The Gun Control Debate Reveals the Fundamental Difference Between Liberals and Conservatives

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Thu, Dec 10 - 3:32 pm EDT | 2 years ago by
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Corridors of Power - Gun Control

I’ve long been of the belief that people on both sides of the gun control debate are generally well-meaning. No sane person, regardless of their political beliefs, finds joy in a mass shooting. (There are unfortunately, classless people on both sides of the aisle who want to politicize evil and blame deranged behavior on their ideological opponents, but even they aren’t happy when innocent blood is spilled).

The nature of tragedies is that they often serve as confirmation biases. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this reaction; we all engage in it to some extent. But the ideological parameters of the gun control debate reveal something innate about both liberals and conservatives – or better defined in the context of the gun discussion as statists and individualists. Take for example, the reaction of the New York Times’ editorial board to the recent act of terror in San Bernardino, California:

Opponents of gun control are saying, as they do after every killing, that no law can unfailingly forestall a specific criminal. That is true. They are talking, many with sincerity, about the constitutional challenges to effective gun regulation. Those challenges exist. They point out that determined killers obtained weapons illegally in places like France, England and Norway that have strict gun laws. Yes, they did.

But at least those countries are trying. The United States is not. Worse, politicians abet would-be killers by creating gun markets for them, and voters allow those politicians to keep their jobs. It is past time to stop talking about halting the spread of firearms, and instead to reduce their number drastically — eliminating some large categories of weapons and ammunition.”

This is perhaps a perfect example of statist thinking – nothing short of enraging to an individualist such as myself – but nevertheless philosophically revealing. The New York Times admits that guns – and not just any, but the type of “assault weapons” that irk them so, are frequently obtained illegally and used to wreak havoc upon the innocent. The Kalashnikov rifles that were deployed in the massacre of 130 innocent Parisians last month were far from legal in a city that has among the strictest gun control measures in the world. “But at least,” shrieks the editorial board, France is “trying.”

By “trying” in this context a statist means, practically speaking, “disarming the innocent in the face of mass shootings.” These are people who foolishly but earnestly believe that with the right amount of bureaucratic tinkering, they can create a gun-free utopia; if only us plebeians would sacrifice our rights on the altar of their Master Plan. Then when their legislative scheming fails to produce its intended results, as is invariably the case, and like in Paris defenseless people are massacred? At least they “did something,” absolving the statist of sins associated with, what in their mind is the greatest transgression of all: Lack of government action. Results are secondary to the morally cathartic ritual of passing yet another law.

To an individualist, this outlook is abhorrent, even when the ideological underpinnings of the statist position are understood to be well-meaning. Nobody wants weapons in the hands of lone wolf shooters and terrorists – but individualists recognize that the government-mandated utopia our statist friends seek is by definition a fantasy. We believe that personal initiative and preparation – which includes carrying a weapon – are the only true measures one can take to enhance their safety in an unpredictable world that, for all of their moral preening, the statists cannot bend to their will. One of the primary reasons that individualists are such strong supporters of the Second Amendment is precisely because we know that to a criminal, a “gun-free zone” is an enticing invitation, not a deterrent.

This clash of ideologies that leads to strongly held and diametrically opposed policy positions largely illustrates why policymaking around guns leads to political stalemates. When one side’s instinct is to force the citizenry into a position where they’re less armed than a would-be mass murderer, the other side’s instinct is to stockpile weapons and conceal-carry them. This dichotomy won’t change any time soon, and frankly, despite their high-minded rhetoric, liberals are losing the gun control debate due to nothing more than practicality.

As the Cato Institute’s Trevor Burrus noted at National Review, there are 300 million guns in America. What then, is a statist to do? Said Burrus, “Perhaps you think all guns should be confiscated. Okay, tell us how you will do that without stormtroopers roaming the country systematically violating our Fourth Amendment rights in a way that makes Donald Trump’s call for the mass deportation of illegal immigrants look like taking a census.”

Burrus makes an important point about the police state that would be required to eliminate guns from the United States. And it’s an argument that sheds light on the vacuous nature of President Obama’s calls for “common sense” regulations, which would do virtually nothing to keep weapons from those bent on acquiring them to break the law anyway. (Interestingly, many liberals seem capable of grasping the black market created by the War on Drugs, but cannot see how a gun ban yields the same – a storied tale of cognitive dissonance to indulge in at later time).

Even if we were to put the practicality of a gun ban, including Obama’s less extreme but ultimately toothless regulatory agenda aside, there’s still the fundamental matter of fealty to the Constitution – another issue that tends to divide statists and individualists – but nowhere more so than when it comes to the Second Amendment. Charles Cooke put it well in the Washington Post when he wrote:

“The Second Amendment is not ‘old’; it is timeless. It is not ‘unclear’; it is obvious. It is not ‘embarrassing’; it is fundamental. And, as much as anything else, it is a vital indicator of the correct relationship between the citizen and the state and a reminder of the unbreakable sovereignty of the individual. Unless those calling for greater restrictions learn to acknowledge this at the outset of any public discussion, they will continue to get nowhere in their deliberations.”

Those who seek to subvert individual liberty to the whims of an administrative state are fundamentally disinclined to support the philosophical underpinnings enshrined in the Bill of Rights – which was penned with the specific intent of protecting people’s inalienable rights from a tyranny of the majority in the form of government-enshrined mob rule. Unfortunately for our statist friends, a strong combination of the rights enshrined in our Constitution and public opinion will continue to thwart their efforts to disarm us in pursuit of “doing something,” a win for liberty that ought to be celebrated and exercised accordingly.

Photo by STILLFX/Getty Images

Corie Whalen Stephens is a libertarian-conservative activist and writer based in Houston, Texas.

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