More to liberty than gun rights

Anyone with even a slight interest in the American gun control debate should read Conor Friedersdorf’s piece in the Atlantic this week. It’s brilliant. (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.)

Friedersdorf is responding to a National Review article by Kevin Williamson that explicitly argues that the purpose of the second amendment is to permit armed insurrection against a tyrannical government, and that that’s a good thing. Reactions to this range from fear to disbelief to grudging assent, but Friedersdorf’s approach is to accept it for the sake of argument and see where it leads:

In this item, we’re going to proceed as if the arguments above are correct — that there is a real danger of the U.S. government growing tyrannical; that the people must preserve checks on its power; and that the Framers best understood how to do so.

I respect that general reasoning.

What I can’t respect are the conservatives who invoke it during political battles over gun control, even as they ignore or actively oppose so many other important attempts to safeguard liberty.

And he goes into detail about the way both the organised conservative movement and many of its rank-and-file have applauded if not actually abetted the gutting of the bill of rights in the name of War on Terror. They have become, as he says, “people who simultaneously insist that 3,000 dead in a terrorist attack justifies departing from the plain text of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth amendments, and giving the president de-facto power to declare war without Congressional approval.”

The modern conservative movement isn’t about individual liberty at all. It’s about liberty for a select group of people (“real” Americans), and even then what they most seem to care about is keeping down the “others” that they regard as a threat. Not surprisingly they have become the allies of the military-industrial complex, the biggest part of big government, and even many who call themselves “libertarians” have taken the same general road.

Friedersdorf understands that resistance to oppression depends on much more mundane safeguards than the right to bear arms:

If the feds start rounding up innocents to slaughter I have no problem with an armed citizenry fighting back. But folks who want to guard against a tyrannical government are foolish to focus on the 2nd Amendment while abandoning numerous other rights for fear of terrorism. … I understand why people advocate on behalf of the right to bear arms, despite the costs; I don’t understand why so many behave as if it is the most important safeguard against tyranny to maintain.

Gold. Read the whole thing.


2 thoughts on “More to liberty than gun rights

  1. One question that really puzzles me about the “gun issue”. Why on earth do we in Australia feel we have a right, even an obligation, to jump in so enthusiastically – just as if the outcome affected us directly? The USA is a foreign country and I don’t see that we have “standing”, let alone a right to be heard. I see no discussion here about firearm ownership in the UK, in New Zealand or in Papua New Guinea (although the last should worry us).

    I don’t care about Obamacare or Superbowl, why should I care about the gun issue? I do care about US and Australian involvement in Afghanistan, I do care about the one-sided relationship we have with the US (and the American corporations who puppeteer their government), but not about the way they regulate firearm ownership within their borders.


  2. That’s a very good question. One answer, I think, is that American politics generally is important to the rest of the world, because what America does tends to affect other countries, and because the gun debate is politically important in America then it’s worth us caring about as well. But I suspect there’s more to it than that: something about the media’s fascination with death and violent crime, so gun laws get dragged in (rightly or not) as a causal factor. I’d love to hear other theories.


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