Build Consensus on Gun Control, With Civility

A reader responds to "Gun Control is No More Popular than Toilet Control":

Mr. Sullivan brings forward a potential key to assembling political consensus on gun legislation. “A lot of Americans are still upset about government-mandated low-flush toilets and the phase-out of incandescent light bulbs, so resistance to gun control should not be surprising…Even at gunpoint, they’re not about to back down from their belief that everything the government does is evil…Opposition to gun control is higher in gun owning households, but a stronger factor is an individual’s view toward government...suggesting that ideology is a more important variable than the experience of actually owning firearms.” If the concerns of those who cling to incandescent bulbs were added to those who are concerned about a disastrous tax code, non-performing public school districts and energy policies that subsidize wind turbines in locations with little useable wind resource, the full scope of why so many believe that “government controls too much of our daily lives” might be better understood.

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Indeed, America’s editors complained about widespread abuses of the civil forfeiture process in their November 3, 2014 Current Comment and Robert David Sullivan raised concerns about local and state governments in his “All Tyranny is Local” article of September 15, 2014. Concerns about intrusive or overbearing government are widely shared.

That people suspicious of government tend to support gun rights is nothing new. While a dispute about gun control sparked the battles at Lexington and Concord, note that the opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence list the numerous ways in which government (the King of Great Britain) was intruding into the daily lives of Americans. More than a decade later, the memory of those intrusions led to a Second Amendment preserving the “right of the people,” not just the states, to keep and bear arms.

Nor is this association of lethal arms with protection against government a uniquely American phenomenon. The barons who obtained King John’s seal on Magna Carta brought their assault weapons to the meeting. The relief they obtained was from the King’s intrusions in their daily lives. The long list of those who believed that guns in the hands of the people were a remedy to oppression includes the liberator Simon Bolivar, the abolitionist John Brown,and the grandmother of Condoleezza Rice, who often sat on her porch with a shotgun ready to protect her home.

America’s editorial “Repeal the Second Amendment” appeared in the issue of February 25, 2013. On April 4, 2013 the editors added an online comment:

“The editorial does not take issue with the natural right to self-defense, which is God-given and unchangeable. The editorial takes issue with one specific, prudential application of that right, namely, the right to own a gun as specified in the second amendment. The right to own a gun is not a natural right, but a positive right, meaning it is a human-made and changeable right. Those who maintain that the editors are questioning the right to self-defense in their call for repeal are making a categorical error.”

Fair enough. But sometimes the right of self-defense, or on rare occasion the right to change government—both natural rights—requires the use of arms. Would an electorate with so many concerns about intrusive or overbearing government muster the approval of three quarters of the states to repeal or even modify the Second Amendment? There is a strong argument that repeal of the Second Amendment would not preclude an individual right to “keep and bear arms.” That argument lies in the long thread of correspondence, some of it preserved in the Federalist, asserting that a Bill of Rights (which includes the Second Amendment) is redundant protection because the Constitution only grants certain specific powers to the federal government. If the Second Amendment were repealed, gun-control laws would still endure Supreme Court challenges and Fourth Amendment rights would continue to restrain enforcement of anti-gun laws, such as by aggressive “stop and frisk” programs.

There can be progress against the ongoing tragedies of gun violence, which is manifest not only in mass-casualty shootings caused by terrorists or individuals suffering serious mental disease, but also against the daily incidents that have their origins in spouse abuse, in gang- or drug-related confrontations, or other crimes. We might even make progress against suicides by gun. Some limited gun control measures have survived Supreme Court review. Those precedents might suggest other possible steps. Improvements to the nation’s mental health system should also be considered. Robert David Sullivan has explained why political progress will require a broad compromise, including changes that alleviate the growing concerns about overly intrusive government.

To enact a response to the tragedies of gun violence, a broad consensus must be built. That process starts with each of us accepting the concerns of the other, without trivializing or discounting them. Approaching the issues with a bias toward conciliation, we might just achieve that which seems so unattainable—a freedom from fear, and promotion of the common good.

Joseph J. Dunn is a retired business executive. He is the author of “After One Hundred Years: Corporate Profits, Wealth, and American Society” and writes frequently on issues of economic justice.

