If there is one issue, which more than any divides the two sides in the gun-violence debate, it’s the role that government should play in regulating guns. To pro-gun advocates, the government should basically stay out of the way allowing law-abiding men and women (with a minimal definition of law-abiding) to determine for themselves what to do about guns. To the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement on the other hand, aggressive and comprehensive government gun controls should be the order of the day.
Want to carry a gun around for self-defense? The pro-gun gang says this is your unfettered ‘right,’ the gun-grabbers believe that only people who can show a specific and validated need for personal armed security should be able to walk around with a gun. Make background checks cover every transfer of a gun? There’s nothing about NICS in the Constitution argue the protectors of the 2nd-Amendment, whereas the liberals and the Bloomberg-loving crowd don’t understand how any ‘sensible’ person would object to government approval for every time a gun changes hands.
Behind this unyielding refusal to find common ground about how government should be involved in regulating guns is a much deeper division of opinion about the whole notion of government authority itself. Generally speaking, folks who don’t want government to interfere with their ownership of guns take a dim view of government interference in just about everything else. On the other side, activists promoting more government involvement in gun ownership tend to believe that government should play a large role in many social aspects of life. So basically, this division of opinion gets down to whether we should trust government or not.
What I find ironic about this division of liberal versus conservative opinion and government and about guns is that it used to be exactly the other way around. I became politically active about civil rights in the early 1960’s, following the example of my older brother who went on several freedom rides in 1960 or 1961. My political activity then morphed into the anti-war movement (please don’t ask which war I’m talking about) with the highlight being my presence in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention of 1968.
I don’t remember a time when anyone who considered themselves to be a liberal thought the government was a force for good, and this attitude pervaded every stance which liberals took on political and social issues, even the issue of gun rights. The first major law review article that promoted the idea that the 2nd Amendment protected individual gun rights was written by Don Kates, a Yale Law School graduate who had been a civil rights worker in the South and spent nights on armed guard duty protecting black families threatened by the Klan. His work would be taken a step further by Sanford Levinson, an extremely liberal Constitutional scholar whose 1989 Yale Law Journal article, ‘The Embarrassing Second Amendment,’ basically opened the doors to the gradual tide of jurisprudence that culminated in the Heller decision of 2008.
Now we find ourselves, in the space of one generation, making a 180-degree shift with the Left manning the barricades to protect government institutions from assaults from the Right. Is there a single liberal influencer out there who hasn’t stepped up to defend the FBI? Isn’t this the same FBI that illegally tapped Martin Luther King because they knew he was just a dupe of the Reds?
Perhaps it’s my age, but regarding gun violence, I don’t feel personally comfortable placing my faith in effective government intervention while the other side gets seen as the protector of individual rights. Whether it’s gender rights, immigrant rights or any other kinds of rights up to and including gun rights, the last thing liberals should do is let the Breitbart, alt-white gang pretend they should be taken seriously or listened to at all.
When it comes to vesting the government with ultimate authority to protect us from gun violence, this is one liberal who agrees to disagree.