May 23, 2004

It ain't an argument if it ain't Hobbesian

Greg has two posts up that I want to address. The first is a response to my last post about our disagreement. The second is a post he did concerning a post of mine on concealed carry permits.

This is a continuation of our arguments. You can find the previous posts (in descending chronological order) that concern our disagreement at the following links:

Chris Cox NRA Speech (Publicola)

Speaking of cutting off your nose to spite your face. (The Hobbesian Conservative)

Gun Owners Might Sit Out This Election? (Clayton Cramer)

Yet more on the NRA & Bush (Publicola)

Why absolutism doesn't work (The Hobbesian Conservative)

The Hobbesian Arguments Round 3(?) (Publicola)

I guess I'm just a fascist, then (The Hobbesian Conservative)

Making the Chains Rest a Little Lighter (Publicola)

Speaking of rollback (The Hobbesian Conservative)

Now if you can wade through all that I'm impressed.

Let's start with I guess I'm just a fascist, then:

"He cites some examples of the NRA being involved with making laws less restrictive, then chides them for not blocking them completely."

That's incorrect. What I cited was examples of the NRA being in favor of the legislation as a whole not because it was less restrictive than proposed but because it contained restrictions the NRA approved of. I can accept someone arguing that the restrictions in question were good in their view but to claim that the NRA's goal was to minimize restrictions in certain legislation is no different than the blinded view conservatives routinely criticize (& rightly so) the mainstream media of having.

If you read The Hobbesian Arguments Round 3(?) you'll see that what I pointed out was not situations where the NRA opposed the law but agreed after less restrictive changes were made, but examples of the NRA supporting gun control laws because it contained provisions that they approved of. The NRA wanted the "sporting purposes" clause in the GCA of '68. They wanted the NICS system contained in the Brady Bill. They didn't see a problem with the NFA of '34.

"One of the things I find interesting is he blasts the NICS law, but not so much on the fact that the idea behind it is bad but because it's executed poorly. Could this be a chink (can I call it that?) in the armor? Maybe he's not as much of an absolutist as we thought."

My point was not that the NICS law was a good thing, but that if the NRA was seeking to minimize restrictions then why didn't it push for the least restrictive option? I'm more than happy to elaborate on why the NICS law is a bad idea & I'll continue that into any law that requires government approval to purchase a firearm. In that case however I was trying to show in a practical as opposed to ideological manner why the NRA wasn't seeking the least restrictive means possible to placate a bill they claimed was going to pass regardless.

Read my post on the subject & wade through the links I used to back up my assertions. It'll take a while but I'm confident that my position is supported.

"If, as Publicola suggests, the NRA starts running ads about how important the Second Amendment is to staving off tyranny, they'd be immediately painted-- as they so often are-- as paranoid militant nut-jobs who all live in concrete bunkers under the sand of the Arizona desert.
And, without an imminent threat to the liberties the ads would allude to, people would believe the spin of the NRA's gun-grabbing opponents. The backlash would just give AGS and other gun-grabbing organizations the support they need to thrust their brand of "reasonable" gun control measures. And I guaran-dang-tee you that those laws would be orders of magnitude worse than anything the NRA helped pen-- especially since the "new, radicalized" NRA (as it would be perceived) would be shut out of negotiations altogether."

So the argument is now "If the NRA tells the truth they'll get demonized by their opponents - kinda like they're being demonized now"?

If the NRA dropped the "sporting purposes" & "hunting" justifications they so often used & started trying to educate people about the real necessity of the Right to Arms I doubt it would shift things much against them. What it would do is separate the "some gun control is necessary" types from the ones who understand the dangers of the slippery slope. Yes, the NRA would lose some members if they started telling the truth, but they'd gain much more than they'd lose.

There are a few no-compromise type organizations out there. Memberships range from a few thousand to a few hundred thousand. Now there is some overlap between the no compromise groups & the NRA membership rolls, but I think that if the NRA started taking a no compromise approach they could count on all the members of the current no compromise groups to more than make up for any Fuddites that would resign. I would estimate that they'd lose a few hundred thousand members at most, while gaining between 500,000 to 1,500,000 members. & the thing is the Fuddites who would resign probably just paid their annual dues. The members they would gain would typically be more likely to send in extra donations if the need arose. But if you think the majority of NRA members are to o immature to listen to the truth, or that they simply support all the gun control & the compromising approach of the NRA then I doubt my argument will be persuasive.

One last thing on that subject though: if the lack of attempted confiscation & genocide by the government would weaken our cause, then how can you explain the prominence of organizations that support freedom of speech considering no government entity has shut down any newspapers? Wouldn't they have evaporated by now? Or do people realize that in order to keep a freedom it must be fought for continually?

