In the wake of the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colorado this week, the media pundits, celebrities, and what seems endless facebook/twitter activists have re-sparked the gun control debate as usual. Cries of “gun control” and critiques of American exceptionalism regarding firearms have risen from the left, while the some of the right has defended the right to bear arms not only as an untouchable right, but good social policy when dealing with criminality and deterrence. I find it provocative how we can compare each side’s standpoint on the issue of gun control in relation to their views on illegal/criminalized substances and other issues. What is really important, however, is how this issue can tell us so much about both democrats and republicans today, and what ideologies the parties try to create with their policies.
First, it is interesting ideologically how the left supports regulation regarding firearms. On a simplified level, many modern liberals are likely to endorse more strict redistributionist policies and fiscally liberal ideals while clinging to minimal state intervention in the social sphere. How do liberals justify de-regulating or legalizing certain drugs while supporting gun control? Where do we draw the line between what is economic and what is social? Is this even possible? Young liberals aren’t accomplishing anything by simply saying, “Well there’s another mass shooting, told you we need gun control”. From a Constitutional standpoint, what is gun control? I mean really, we need to more strictly define the proposed policies. Are we talking about a waiting period to acquire weapons? Are we talking about background checks? Mental health evaluations? Some camps may claim that the 2nd Amendment only applied to the technology available at the time of the drafting of said amendment, so it should only apply to muskets. That is an unrealistic assumption and a very dangerous precedent to set. If that is true, what other provisions of our Constitution should become historically null? There needs to be more specificity on the issue.
On the other hand, the right endorses the federal War on Drugs yet largely opposes gun control measures, noting that this would be a violation of liberty. Many republicans note that gun control won’t deter any criminal activity, since they are, well…..criminals! In his book Liberty Defined, Ron Paul seems to think gun control is useless in regards to criminal activity:
“Gun-control advocates tell us that removing guns from society makes us safer. But that is simply an impossibility. The fact is that firearm technology exists. It cannot be uninvented. As long as there is metalworking and welding capability, it matters not what gun laws are imposed upon law-abiding people. Those who wish to have guns, and disregard the law, will have guns. Paradoxically, gun control clears a path for violence and makes aggression more likely, whether the aggressor is a terrorist or a government” (145).
It is argued that having large scale gun control would incentivize criminals to break into people’s homes and businesses, knowing that the owners are less likely to be in possession of a firearm. In relation to the drug war, however, the “useless deterrence” theory seems to be absent from the right on this issue. If marijuana is illegal, is it really stopping those “lawbreakers” from using pot? Why don’t neocons use the same logic here as they do with the gun issue?
All in all, I have my own observations for both sides on the gun control issue, and acknowledge that the right to bear arms is, well, a right! I, along with Ron Paul, am certainly always skeptical and prudent to throw the word “right” around. I believe it is a largely abused term in today’s society, especially by young liberals. So many rights are imaginary in this regard. I feel that it is dangerous to constantly talk about and relentlessly drive home ideas of “black rights” or “gay rights”, because this creates social inequalities. A true free society does no such thing. Imagining rights makes us become too politically correct (which I think we already are). With that said, I feel that we can only label something as a right if it is explicitly listed to or referred to in our Constitution. Sure, I know that is not a profound statement, considering Constitutional scholars on both ends of the spectrum have been bashing each other’s heads in trying to define what they think is “Constitutional”, but there you go anyway. I do agree with Paul in the fact that large scale government intervention would not deter criminal activity for gun control. It seems backwards to think otherwise. I feel that the left needs to find a more coherent idea of “rights” and needs to find a stronger identity behind good social policy and Constitutionality, while the neocons need to re-examine their policies that can be ideologically connected to gun control in light of deregulation, such as the federal War on Drugs and other issues. The left needs to wake up and quit inventing “rights” in light of their dangerous welfare state while the right needs to step back to its true conservative roots away from the warfare state.