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First Amendment, Second Amendment

The Economist picks up on this letter from 64 Roman Catholic theologians in favor of gun control.

With so much talk of late of the supposed attack on religious freedom represented by Obamacare’s contraception mandate, this passage caught my eye:

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently renewed their call for measures to address gun violence by echoing their 2000 statement, Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice. Bishops have called for “measures that control the sale and use of firearms” and “sensible regulations of handguns.” The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in a 1994 document, “The International Arms Trade,” urges political leaders “to impose a strict control on the sale of handguns and small arms” and states that “limiting the purchase of such arms would certainly not infringe on the rights of anyone.”

Well, it’s good to know where people stand.

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Watching the Bishops

usccbJoe Biden:

“Yesterday we finished up in this room with … 17 members of the faith community … [I]n all the years I have been doing this, the first time there has been an overwhelming consensus, from the evangelical groups nationwide, and particularly those in rural areas, to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops to the National Conference of Churches, the Muslim community, because this does have a significant moral dimension—how we make the American community safer and how we go about it.…”

That’s a nauseating little snippet on a number of counts, but let’s focus for a moment on the participation of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. It will be very interesting indeed to hear what they have to say. After all, we have heard a lot from them recently about the (supposed) threat to their First Amendment rights from Obamacare’s contraception mandate.

Let’s hope that they are just as assiduous in their defense of the Second.

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A World Without Guns? No Thanks.

Biden gun controlCross-posted on the Corner:

Sam Harris is a “New Atheist” and a Second Amendment skeptic too — wait, wait – and there’s a lot to disagree with in this new piece of his (“collective psychosis”, good lord). Nevertheless, agree or disagree, it’s carefully thought-out and very well worth a look by anyone with a serious interest in the gun debate. It also ought to make thoroughly disconcerting reading for the likes of Obama, Biden and the rest. Assuming, of course, that they were actually open-minded enough to consider Harris’s arguments seriously, something, I suspect, that is an assumption too far . . .

Harris sees the world as it is, as a place, shall we say, that is more Hobbes than Gandhi:

Like most gun owners, I understand the ethical importance of guns and cannot honestly wish for a world without them. I suspect that sentiment will shock many readers. Wouldn’t any decent person wish for a world without guns? In my view, only someone who doesn’t understand violence could wish for such a world. A world without guns is one in which the most aggressive men can do more or less anything they want. It is a world in which a man with a knife can rape and murder a woman in the presence of a dozen witnesses, and none will find the courage to intervene. There have been cases of prison guards (who generally do not carry guns) helplessly standing by as one of their own was stabbed to death by a lone prisoner armed with an improvised blade. The hesitation of bystanders in these situations makes perfect sense—and “diffusion of responsibility” has little to do with it. The fantasies of many martial artists aside, to go unarmed against a person with a knife is to put oneself in very real peril, regardless of one’s training. The same can be said of attacks involving multiple assailants. A world without guns is a world in which no man, not even a member of Seal Team Six, can reasonably expect to prevail over more than one determined attacker at a time. A world without guns, therefore, is one in which the advantages of youth, size, strength, aggression, and sheer numbers are almost always decisive. Who could be nostalgic for such a world? . . .

It is reasonable to wish that only virtuous people had guns, but there are now nearly 300 million guns in the United States, and 4 million new ones are sold each year. A well-made gun can remain functional for centuries. Any effective regime of “gun control,” therefore, would require that we remove hundreds of millions of firearms from our streets. As Jeffrey Goldberg points out in The Atlantic, it may no longer be rational to hope that we can solve the problem of gun violence by restricting access to guns—because guns are everywhere, and the only people who will be deterred by stricter laws are precisely those law-abiding citizens who should be able to possess guns for their own protection and who now constitute one of the primary deterrents to violent crime. This is, of course, a familiar “gun nut” talking point. But that doesn’t make it wrong.

Harris is a supporter of far more intrusive regulation than I would support even on a “once and for all” basis (and doesn’t choose to discuss the way in which even a theoretically reasonable licensing process can be abused by the authorities) but he has the honesty to admit this:

Another problem with liberal dreams of gun control is that the kinds of guns used in the vast majority of crimes would not fall under any plausible weapons ban. And advocates of stricter gun laws who claim to respect the rights of “sportsmen” or “hunters,” and to recognize a legitimate need for “home defense,” simply give the game away at the outset. The very guns that law-abiding citizens use for recreation or home defense are, in fact, the problem.

And that’s the point. That’s why serious supporters of the Second Amendment find it so difficult to support what (many see as) self-evidently sensible gun control measures. “Once and for all” simply doesn’t exist. Once the big-government ratchet starts turning, it does not stop, and those few sentences by Sam Harris help explain why. And then there’s the prominence of Bloomberg on the gun-control team . . .

Anyway, read the whole thing.

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“Sensible Proposals”

Heather, you wrote:

Anyone who was expecting Vice President Wayne LaPierre to break the NRA’s week-long silence after the Newtown massacre with an olive branch and some sensible proposals regarding better background checks, say, or restrictions on high-capacity ammo clips didn’t know his man.

Well, regardless of what we might think of Wayne LaPierre’s, uh, less than convincing performance, it’s worth acknowledging that one reason that individual gun rights have survived so long in the United States has been the refusal of those who have been most prominent in their defense to make any concessions that could be seen as somehow diluting the Second Amendment. The effect of that stubbornness is that the debate is presently focused on assault weapons, ammo clips and the like, rather than on attacking the core freedom that lies at the heart of that amendment.

In an earlier post on this topic, you noted that the “sounds of the machinery of the federal government cranking into gear must be terrifying to many a libertarian.” That’s very true, and not only for libertarians. One thing that such people have come to understand all too well is that when that machinery starts up, it frequently begins with steps that are indeed quite often genuinely sensible. The problem is that the ratchet rarely stops there. Once an inch has been conceded, the state will take a mile in carefully calibrated increments, each of which are ‘reasonable’ until, of course, the moment that they cease to be.

Paranoia? Let’s just say that it is telling that Mayor Bloomberg is leading the charge for tighter regulation. The epitome of the technocrat who believes that he always knows best, Bloomberg has repeatedly demonstrated that the demands of the state (defined, naturally, by him) trump the freedoms of the individual. His prominence in the current campaign is a guarantee that it will not stop with “sensible proposals”.

And that’s a shame.

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