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Thousands of Americans gathered in Washington, D.C., for the March for Our Lives rally this past weekend to call for additional gun control laws in the wake of the high-profile mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, and Tulsa. Other rallies took place across the country as gun violence survivors, activists, politicians, and celebrities intensified their demands for Congress to “do something” about guns.
The difficulty of passing gun control legislation reflects a broader reality in American political life: The U.S. Constitution itself has become a political Rorschach test that both parties cling to or discard depending on how it fits their goals and serves their constituents. One photo from the D.C. event explains this phenomenon on the political left.
It read “Outlaw Guns, Not Abortion.”
This sentiment captures the worldview differences that fuel our political divisions. When it comes to a procedure that has a 100% death rate, Democrats do not want any legal restrictions and claim to be protecting a constitutional right that isn’t mentioned anywhere in our founding documents.
When it comes to firearm ownership, which actually is in the U.S. Constitution, they favor enough restrictions to render the right inaccessible. Democrats also seem immune to the “they’ll just get them illegally” argument that has become a familiar retort in our national abortion debates. When it comes to made-up constitutional rights, waiting periods, age restrictions, and parental notification all get cast aside.
This explains why Democrats have been promoting the “Protecting Our Kids Act,” which recently passed in the House, without any hint of irony. It also highlights the reason the March for Our Lives receives so much more media coverage than the March for Life rally that has taken place every January since 1973 to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.
As is often the case when it comes to politics, hypocrisy is a bipartisan feature of the system.
The Second Amendment is the golden child to constitutional conservatives. The Fourth Amendment is the red-headed stepchild. This is why red-flag laws are rejected as a strategy to combat mass shootings but stop-and-frisk is accepted as a solution to street crime. Conservatives used the standard of “reasonable suspicion” mentioned in the Terry v. Ohio Supreme Court case to defend violating the civil liberties of American citizens in the name of public safety.
Some conservatives and libertarians, including Maj Toure and Dana Loesch, have consistently rejected threats to both constitutional rights. They have been the exception.
The editors at National Review defended stop-and-frisk in New York City in 2013, and most conservative commentators spent more time in 2016 talking about athletes kneeling during the national anthem than reports of unconstitutional police practices in Baltimore.
One of the cardinal rules of gun safety is never to point your weapon at something you don’t want to destroy. Public policy can function in a similar fashion. In both instances the person wielding power has to ensure that their sights are set on the correct target.
Being young, black, and male in a low-income neighborhood is not a crime. Neither is being middle-aged, white, and a legal gun owner in the suburbs. Asking both groups to accept significant impositions on their civil liberties because a small subset of people who look like them break the law is a dangerous proposition. The erosion of constitutional rights for the masses for the sake of targeting a small minority is the slipperiest of slopes in a constitutional republic.
Mass shootings in schools, churches, and grocery stores are often carried out by people who have purchased their firearms legally. The majority of homicides in large cities (e.g., Philadelphia and St. Louis) are committed with guns that are not legally owned and registered to the shooters. Suicides by gun actually constitute the largest number of gun deaths but generate the least amount of media coverage. Accidental shootings that occur when firearms are not stored and handled properly typically get local media attention because they often involve children.
The problem with our gun debates is that political talking points on both sides are used in ways that fail to account for important nuances.
Raising the age to purchase an AR-15 from 18 to 21 could keep those weapons out of the hands of disaffected, troubled teenagers and prevent a future mass shooting. Those would obviously be good outcomes, but outlawing AR-15s would also put millions of gun owners in a very tenuous legal position and prevent law-abiding citizens from accessing a popular means of self-defense.
One Florida woman used an AR-15 to defend her family after burglars broke into her home and pistol-whipped her husband. She shot one of the men, who died in a ditch near her home.
She was eight months pregnant.
This is not an anomaly. Firearms are used for defensive purposes thousands of times per year. This is an important part of the gun control debate that needs to be highlighted, even as we can acknowledge the pain of families and fellow citizens who have lost loved ones to self-inflicted or deliberate acts of violence.
American politics are at an inflection point. Identity politics is on its deathbed. Conservatives have the opportunity to craft a strong, sustainable multi-ethnic base founded on common values and the protection of constitutional rights. The left will counter and say it is doing the same thing, but its political constituency is built on the assumption that the main goal of politics is the procurement and provision of resources.
Those two political philosophies are not the same.
Protecting rights is not a zero-sum exercise. The politician who fights for Second Amendment rights is helping the black man in Philadelphia as much as he is the white man in Peoria.
Promising and providing resources is very different, because favoring one group often implies holding something back from another. Racial discrimination in the GI Bill’s implementation after World War II is one commonly cited example. The effects, both on specific groups and national cohesion, are no different today.
The Second Amendment is an anti-tyranny measure, whether that oppressive rule is expressed through direct government force or the abdication of appropriate state power. That doesn’t mean guns are idols to be worshiped, but it does mean both sides should recognize that feelings of helplessness and hopelessness can quickly lead to calls for more state power. This is true whether it’s the left talking about random acts of violence using guns or the right complaining about the concerted effort to confuse and sexualize young children in K-12 schools. When families are falling apart and church pews are gathering dust, the government inevitably takes on the role of both father and priest. That is a future we should all want to avoid.