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Chuck Kotlarz
2 years 10 months ago
Higher trust in government perhaps can help foster consensus. Historically, high or increased rates on the top federal income tax bracket appear to raise trust in government. Higher top income bracket tax rates can signal politicians are working for the people instead of wealthy elites. Trust goes up as politicians respond to Main Street issues. Trust peaked at 77% with a top federal income tax bracket rate of 91%. Trust fell to 10% after the Bush tax cuts. Reference Mr. Sullivan’s article on trust at: http://americamagazine.org/content/unconventional-wisdom/poll-pourri-trust-government-free-speech-and-american-family
Joseph J Dunn
2 years 10 months ago
Mr. Kotlarz, Thanks for your comment, which raises an interesting point. I do wonder about this, though. If substantially higher top income bracket tax rates correlate to higher trust in government, as I think you suggest, then why is Bernie Sanders not more popular among prospective voters? I ask this because the core message of Sanders’ campaign is raising taxes on upper incomes, while Hillary Clinton is vague on that issue. http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/nov/15/bernie-s/income-tax-rates-were-90-percent-under-eisenhower-/. Yet Sanders polls only half as popular as Clinton among Democratic likely voters. In fact, the 11 million who favor Sanders over Clinton only slightly outnumber the 9 million likely Republican voters who favor Trump over the other Republican hopefuls. Clinton is an experienced and gifted politician. If she detected any substance in the “higher tax brackets correlate to higher trust in government” proposition, wouldn’t she be very explicit in that direction? Just wondering.
Chuck Kotlarz
2 years 10 months ago
Trump perhaps is also a “gifted politician”. As Mr. Sullivan notes, trust saw “…a brief rally right after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” Has Trump not secured a similar rally after San Bernadino?
Joseph J Dunn
2 years 10 months ago
Possibly he did. We do seem to agree that taxes are an issue for most voters, and that there is a full range of opinions on that issue. I wonder if Sanders’ waning popularity, compared to Clinton’s, indicates that even fewer likely voters see higher top-bracket tax rates as important? Robert David Sullivan pointed to a few issues, and I added several, that are contributing to the growing discontent of voters with government—a discontent that apparently must be addressed if a consensus is to be reached. Let’s hope for progress.
Charles Erlinger
2 years 10 months ago
Chuck and Joseph, please don't attribute efficient causality for broad trends in societal attitudes to single-factor correlations with things like income tax bracket structure (or for any other single-factor correlation).
Joseph J Dunn
2 years 10 months ago
Agreed. See my comment below, and indeed the whole point of my Response to Sullivan's article. I think our notes crossed somewhere in the great cybervoid. Peace.
Chuck Kotlarz
2 years 10 months ago
History and demographics can be subject to interpretation, but are decidedly more reliable than AEGOP’s Fables. For example, one can check the wind energy link above, or consider that the best way to keep wind energy in perspective is to have some. In the state with the highest percentage of wind power electricity, 85% of residents have a favorable view of wind energy. The Rock Island Clean Line perhaps can make wind energy available even to residents of Maryland: http://www.rockislandcleanline.com/site/page/project-description.
Charles Erlinger
2 years 10 months ago
The rule of thumb for dealing with the attribution of causality that I was trying to pass on was useful to me back in the day when I had to answer for the accuracy of my analyses and forecasts. Of course, you can never stay completely out of trouble in that occupation, regardless of how careful you try to be.
Chuck Kotlarz
2 years 10 months ago
Charles, thanks for the update!
Chuck Kotlarz
2 years 10 months ago
The “belief that everything the government does is evil” for some perhaps isn’t just the most important eternal verity, it’s the only one. As always, should you be caught reading the next few lines, the Editors will disavow any knowledge of your actions. The total gross state product (the state equivalent to a country’s GDP) of the “evil government” dominant states runs twice that of conservative dominant states. In dominant party states overall, at least 75% of Congressional members and Governors come from the dominant party as well as a majority in at least 75% of both state legislatures.
Steven Krause
2 years 10 months ago
I concur heartily with the call for civility, not only around gun control, but generally. At the same time, I had an experience that makes me rather pessimistic about our prospects for doing so. While driving home from a family gathering yesterday, I discussed gun control with my police officer son. I shared my belief that assault weapons offer very little value for self defense above that offered by simpler weapons, and seemed useful only to rapidly kill large numbers of victims. My son pointed out the difficulty of determining this, and argued that most gun control laws serve only cosmetic or "feel good" purposes, without actually saving lives. We both agreed that such questions are difficult to answer, because solid data on the frequency of gun use in suicide, homicide, and self defense are difficult to obtain. We concluded our conversation with an agreement that both sides should be able to support the collection of information about gun deaths, with which we could begin to make policy based on facts rather than invective. I dropped my son off at his home, then returned to mine, where I read a news article which reported that Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi have been negotiating over various policy changes each would like to attach to the next federal budget. Pelosi would like to repeal the 19 year old law forbidding the federal government from allocating funds to study gun violence. Ryan wishes to keep the research ban in place........
Chuck Kotlarz
2 years 10 months ago
“(Paul) Ryan wishes to keep the (gun violence) research ban in place........” The ten most socialist countries of the world have a violence fatality rate only 10% of Paul Ryan’s conservative dominant states. Of twenty-three dictator run countries, only three have a higher violent death rate higher than Paul Ryan’s GOP dominant states. What’s left? Third world countries? Perhaps Paul Ryan can give us an update.
Chuck Kotlarz
2 years 10 months ago
Gun ownership perhaps should have a license and fee structure similar to hunting. When was the last time you’ve heard of a hunting fatality? Fee revenue could be split between public safety and wildlife habitat improvements. Active hunters would be subject only to customary hunting licensing and fees.
Chuck Kotlarz
2 years 10 months ago
Of the 875 million guns in the world, over 250 million guns are in the US. Perhaps 250 million guns and 25% of the world’s prison population indicate the US has become incompetent at civility, favoring instead a shoot them up, lock them up approach.

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