"I think this is where the divergence between our viewpoints truly occurs. We can agree that there are limits to the kinds of weapons people are allowed to own (he admits that the ban on nukes is reasonable, even if his reasoning seems far more complicated than it really needs to be). We can even agree that some people shouldn't have weapons-- even if we disagree about the best way to make sure of it (I support the NICs, with reform of course. When Publicola remarks on the effective registration he's pointing out an abuse of the law as it stands-- the government is not supposed to keep records of purchases, but it does. That is something that needs to be fixed). We can agree that less restriction is better.
What we disagree on is what we think is actually possible given the political landscape as it currently lies.
Publicola thinks that people will recognize a sound constitutional argument and rally to the side of freedom. He thinks that an aggressive, rollback campaign to repeal all firearms laws on the books will succeed-- even if he doesn't care if anyone supports him or not. Again, we'll win because we're right, and to hell with the couple of million people who disagree.
I think that people won't accept a newer, more aggressive NRA. I think that a move in that direction would alienate the less zealous hunters that only think about their guns when hunting season starts up. I think that any lawyer that brings an absolutist 2nd Amendment case before the supreme court will lose, and lose hard. So far I haven't seen anything to convince me that we could win on the offensive."

Actually I don't feel there are limits. At least not what most people would consider limits. My view relies on the definition of "arms" & the short version is anything up to & including field artillery should not be regulated or prohibited. Anything beyond that doesn't fit into my definition of "arms". It's a semantic point & one could assume that in a practical sense I have limits, but I think that's negated by the other side of my view which is that if a person cannot own or possess a weapon then neither should any government. I understand the argument that nukes are necessary while other nations have them, but I simply do not trust any government, especially my own, with weapons that are verboten to the people.

In any event this does sum up the nature of our disagreement: Greg feels the people are not educated or reasonable enough to understand &/or agree with the absolutist ideology, whereas I feel that if the people aren't up to it, then it must be fixed by educating them.

The bottom line is that if the people cannot be trusted with governing themselves then all hope is lost. The people do accept rather idiotic things & as the old saying goes "people are stupid: an individual is smart". But the answer (to loosely paraphrase Jefferson) is to educate the people if they're not up to a task rather than lording over them for their own good.

If it is done correctly then every effort must be put into educating the populace about the reasons behind the necessity of Arms & the dangers of even seemingly reasonable restrictions. I don't think it will be easy but I know it'll be impossible if no effort is made whatsoever.

If the NRA attempted to educate the people about the Right to Arms it wouldn't change anything overnight. But it would get them to thinking. At worst it would counter a lot of the misinformation spun by the anti-gun groups & their strongmen (i.e. the mainstream press) & let people decide for themselves. At best it could cause a dramatic change in opinion.

In short if the people do not have the capability to accept a well reasoned argument & consider it then it's long past time to head for the hills & establish perimeters.

Greg wraps up with arguments against my decision to vote third party instead of Bush. He concludes with the following:

"Yeah. And when another set of planes levels the Chrysler building, we can sagely nod our heads about how we're teaching those Big Government Republicans a lesson about the second ammendment.
'Laying the groundwork' sounds great in theory, until you stop to think that there may not be any ground for our grandkids to enjoy if we tunnel on some issues with such tenacity that we forget that there are more important things to worry about."

I'm a single issue voter - more or less. Actually I have a litmus test that must be passed before I take a candidate’s other views into account. That test is the Right to Arms. My logic is that if a person will not respect this basic, inherent & Natural Right then I doubt he'll give more than lip service to the others. Bush fails this test (along with a few others). I'm simply not persuaded that he is doing such a good job or that Kerry would be so much more worse that voting for him is necessary to our survival.

There will always be a crisis of one sort or another. Greg wishes to vote for the person he feels will do a better job between the two major candidates. I'd rather vote for someone who I wouldn't have to apologize for if he/she was elected.

I have practical as well as principled reasons for doing this but for the sake of brevity (& people say I can't even spell "brevity"!) I'll leave them for another post.

But the attacks of September 11th should have already taught the Republicans a lesson about the 2nd Amendment. 3,000 people died at the hands of a few terrorists. What most people overlook is that the people on those planes could have stopped those terrorists if A; they hadn't been unlawfully denied their Right to Arms when they stepped onto the plane & B; the government didn't advise them to comply with any demands made.

I'm not saying the government is responsible for the attacks. That blame lies solely on the terrorist who drew knives & boxcutters & flew the planes into buildings. I am saying that their attacks were made easier (or perhaps made possible) by the government restricting the people's Right to Arms & Defense despite being constitutionally prohibited from doing so.

