Gun Control, Freedom, and Responsibility

In political debates, you often wish the other side would just fess up and get to the root of the issue, as seen from your side of course. The problem is, they rarely see the root the same way, and instead you keep yelling at each other till your voices give out.

Occasionally however, a miracle happens. Your opponent will admit that he sees your vice as a virtue, or vice versa. Or perhaps, they will say that in our modern world certain virtues are no longer worth practicing, and it is just easier to pass the responsibility on to someone else.

I’ve done my best to stay away from the gun control debate in the wake of the Newtown massacre. The reactionary arguments from both sides of the political divide were shameful. But now the time has passed, and the debate is being forced upon us.

In a recent entry in the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates gets to the root of the left’s problem with guns – Responsibility.

Consider the core of Mr. Coates’ argument:

“It is not enough to have a gun, anymore than it’s enough to have a baby. It’s a responsibility. I would have to orient myself to that fact. I’d have to be trained and I would have to, with some regularity, keep up my shooting skills. I would have to think about the weight I carried on my hip and think about how people might respond to me should they happen to notice. I would have to think about the cops and how I would interact with them, should we come into contact. I’d have to think about my own anger issues and remember that I can never be an position where I have a rage black-out. What I am saying is, if I were gun-owner, I would feel it to be really important that I be a responsible gun-owner, just like, when our kids were born, we both felt the need to be responsible parents.”

Mr. Coates would have gun control because it is easier than personal responsibility. This is the exact mentality that every conservative since Edmund Burke has warned would only make people more dependent on government. My previous post deals with a similar matter, and the conservative response to this and many other issues is no different – Self-control or Centralized control. There are no other options.

I find his comparison to parenting to illustrate responsibility ironic. I don’t know for sure, but as Mr. Coates is a good member of the left, I’d wager he is in favor of abortion. This is another issue where we have decided that it is easier to allow thousands of children to be aborted than to take responsibility for ourselves. The responsibility problem in our nation is chronic, and runs through a host of issues. All of which, I’m afraid, will in the end only run back to and feed Leviathan.

Mr. Coates goes on to argue, “That the capacity to do lethal violence requires an expense of time, energy, and responsibility, which I would rather not make.” Alexis de Tocqueville, who seems to be speaking directly to Mr. Coates, once predicted, “The time will come when men are carried away and lose all self-restraint… It is not necessary to do violence to such a people in order to strip them of the rights they enjoy; they themselves willingly loosen their hold…  they neglect their chief business which is to remain their own masters.”

Mr. Coates closes his argument with the true statement, “A gun is power. And power demands responsibility,” but closes by admitting, “I don’t want to spend my time that way.” I thank Mr. Coates for admitting the problem. He is right. A gun is power, and power is a great responsibility. But the problem is that someone will have power. This much is unavoidable. I would much rather power be spread out and in the hands of everyday citizens like Mr. Coates and myself, but that of course would require that we accept responsibility for such power.

Liberty is a great power, and it too demands a great deal of responsibility. True freedom is inseparable from responsibility. Any political position that is built from the want to shirk responsibility will leave a void, because it is necessary that someone be responsible. To sacrifice your responsibility is to sacrifice your power, and ultimately your freedom.

Throughout the history of Western civilization we have taught that prudence, the ability to govern and be responsible for oneself, is a virtue. We have also argued, and been much derided for it, that the left is trying to redefine, alter, or abolish the ancient virtues. We have said that doing so will undoubtedly lead to a centralization of power. Now, in the subtlest of ways, they are starting to admit it. Now we can carry on the fight.

Brian Miller | George Mason University College of Law | @BrianKenMiller

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6 Responses

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  1. Jack Penland
    Jan 07, 2013 - 04:59 PM

    Well said. Too often people forget the responsibility that attends the right. There ain’t no free lunch. I personally believe that non-voters should not be allowed to own guns, because they have abdicated the primary responsibility, that of self determination. As you said, self control or central control. Abdication of responsibility is THE REASON that we are in our current mess. Apathetic non voters and ignorant voters have been our downfall, and actions have, or should have, consequences.

  2. NRW
    Jan 03, 2013 - 04:59 AM

    Well said, Brian. I’m reminded of Sir Robert Peel’s principles of ethical police work, and specifically of this one in particular:

    “Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent upon every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

    Peel was addressing the police, but his comments are equally apt when directed towards all of us as citizens.

