous superstitions that foster divisive hatred and bigotry, the public practice and expression of faith must be restricted and confined to the realm of the private. Of course, it is not a coincidence that these proposals just happen to serve the desire of the left to concentrate power in the government and reduce the mediating influence of civil society, including churches and organizations like the NRA that protect Constitutional rights.

But what all progressives ignore is the reality of human nature. As 2400 years of Western civilization and experience show, human nature is defined in part by permanent flaws and destructive passions which are “sown in the nature of man,” as James Madison put it, and which law and culture never can change, but only control as best as possible. But that control cannot come at the cost of freedom, for more mischief follows from restricting liberty, the exercise of which always includes the risk of some people abusing it. That was the fundamental purpose of the Constitution: limiting and balancing power so that no one man or state or faction can take control of the government and destroy the people’s freedom.

The occasional mass shooting, then, while horrific and devastating, is unfortunately not unexpected given the destructive potential in every human being, particularly in a free and open society of 330 million people. Even still, despite the proliferation of more-lethal weapons and about 300 million guns in private hands, we have historically low rates of homicide. Moreover, as of 2016, two-thirds of the 33,600 gun deaths were suicides. Almost all the others, nearly 12,000, were homicides. In the same year, nearly 10,500 people died in accidents involving a drunk driver. That’s the risk we obviously accept in exchange for the benefits of driving cars and enjoying the legal consumption of alcohol. And that number is very close to the 12,000 homicides that are the cost for honoring the second amendment right of free citizens to possess the means of self-defense. Yet death-by-drunk-driver is barely mentioned by media and pols, even as murder-by-gun is hysterically reported and made the rationale for ending a Constitutional right.

There are many reasons for such anti-gun-nut hysteria. In our high-tech urban world, most people have little experience with weapons or hunting outside of movies and video games. This lack of familiarity makes the gun a demonic fetish rather than a tool that, like any other, is dependent on the character and virtue of the user. Class snobbery is also at work. Many urban progressives view those who own guns and hunt as lower class, unenlightened troglodytes, the kind of people who drink domestic beer, watch MMA bouts, follow NASCAR, and listen to country and western music. You know, the neurotic “deplorables” who “cling to their guns” and voted for Donald Trump. In short, the rabble needing guidance by their intellectual and moral betters, who vote Democrat. That’s why Dem politicians after every mass shooting start squealing about more gun control. The blood on the ground nourishes support of the base.

This brings us to the real significance of this predictable response to mass shootings. For a century progressives have been committed to undoing the Constitution, which imposes barriers on the concentration of power. This frustrates progressives, who need to reduce the citizens’ freedom and autonomy in order to accomplish leviathan’s goal of creating a centralized technocracy that directs our lives and shapes them so they achieve “equality,” “inclusion,” and “social justice.”

The price of this concentration of power, of course, is the weakening of ordered liberty, the political freedom to manage our own lives with a minimum of interference from the state, and with personal responsibility for our actions. By promoting the notion of a risk-free world, the progressives lure people with the promise of cost-free utopia, one that will always fail given the destructive potential of human beings. But without risk and accountability there is no true freedom––that’s the devil’s bargain the left always offers.

Gun control hysteria is just another tactic for compelling us to make that bad deal. But if we want people to be free, we have to accept that many will use that freedom viciously or carelessly. What we should do is hold them personally responsible for their actions. But to demand a risk-free world is to demand a world without freedom, for only extensive and intrusive coercion can create such a world. Any law that promises to reduce risk thus bears the burden of showing how the elimination of the risk is worth not just the loss of a benefit, but of political freedom. So far, those shilling for gun control have failed to make that case.