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