That is what Republicans should have realized & addressed. If it takes a loss in a presidential election or two to drive that point home then so be it. If Bush or Kerry is elected & there's another attack it won't cripple the country or destroy the U.S.A. That can only happen internally & the biggest danger we face is a government who does not respect our Rights. There will be ground to stand on no matter who wins the election. The question of most importance is whether we'll be standing on it or kneeling on it.

Now let's move on to Speaking of rollback:

"As I've tried to make clear, Publicola and I do not differ so very broadly on goals. We both agree that less is more when it comes to gun legislation.
Our disagreement is religious: He has faith, I don't. He believes that we can challenge the current crop of gun laws in court and win, and I don't. He believes we can convince legislators to roll back current laws, and I don't."

Actually this is incorrect. I have almost zero faith in the courts & even less in the legislatures. If I have any faith left in government it's in government’s inherent ineptitude. The only thing worse than the government we have now would be the government we have now operating more efficiently.

But I do have faith that if you talk to a person & make sound arguments that people will generally consider your position. I also feel that people have been & are being misled by the government as well as the press.

So I don't really have much faith to speak of in the government. I have a little in the people but that's out of necessity more than belief. If I do not have faith in the people (even the smallest amount) then I would have no justification for trying to change things. At that point my only options would be to either accept things the way they are or to leave. Perhaps my faith isn't grounded in anything worth believing in, but this is my home & I can't accept either of the alternatives just yet.

"I suppose it's good that he has faith, for his own sake. Because if he were to accept my assertion that the courts are against us, and that we lack the votes to effect meaningful, immediate reform in the legislature, then the logical conclusion (given what I've read of his arguments) would have to be that the only solution left to the problem of our rights being trampled is open rebellion."

Because of the Smith Act (18 U.S. Code § 2385) the only appropriate response I can think of is "thou hast said it".

"That's why I like the "right to carry" laws that are popping up all over, as does Clayton Cramer. It's not rollback, but it's a step in the right direction. For all his claims of wanting to ensure that his grandchildren have the right to own firearms, his proposed solutions tend to be a little greedy. (Pushing a case to the courts that will in all likelihood lose, given the makeup of said courts-- all the more so when you consider that his own actions would see John Kerry elected president to appoint all the anti-gun, anti-rights judges he wants for 4 years--all on the tenuous notion that doing so would goad the Republicans into fielding an electable, pro-gun candidate in 2008)"

Actually it's not a step in the right direction. While it may seem so, in reality the Shall Issue permit laws are simply reinforcing the legislature's belief that they have the authority to regulate, condone or prohibit what is a Right. It's just that in the case of Shall Issue they're condoning the carrying of arms, albeit conditionally, so those who don't look deeper than the surface see this as a good thing.

But once a legislature establishes that they may permit something it is fallacy to believe they cannot prohibit something. The same states that permit you to carry with the right piece of paper can turn around at any time & prohibit carrying arms permission slip or no.

Where my "greedy" solution is preferable is that once a Right is established & recognized by law it's much harder to do away with it at a legislature's whim. Right now the stats seem to be in our favor, with at best a decrease in crime in states with liberalized carry laws & at worst no measurable difference. But in ten years if a study comes out that shows an increase in violent crime in shall issue states then the only thing that can stop the legislature from prohibiting concealed carry is an intensive effort by pro-gun voters & orgs. If the NRA is a prominent voice in such a state I'd expect there to be some sort of compromise instead of an all out fight.

But the precedent that they have the final say over the matter will have been established because some people naively think that shall issue permit laws are a first step towards the recognition of the Right to carry & others just see the short term benefit for themselves: being a part of a privileged class that the state trusts with a Right.

In the long run we'll all be better off if we establish that carrying openly or concealed is not something any legislature has any say on. If that's truly being "greedy" then call me Scrooge all day long.

"The idea is this: Right now a lot of states have "may issue" permit setups. This is a "rule by man" system, whereby the issuing authority-- usually a police official, which are notoriously anti gun (contrasting those who serve under them who tend to be more pro-gun because it makes their jobs easier).
So, through constant pressure, the laws are being changed to "shall issue" laws, which lays down an objective set of criteria and says "anyone who meets the aforementioned criteria will be issued permits." This is without any provision for the discretion of the issuing authority."

Actually most states are Shall Issue. Vermont & Alaska are the only ones who have it right & four states (if I recall correctly) prohibit carry. The rest are May Issue states.

But even in Shall Issue states there is a "rule of man" component: sheriffs & police chiefs usually insist it's included under the guise of public safety. It's typically called the "naked man" exception. The theory is that it's necessary to prevent someone with no criminal record but who is demonstrably unfit to carry from receiving a permit. After all, if a person has a clean record but walks around the streets naked then he should be considered to be incapable of safely handling a permit. So even Shall Issue laws do have a provision for arbitrary denial.

