“[…] our federal government has zero moral authority to legislate against violence.”
Interesting piece from Ron Paul, who argues that when it comes to the fight over gun rights and legislation, both progressives and conservatives are wrong:
The senseless and horrific killings last week in Newtown, Connecticut reminded us that a determined individual or group of individuals can cause great harm no matter what laws are in place. Connecticut already has restrictive gun laws relative to other states, including restrictions on fully automatic, so-called “assault” rifles and gun-free zones.
Predictably, the political left responded to the tragedy with emotional calls for increased gun control. This is understandable, but misguided. The impulse to have government “do something” to protect us in the wake national tragedies is reflexive and often well intentioned. Many Americans believe that if we simply pass the right laws, future horrors like the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting can be prevented. But this impulse ignores the self evident truth that criminals don’t obey laws.
The political right, unfortunately, has fallen into the same trap in its calls for quick legislative solutions to gun violence. If only we put armed police or armed teachers in schools, we’re told, would-be school shooters will be dissuaded or stopped.
While I certainly agree that more guns equals less crime and that private gun ownership prevents many shootings, I don’t agree that conservatives and libertarians should view government legislation, especially at the federal level, as the solution to violence. Real change can happen only when we commit ourselves to rebuilding civil society in America, meaning a society based on family, religion, civic and social institutions, and peaceful cooperation through markets. We cannot reverse decades of moral and intellectual decline by snapping our fingers and passing laws.
Let’s not forget that our own government policies often undermine civil society, cheapen life, and encourage immorality. The president and other government officials denounce school violence, yet still advocate for endless undeclared wars abroad and easy abortion at home. [….]
Obviously I don’t want to conflate complex issues of foreign policy and war with the Sandy Hook shooting, but it is important to make the broader point that our federal government has zero moral authority to legislate against violence.
Furthermore, do we really want to live in a world of police checkpoints, surveillance cameras, metal detectors, X-ray scanners, and warrantless physical searches? We see this culture in our airports: witness the shabby spectacle of once proud, happy Americans shuffling through long lines while uniformed TSA agents bark orders. This is the world of government provided “security,” a world far too many Americans now seem to accept or even endorse. School shootings, no matter how horrific, do not justify creating an Orwellian surveillance state in America.
Do we really believe government can provide total security? Do we want to involuntarily commit every disaffected, disturbed, or alienated person who fantasizes about violence? Or can we accept that liberty is more important than the illusion of state-provided security? Government cannot create a world without risks, nor would we really wish to live in such a fictional place. Only a totalitarian society would even claim absolute safety as a worthy ideal, because it would require total state control over its citizens’ lives. We shouldn’t settle for substituting one type of violence for another. Government role is to protect liberty, not to pursue unobtainable safety.
Our freedoms as Americans preceded gun control laws, the TSA, or the Department of Homeland Security. Freedom is defined by the ability of citizens to live without government interference, not by safety. It is easy to clamor for government security when terrible things happen; but liberty is given true meaning when we support it without exception, and we will be safer for it.
This pretty completely nails the classical liberal position with respect to how liberty operates and is supposed to operate — cherishing liberty necessarily means we must accept that total security is an impossibility, given that such an arrangement is the hallmark of a police state (ideally; such even brackets out the inevitable corruption that makes security negotiable) — with a notable difference when it comes to foreign policy, whereby a classical liberal would appreciate that it is perfectly prudent to take whatever military measures we need take to protect the lives of our citizens and create an environment in which we as a people and as a country are safer. Peace through strength was a Reagan hallmark; sadly (to my way of thinking), it has been rejected by some libertarians, who promote a kind of security-based effective isolationism while still promoting robust international trade and free markets.
But that’s an argument for another day.
Here, the question is, does the federal government lack the moral authority to legislate against violence? Paul’s position to mean seems, on one level, a kind of offhanded tu quoque: the reason we lack the moral authority to legislate against violence is that we either engage in military violence, or we allow for violence against unborn children in a culture of disposability grown so commonplace that we now routinely include (potential or actual, depending on your medical position) life.
But on another level, the assertion seems to be that government itself, because it post-dates the civil society, doesn’t have the moral authority to legislate against violence; it only has the authority to protect the rights of the people. Meaning, for instance, laws against murder or rape or theft, etc., while putatively moral, are really no more than procedural correlatives to the moral code that precedes government and is indicative of the civil society’s collective moral framework. In the US, we have place natural law and unalienable rights for individuals above all else — and those rights are to be protected and upheld by the government. Which means that, for Paul, the federal government lacks moral authority to legislate against violence not only because it itself has embraced certain violent practices, but because moral authority is a product of the civil society, not the government we lay over that society to guard it. The federal government as a necessary evil with specific enumerated powers — with no practicable right to adopt the stance as a nanny state dispenser (and withholder) of basic protected liberties.
— Which is why I take issue with Paul’s attempt to cast indictments of overlegislative-impulse equally along the political spectrum. While it’s true some on the political right called for a police presence in schools in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, many of us were entirely put off by the idea. It is unnecessary, expensive, and separates out at a legal level who can and who cannot protect children from predators. Alternately, it seems to me that those of us who have advocated for the potential arming of teachers are doing precisely what those who value liberty do: asking the government to get out of the way, to remove gun-free zone ordinances and laws, so that teachers who have or wish to try to obtain CCW can do so and then carry their weapons with them into their place of business. That is, we wish to see basic rights taken away by the government returned to private citizens. And if it takes new legislation to overturn prior, liberty-squelching legislation, I hardly see the equivalence Paul does between the left’s attempts to begin bans and the attempts by some on the right to use legislation to effectively deconstruct and disable prior harmful legislation.
The fact remains that, even as Dianne Feinstein prepares to dust off her “assault weapons” ban legislation — and many cowardly Republicans prepare to break ranks and vote for frivolity merely for the optics, trading our liberty and security for their own public halo — those who actually wish to “do something” about gun violence other than use it as a tool to promote their political agenda, recognize that the prior assault weapons ban didn’t work, that “gun-free zone legislation” is dangerous, deadly, feel-good magical thinking, and that doubling down on all of the failed policies of the left by way of exploiting a tragedy is grotesque, ineffective, and has nothing at all to do with children or even guns: it has to do with the power of the federal government arbitrarily, using whatever the available occasion, to gin up populist, majoritarian sentiment and then pass laws that take away individual rights and ascribe those rights to an ever-growing government.
And we simply must resist it.
Hope you all had a great Christmas! Have fun between now and the beginning of the new year. Because that’s when the social hangover will really begin to kick in.