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Gun Control and the Tucson Shootings

EJ Dionne Tries To Prevent A Perfectly Good Tragedy From Going To Waste

As we’ve witnessed over the past five days the left has pulled out all the stops to gain political advantage from the tragic shootings in Tucson.

We’ve endured the spectacle of the leftist punditocracy shrilly blaming opinions opposed to the Obama Administration for the actions of an obviously schizophrenic young man who has been described by his friends as a left wing doper who was disengaged from current politics. We’ve seen the addled superannuated “sheriff” lash out, blaming everyone in sight except his own department which had numerous contacts with the shooter in the past few years did bupkis, in fact they did less than bupkis.

Having failed to hang direct responsibility about our neck — an action very accurately described by Sarah Palin as “blood libel” — they moved on to Phase II which is “everyone needs to watch what they say… especially you wingnuts who are violent and since the left doesn’t say violent stuff so we’re okay.” This, too, has wilted under even the cursory scrutiny it was given by the press. Over the past decade the calls for the assassination of President Bush, the trashing of ROTC offices, the incitement of troops to mutiny, the daily scurrilous calls for violence by websites like DailyKos and by the now happily defunct Air America were part and parcel of what passes for speech on the left. That nothing happened is due more to the lack of manliness (with the exception of Amanda Marcotte) and ambition on the part of the left than any reticence to actually engage in violent acts.

Now they have moved on to Phase III which is “we need more gun control.” For reasons that are really unclear to me, one of our own elected officials, Peter King (R-NY) was among the first on this bandwagon by proposing a ban of the possession of firearms within 1,000 feet of certain government officials. Beyond the obviously unconstitutional nature of the proposal I was stunned to find this coming from someone I was just beginning to respect after his long history of actively supporting IRA terrorists.

A more likely suspect took up the cudgel today. E. J. Dionne writes an op-ed in today’s Washington Post titled Violent Talk Blocks Sane Gun Laws.

For a long time, liberals hoped that by convincing opponents of gun control that we harbored no hostility toward the vast law-abiding majority of gun owners – or to hunting or to rural culture – we might forge a consensus around rational firearms laws to protect innocents.

But I came to realize, partly from e-mail exchanges with ardent foes of gun control over the years, that the real passion for a let-anything-go approach to guns has little to do with culture or hunting. It is rooted in a very peculiar view of how America has maintained its freedom. Rep. Ron Paul, as is his wont, expressed it as plainly as anyone.

“The Second Amendment is not about hunting deer or keeping a pistol in your nightstand,” the Texas Republican declared in 2006. “It is not about protecting oneself against common criminals. It is about preventing tyranny. The Founders knew that unarmed citizens would never be able to overthrow a tyrannical government as they did. . . . The muskets they used against the British army were the assault rifles of that time.”

And at a Washington rally last year on the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) linked this view to the current occupant of the White House.

“Fellow patriots, we have a lot of domestic enemies of the Constitution, and they’re right down the Mall, in the Congress of the United States – and right down Independence Avenue in the White House that belongs to us,” he declared. “It’s not about my ability to hunt, which I love to do. It’s not about the ability for me to protect my family and my property against criminals, which we have the right to do. But it’s all about us protecting ourselves from a tyrannical government of the United States.”

Is it any wonder that the gun lobby argues that restricting high-capacity magazines is just one step down the road to dictatorship?

I’ll take second place to no one in my contempt for Ron Paul’s politics but even a blind hog finds acorn on the odd occasion. In this case Paul has it absolutely right.

To understand the Constitution you have to understand the context of the times. Our Founding Fathers were as much influenced by their perception of themselves as free, Protestant, Englishmen as they were by their experiences in the Revolution.

England, unique among European powers, kept severe curbs on its regular army. A standing army was illegal in Britain without the express consent of Parliament and that consent was given annually in the guise of the Mutiny Act. Similar language appears in Article 1, Section 8 of our own Constitution.

The Mutiny Act did other amusing things to limit the ability of the army to act to suppress freedoms, like forbidding the army to own transport of any type, restricting its movements to certain roads, etc. The militia had no such restriction, it was organized under the gentry of each county, and the 1689 Declaration or Rights (as an aside I would encourage everyone to take a look at this document), the same document that outlawed a standing army responsive only to the King, states:

That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law;

As the Constitution itself was being debated there was a heated exchange of views on whether a strong Federal government would soon extinguish weaker state governments. We should note here that argument persists and the anti-Federalists are looking more prescient with each passing year. Madison, writing as Publius in Federalist 46, pushes that fear aside with this reasoning:

Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal government; still it would not be going too far to say, that the State governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger. [...] To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops.

Contra Dionne, the Bill of Rights was not established to protect either culture or recreational activities. Just as there is no Right to Play Cricket there is no Right to Hunt and Target Shoot. The Second Amendment grants the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. That right is rooted in the antipathy a free Englishman of the 18th Century had for a standing army and the power of the state. That for nearly 150 this right has been exercised peacefully does not detract from the reason the right is recognized.

Having pushed aside Dionne’s generous offer to give up a right granted to us as citizens for “a little temporary safety” one may ask, exactly what kind of “sane gun laws” does Dionne recommend that could have prevented or mitigated the carnage?

We don’t know because he can’t get farther than demonstrating his own historical illiteracy. Speculatively, had the sheriff’s department, or even Loughner’s community college, used Arizona’s mental health laws to the maximum extent he could conceivably have been flagged as having a psychiatric problem which could have, in addition to having him treated, prevented him from legally buying a handgun. But that would not require new laws, merely the enforcement of existing laws. In that respect the Arizona case is very similar to the shooting spree at Virginia Tech in 2007.

Why Dionne would expect someone who set out to kill another person to be deterred by a gun law of some type when they aren’t — or can’t be — deterred by the specter of the death chamber is a mystery to me. But in the coming days I’m sure he’ll clear it all up for us.

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