Colorado's new Shall Issue law has such a provision & is worse (in many practical ways) than the May Issue law it replaced. But it has the magic "Shall Issue" prefix & allows people in other states to carry in Colorado if they have the required paperwork, so the short-sighted cannot fathom it's a bad thing practically or principally.

"Now, here's the sneaky part that I think escapes some absolutists: Once the shall issue permits are national, we can apply pressure to make the criteria for issuance less stringent. And that will happen.
And then we can make them even less strict, until the only logical conclusion is to do away with the permit system altogether."

That idea doesn't escape me. I just do not believe that it will happen.

Alaska is the only state I'm aware of that had a Shall Issue law & made the change to not requiring a permit. Florida had the first Shall Issue law (if I remember correctly) & they have not made any moves whatsoever (that I'm aware of) to eliminate permits or even lessen the requirements. I would think that if Florida cannot do this despite its long record of Shall Issue permits not causing any harm (in terms of crime) then other states are less likely to be able to push something through. In Colorado a few months ago we had a bill proposed in the House that would have eliminated the permit requirement. It was killed in committee. Know who killed it? Republicans on behalf of the NRA.

So in Colorado which is much closer to being a free state than many others, we cannot get a permit-less concealed carry bill passed because of the alleged pro-gun choice of the two major parties.

To sum it up the strategy is like trying to sell a car & setting the asking price as exactly what you want. You leave yourself no room to maneuver. Whereas if you take the absolutist approach (whether you believe it or not) it's like setting the selling price of the same car a few thousand higher. You may not get your initial price but you stand a better chance of getting what your bottom line price is.

If we push for permit-less carry now & we do it correctly, then there is a chance we'll get it. Not easily but it is possible. If we take the incremental approach (which if you read this post you'll see that I don't think it's effective for gaining lost ground) then we lose ground if compromise becomes necessary (as the non-absolutists seem to argue).

Greg & I probably do have similar goals, though I think if it were possible he'd cling to "less is more" rather than embracing "non is more" when it comes to firearms laws. Our major disagreement is about how to get where we both want to go. I'd like to change his mind as I'm sure he'd like to change mine, but I'll settle for him giving serious thought to some of the points I bring up.

As for you I ask only the same thing: think about what I'm saying & the reasoning I use to say it. If my statements or my logic is flawed I'm not beyond being convinced of my errors. But if they're not flawed then tell people about it. The worst thing for anyone to do is to have a conviction but not do anything about it.

Posted by Publicola at May 23, 2004 10:45 PM

-I read Greg's 'guess I'm just a fascist' post, and in regards to his Bush contra Kerry theme he echos a sentiment similar to a recent post over on the geek w/a.45's blog. I live in Florida, and in 2000 I cast a vote for Harry Browne, in a state where Bush needed every vote he could muster. But if I vote for Bush this time based solely on his prosecution of the war against the militant muhammedans, couldn't I be accused of trading essential freedoms for relative security?
-Kerry would no doubt be worse or at least more aggressively socialist in both foreign and domestic matters. But thinking beyond how quickly things would deteriorate, could a more rapid statist descent shock us into coherence? If our gentle downhill slide changed to a heart-stopping fall, would freedom loving Americans grab a ledge and begin, at last, to climb the yet surmountable precipice?
-I fear, when we undertake the strategy of incrementalism, we play directly into the script of the stastists, as they're the masters of this art. Every passing decade removes a bit of liberty, and slowly the spirit and intent of the Constitution fades from our collective conscious, along with the failures and attrocities of communistic and socialistic governments.
-On what basis should we place our trust in the next generation desiring a return to a philosophy of individual liberty. They will not yearn for what they have never known; hell most of us are forced to merely imagine what freedom truely is. Time is not on our side; it's on theirs .
-Do you believe there is any validity or viability in a scenario where rapid statist encroachments could prompt a significant political backlash?

Posted by: Jasen at May 24, 2004 05:19 PM

I'm not so sure. What I've been saying on the subject is that, with Bush, we may have some messes to clean up later, but first we must ensure that there IS a "later." I am totally unconvinced that Kerry would do as much to prosecute this war we're in as aggressively as Bush. My feeling is that Kerry would hand over the defense of this nation to the UN and the French, and it'll be open season on Americans both abroad and at home. (Never mind Nader, Buchanan, Browne, or whomever GWA.45 and others have pointed out, they fall squarely in the realm of Things That Are Not Going To Happen.)

Would a Kerry election prompt a "real" conservative backlash? Perhaps...but, in the meantime, you've still got to deal with four years of Kerry damage...maybe time enough for some emboldened terrorists to get hold of a nuke and take out an American city. The chance of that is too high to be ignored...and that price is definitely too high to pay.

Posted by: Erbo at May 24, 2004 07:39 PM
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