I have never understood Bret Stephens’ fetish for masquerading as a conservative while using his columns at the New York Times and previously at the Wall Street Journal to undermine conservatism every chance he gets. I understand that there must be some draw to being smiled at and welcomed by the liberal elites at those posh Manhattan cocktail parties, but he’d get more invites if he would drop the pretense of being a conservative — a pretense that will fool no one after his latest column.
“I have never understood the conservative fetish for the Second Amendment,” Stephens declares in the opening line of an article calling for the outright repeal of the Second Amendment. See, most liberals would be disingenuous about their desire to confiscate America’s guns. But Stephens is a fake conservative, and that means he openly gets to make condescending arguments for why the rest of us rubes are too extreme. A fundamental, inalienable right is a “fetish?” That is ignorant, much like the rest of Stephens’ column.
First, Stephens argues that “more guns means more murder,” citing a 2013 study in the American Journal of Public Health that found states that had higher rates of gun ownership had large numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides. As David Harsanyi points out at the Federalist, studies like this are misleading because they conflate gun homicides and suicides.
But let’s see Stephens’ study and raise him two more recent studies: One is a 2015 report from the American Enterprise Institute that since 1993, gun violence has been declining even as gun ownership has increased; the other is a 2017 analysis from John Lott’s Crime Prevention Center that found murders in the U.S. are highly concentrated in urban counties with low gun ownership. In fact, just two percent of U.S. counties had more than half of the murders in the United States, and many rural counties with very high rates of gun ownership had zero murders.
“It just so happens that the counties that have zero murders have by far the highest gun ownership rates,” Lott told The American Spectator earlier this year. “The gun ownership rates in those more rural parts of the country are about 111 percent higher than the gun ownership rates in the urban areas that have the highest murder rates.”
Next, Stephens argues “more guns means less safety.” Using FBI statistics, Stephens notes there were “268 ‘justifiable homicides’ by private citizens involving firearms in 2015,” and “489 ‘unintentional firearms deaths’” in the same year. The conclusion he wants the reader to draw is deaths by gun accidents outweigh lives saved by private ownership of firearms, so guns don’t make us safer.
This is a bad argument. First, there is no way to determine how many would-be assailants and murderers are deterred from committing a crime and how many lives are saved by the mere presence of guns. Second, as a matter of public policy, does it make more sense to seize 300 million firearms from the American populace to stop 400 or so yearly gun accidents? Should we then ban and restrict every tool that causes accidental death or injury? According to the CDC, in 2015 the leading cause of death by unintentional injury in the U.S. was “poisoning.” Death by firearm came in behind motor vehicle traffic, falling, suffocating, drowning, and death by fire/burring — more than 33,000 people died by falling and more than 3,500 by drowning. Ought we severely restrict high places and swimming pools to mitigate those accidental deaths?
Stephens goes on to dismiss the Second Amendment’s prescription for a “well-regulated militia” as “quaint” and to propose that the idea of an armed citizenry to serve as a check on government abuses is “curious.” He then castigates liberals for beating around the bush with their arguments for “commonsense” gun control and goes for the jugular.
In fact, the more closely one looks at what passes for “common sense” gun laws, the more feckless they appear. Americans who claim to be outraged by gun crimes should want to do something more than tinker at the margins of a legal regime that most of the developed world rightly considers nuts. They should want to change it fundamentally and permanently.
There is only one way to do this: Repeal the Second Amendment.
Comparing what would understatedly be an “improbable” political campaign to other “great causes” like the legalization of same-sex marriage, Stephens claims gun ownership doesn’t need “a blanket Constitutional protection” and arrogantly dismisses Second Amendment supporters as “gun enthusiasts … fantasizing that ‘Red Dawn’ is the fate that soon awaits us.”
Missing in Stephens’ piece is any discussion of the fundamental natural right of self-defense, from which we derive the right to bear arms. But that gets to the heart of Stephens’ argument, which is, simply, that he does not recognize the right to arm oneself as a fundamental natural right. Like all progressives, Stephens rejects the idea of natural rights.
Oh, he brings in James Madison at the end to address rebuttals to his piece, but he postulates that confronted with the death toll from gun violence in America, Madison would agree with his point to “take the guns — or at least the presumptive right to them — away.”
Here he demonstrates his ignorance. In the American Founders’ understanding, the right to bear arms is inalienable. It exists outside the Constitution. It is a right that is endowed by God and secured in the Constitution. Stripping the language of the Second Amendment away from the piece of paper it’s written on would not remove the natural right to possess firearms. Attempt to take that right by force and confiscation, and, well, you’ll find quite a few Americans in the states Stephens flies over saying “from my cold, dead hands.”
If anything, Madison would look at the deaths by gun violence and decry the epidemic of violent crime in America’s urban counties. He would be outraged that the American government has abdicated its responsibility to secure the right to life of the American people by instituting law and order and stopping crime.
Not only does Bret Stephens not have his facts straight, not only is he historically ignorant, not only does he give in to the progressive premise that our rights come from government and not God, but he’s also a phony:
— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) October 5, 2017
I get it, though. The last time Bret Stephens tried to write something at least nominally conservative, the liberal audience of the New York Times went into a fury and demanded his firing. It’s okay to pander to the liberals at the Times, Bret.
Just stop pretending to be a conservative.
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Chris Pandolfo is a staff writer and type-shouter for Conservative Review. He holds a B.A. in politics and economics from Hillsdale College. His interests are conservative political philosophy, the American founding, and progressive rock. Follow him on Twitter for doom-saying and great album recommendations @ChrisCPandolfo.
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