The Pro-Gun Movement Is Too Often Anti-Liberty

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Its recent suggestions include imposing armed guards on every school in America and deporting a critic of the Second Amendment.

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Irked by the loudest voices in the gun debate, Ross Douthat declared in a pre-Christmas column that American society is divided between an arrogant center-left "too confident in its own rigor and righteousness" and conservative reactionaries who are embittered, paranoid, and confused, so much so that their input is basically worthless. "On issue after issue, debate after debate, there is a near-unified establishment view of what the government should do," he wrote, "and then a furious right-wing reaction to this consensus that offers no real policy alternative at all."

I've been focusing on that excessively confident center-left "consensus," despite my support for extending mandatory background checks to private gun sales and my openness to other gun regulations. Like the Supreme Court, I believe that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to bear arms, and although I have no interest in gun culture, I appreciate the benefits of living in a society where freedoms aren't lost to all citizens when those freedoms are horrifically abused by some. I drink alcohol. I drive cars. I have sex. I cannot help but be conscious of the fact that, in doing those same things, people less responsible than me cause various horrific tragedies.

If only all gun-rights advocates were as invested in pluralism and liberty. Alas, I've noticed in recent days that too many of them are as willing to transgress against those values as Michael Bloomberg*.

So let's talk about the conservative reactionaries.

Americans presently decide at the local level how much security is needed in nearby public schools. Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, would have us adopt a federally funded "National School Shield Program" that puts an armed guard at every single school in America. In a press conference, he blamed mass shootings in part on entertainment, stopping just short of the slogan "Guns Don't Kill People, Violent Movies Video Games Do." And he wants to create a federal registry with the names of all the mentally ill people in the U.S., as "we have a completely cracked mentally ill system that's got these monsters walking the streets." Anyone who suggests that guns bear part of the blame for killing people or that gun owners should sign up for a registry are warned of undermining liberty and slippery slopes -- a position that seems a lot more opportunistic and disingenuous when it's applied to gun owners exclusively, as if the mentally ill and video-game aficionados are somehow invulnerable to abuse.

Federally mandated armed guards in every school crosses the line into blatant coercion. Think of how many liberal communities would prefer to protect their kids differently. Should they not be free to choose?

And it gets worse.

There are now tens of thousands of grassroots gun-rights advocates who've lent their names to a petition so disgusting that it compels me to defend the insufferable British-born broadcaster Piers Morgan.

Scott Meslow aptly summarizes the controversy

Can a foreign-born political commentator be deported for making political comments? That's the question -- and the goal -- of more than 60,000 Americans who have signed a petition to deport British journalist Piers Morgan for his outspoken views on gun control. On a recent episode of his CNN series Piers Morgan Tonight, Morgan called guest Larry Pratt, the executive director of Guns Owners for America, "dangerous" and "an unbelievably stupid man" for arguing that the U.S. needs more guns to fight gun violence. Pratt responded by calling Morgan "morally obtuse." (Watch a video of the heated exchange below.) The subsequent petition to get Morgan deported, which was started by "Kurt N" from Austin, Texas, argues that Morgan is "engaged in a hostile attack against the U.S. Constitution by targeting the Second Amendment" and "[demands] that Mr. Morgan be deported immediately."

The irony, of course, is that deporting Morgan for his "hostile attack" on the Constitution would be a violation of the constitutional right to free speech. Even as a British national, Morgan is "afforded various rights under national security law and due process," says immigration attorney Mark Schifanelli at ABC News. Morgan's comments are protected unless they present "immediate danger" to the United States, and his opinion on gun control isn't likely to meet that requirement.

I don't mean to suggest that the head of the NRA and the 60,000 White House petitioners speak for all gun-rights advocates, let alone all gun owners. They don't. We are nevertheless talking about the head of the nation's most prominent gun-rights group, with 4 million members, and a petition signed by 60,000 people. How many more gun-rights advocates are silent or even complicit when the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments are violated? The pro-gun-but-weak-on-civil-liberties red states of the South suggest that there are hundreds of thousands more.

Gun-rights advocates will continue to invoke the Constitution and the language of liberty. I'm glad, even though I sometimes have a broader notion of which gun regulations are consistent with their rights. What irritates me are people who invoke the Bill of Rights and its spirit when it affects areas in which they want to exercise liberty, yet don't extend that same courtesy to fellow citizens.

The Bloomberg left and the NRA right have more in common than they like to think.     
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*To review: The New York mayor restricts beverage size in his municipality, sent police outside his jurisdiction to spy on totally innocent Muslims, and presides over a scandalous policy whereby minorities are routinely stopped on the street and frisked without probable cause; wealthy and white New Yorkers are targeted so infrequently that they hardly know the practice exists.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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