  3. Christopher Rushlau
    Jan 02, 2013 - 05:28 PM

    You make an elegant argument except that it seems to float in the air. A way to ground it in concrete, common experience is to note that The Atlantic is one of the main mouthpieces of Israel in the US. A colonialist, imperialist, racist, and genocidal enterprise should not be the “main idea” of US political life. Its existence as such defines the US political crisis, a contradiction of US ideas (separation of church and state, equal protection of the laws, free debate) that would make Marx predict an imminent revolution. The Atlantic is probably concerned at the moment with the prospect that as Israel goes down, the desire for revenge against its sponsors within the US will reasonably be predicted to go up. Hence the quickened desire to create, as left-wing Zionists say of a “Palestinian state”, a “demilitarized” state of US citizenry. Would that we could instead move on from all such distraction-issues, anti-political-radar chaff issues, to a debate about what confronts us. I suggest the following. Liberalism, also known as conservatism, has never solved the problem of the left-behinds. The bourgeoisie, since their rise in (let me be florid here) the eighteenth century, has never known what to do with the idea that a middle class implies an upper class and a lower class. Does the upper class automatically rule (the sovereignty theory of legitimacy now current in US “legal scholarship”) and the lower class sweep up after the middle class party? I suggest that globalism is indeed a case of “the world changing forever” as was shouted from the rooftops in 2001. The bourgeoisie as the driving force in imperialism (e.g., the prosperity of the ’50’s in the US, which created this myth of a BA in every resume and a Ford in every driveway (as opposed to a bus pass in every apartment dweller’s wallet), but which was only a momentary phenomenon of post-WWII industrialism leading to autonomous industrial development around the world–the US working itself out of a job) now confronts a world without empire, since there is no more frontier to fortify and extend. “We have met the enemy and he really is us”: the back end of our own army of technology and mass mobilization.
    Does a global economic order require a middle class? I think the one thing that can be said is that we, for instance, should think about the Vietnamese civil servants cultivated by the French imperialists, who, when the French left, were themselves left without a niche. In globalism, let me suggest, everybody pulls their weight. A college degree, for instance, had better stand for linguistic and analytical skills. Bad currency drives out good. Privilege is always an expression of the failure of the legal order, as the name suggests: private law.
    The middle class does well to mourn of its eclipse.

  4. Trilby
    Jan 02, 2013 - 04:46 PM

    Right….allowing everyone virtually unfettered access (including those with histories of violent crime or mental illness) to deadly assault weapons, giving them unprecedented ability to wreck mass carnage, is a “ancient virtue” and not an NRA-created scenario which conveniently ignores the 2nd amendment’s bit about a “well-regulated militia”. I’m sure wise people of the ages would all agree that body armor, hand guns, and assault weapons should be easily available without regulating them like the deadly weapons they are.

    • Tionico
      Jan 07, 2013 - 11:20 PM

      Trilby, here you are once more totally redefining the term “militia”, which history shows clearly to be the local people, armed with their own weapons, training together to raise their skill levels, and ready to answer as First Responders to any need for security or protection.. whether from the robber or housebreaker to a flash mob raising a store or even an out of control government agency bent upon unlawful behaviour.

      And yes, history does, indeed, show a strong and widely held affirmation of the right AND responsibility of everyman to protect and defend what is rightfully his… and that of his fellows, against harm. If that means owning and maintaining and learning proficient use of things like firearms, swords, motor vehicles, body armor, I-Phone video cameras, even horses, then so be it. The right to defend one’s self and fellows is a God given right, and can absolutely NOT be taken by, or even surrendered to, those who govern, or purport to do. The gentleman quoted by Mr. Miller has made his own terms of abdication, dediding HE will not take upon himself the responsibility to be armed and skilled. Fine.. let HIM be utterly dependent upon others for this service. But that does NOT position him to make that decision for ME. And I refuse to allow such as he, or you, the oportunity to do so. You, and he, may well abdicate. I will not. Nor will some hundred million others within these borders. Get used to it. WE are here, and here for a purpose. Had we not beeenj, General Gage would surely have duly enslaved the American colonials just as Britain also had enslaved the people of India, Malaysia, Kenya, Abyssinia, Egypt, Turkey, much of Greece, Guiana (now Belize), Zaire… and a host of other similar nations round the world, Do you really think that would be a better world? If not, then back off your insane plea that we all of us surrender our weapons, lay down, and roll over for “the government”. Leave that scenario for the people of Castro’s Cuba, Chavez’ Venezuela, Iran’s dictator and religions leaders, North Korea’s people….. if you really like what you see in those places, I;ve no question you could easily arrange to emigrate thereto. And good riddance.

    • Tionico
      Jan 07, 2013 - 11:35 PM

      And I have NEVER heard any sane person advocate for totally unfettered access to guns for all.. those who have forfeitted their right to arms by means of having perpetrated serious violence against persons, or used arms in commission of crimes, and those adjudicated suitably deficient mentally as to render them unfit to bear arms, are presently debarred the use of arms, and should be. Be it noted, however, that there are many who are unrightly denied the use of arms for non-violent “offenses” which have no victim, or who are so denied as matter of protocol but denied a fair and impartial hearing before a court of competent jurisdiction. Such should be restored their wrongly denied use of arms. Note well.. both Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook murderer, and the man who falsely lured firefighters to his own home which he had set ablze as “bait:, were lawfully already denied the use of arms. Lanza had committed some forty felony firearms violations, not including the multiple charges of possession of firearm with intent to commit harm to others, or of the use of firearm in a felony)murder, some 26 counts). The firefighter shooter was a previously convicted murderer (he used a hammer.. where were the “hammer control laws” when we needed them?) who should have been adjudicated criminally insane, but had been released early and on parole… for him to have access to ANY firearm was an additional felony charge.. but we see how wel that helped the dead firemen. And so with every one of the mass shoooters from Columbine onward… ALL had violated multiple gun possession laws, not counting the “Federal Gun Free School Zones Act”, which did a very fine job of keeping those arms out of the schools, didn’t it? Yeah, right..

      So, no, NO ONE is advocating free and universal access to arms for all. Existing laws debarring certain ones from the use of arms are in place… but not properly used. Instead, such laws to a great job of unrightfully denying arms to many, and have done nothing to stop people such as the Va Tech, Aurora, Columbine, the DC Sniper, Sandy Hook, the New York firefighter shooter, and even the Clackamas Oregon mall shooter….. did they? We HAVE suitable laws in place.. they simply need to be put to work as intended.


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