Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Personal Responsibility

I believe in due process, and in the proposition that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Applying that standard will undoubtedly allow some criminals to walk. That's the price we pay in attempting to ensure that no innocent defendants are unfairly imprisoned. We could repeal the fourth amendment and get many more criminals convicted. I recognize and acknowledge that fact.

I believe in the freedom of speech. I recognize that allowing the public airing of viewpoints that dehumanize classes of individuals increases the likelihood of material victimization of the individuals in that class. There is a responsibility that falls on a society to protect its members from victimization, and perhaps a special responsibility on the part of those who defend the incendiary speech that plays a contributing role. I can accept that.

So just once, I'd like to hear someone from the N.R.A. or like-minded organization say: I believe in the right to keep and bear arms. A society that keeps its population disarmed keeps its population as a tempting and vulnerable target for a range of abuses. Handgun bans could have prevented the tragedy at Virginia Tech. I accept that. Occasionally 32 innocent people will die because a young man had the freedom to obtain the weaponry to kill them. It is a tragedy, and perhaps a preventable tragedy, but it does not justify taking guns away from lawful individuals.

That's a principled position that someone who is willing to take personal responsibility for the consequences of their opinions and actions might hold.

On the other hand, I'm still waiting to hear someone say: There is a distance between what the Second Amendment says, and what many reasonable people believe it to mean. There is quite probably a gap between the Framers' understanding of the role of firearms in society, and the actual role that arms play in our current society. As such, I believe that most forms of gun control are unconstitutional, and that we absolutely need to amend the Constitution to allow reasonable controls on guns.

That's another principled position that someone who understands the consequences of their opinions and actions might hold.

At the moment, however, whatever position you might take in this debate, when 33 people are dead, you lose. Everyone loses. For those whose lives will never fully recover from their loss, you have my deepest sympathy.


Paul said...

I'm not sure what you're looking for in this post. It doesn't matter to me that much what the NRA has to say about gun control, I prefer to make up my own mind on the subject.

My position is that the framers of the Constitution wanted to ensure that no government, at any level, could enslave the people. Exactly what kind of weaponry the people need at any given time to achieve that protection can be debated. Back in the 18th century, the King's Army were equipped with pretty much the same weapons available to any citizen: rifles, pistols, swords and horses. Not so today.

If the Governor orders the National Guard to roll into my town with tanks so he can force us to work in the license plate factory, then I'd like to have some RPGs, or at least a little C4 to rig an IED. All the stuff we gave Osama bin Laden to fight the Soviets.

I suppose the next best thing is a deer rifle with a good scope. I'd much rather pick off the oppressors from a distance.

Some of our troops are issued handguns, but rarely as a primary weapon (e.g. tank crewmen are issued pistols, but their primary weapons is, well, a tank). A handgun is useful only for close proximity fighting, with the primary objective being to put the other guy down before it comes to hand-to-hand combat.

Does that mean that we can ban handguns and satisfy the protections intended by the 2nd Amendment? I'm not ready to go concede that point. I think that if I wanted to be prepared to go to war with a government that intends to enslave me, I'd like to have that handgun. After all, they get to use tanks, helicopters, mortars, assault rifles, heavy machine guns, grenade launchers and all kinds of stuff that are already banned from private ownership. I can have a semi-automatic rifle, a semi-automatic shotgun and a handgun. Oh, and a crossbow. Doesn't seem like a fair fight. I'm going to have to fight dirty (like the Minutemen hiding in the trees vs the Redcoats), and so I'd like to keep the handgun.

And yes, the consequence is that bad things can happen when handguns are broadly available.

But lots of people are killed by cars, maybe more than are killed by guns. In fact, I was almost wiped out on my motorcycle last night when a girl talking on her cell phone made a left turn right into me, stopping only a few feet away from the collision. My personal experience is that a driver talking on a cell phone is way more dangerous to me than someone with a handgun.

Yes, 33 people died in this one incident, and that's a tragedy. How many were killed yesterday by impaired drivers? We don't even care anymore. It's not newsworthy.


bonobo said...


That's about exactly what I was looking for. I'm not endorsing your viewpoint here, but what you're saying is actually a consistent and coherent argument, and one that is rarely seen in the bobblehead debates on cable news. The Bill of Rights, by and large, is a set of restrictions on the power and authority of the federal government. Our founders recognized the occasional necessity of taking up arms against an abusive authority. I'm by no means a second amendment expert, but I find it much easier to defend the more libertarian position that citizens should have the right to carry RPGs than to defend the position that AK47s shouldn't be regulated due to their potential utility as hunting implements.