The Libertarian Impulse on Guns (and Most Everything Else)

Ta-Nehisi and I have been exchanging e-mails on the matter of gun control for the past few days, and he has posted our dialogue on his blog. You can read it here, but be warned: We don't insult each other, so you might be bored (on the other hand, some of his commenters hurl invective in my direction), and also, it's pretty long. But for me, at least, it was a revelatory and interesting conversation with a good friend I respect very much.

I'm writing not only to highlight our dialogue, but to mention something that didn't make it in. At one point, in a side conversation, I told Ta-Nehisi that my feelings about gun ownership actually track with my feelings on a range of social and political issues. This is what I wrote to Ta-Nehisi after he said he would rather not own a gun for self-protection: "You don't want a gun to defend yourself, fine. That's your right. But denying someone else that right -- someone who is screened and vetted and trained and feels that he needs a gun to defend himself or his home -- is that right?"

I went on to write that my feeling about gun-ownership tracked with my feelings about pot-smoking (people should do it if they want to do it and not be punished for it); gay marriage (pro); and abortion (I don't like it, but I'm not going to tell a woman what to do with her body). I suppose my loathing for privacy-invading airport security procedures tracks with these beliefs. On guns, I believe that that people who are screened and vetted should be allowed to participate in their own defense. I think people should be treated like adults, and be allowed, within reason, to make their choices about who they want to be with, how they want to organize their lives, what they ingest and how they protect themselves.

After I wrote this, it struck me that I might be a libertarian. I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do with this feeling. I don't even know anyone at Reason magazine.

P.S. Yes, I know that some libertarian purists believe that the government should not have any role to play in the regulation of gun-ownership, per their reading of the 2nd Amendment. I just can't go there, however.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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