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When my compatriots on the left talk about passing new gun laws—banning big magazines etc.—I keep coming back to this question: Why do you want to do this?

It was clear to us of the smart set that Congress’s wild overreaction after Len Bias died was stupid and destructive (passing the laws that penalized crack cocaine more heavily than powder). We understood instantly that Congress was not only pandering, but yielding to a pre-existing impulse toward demonizing blacks and making their lives harder. Similarly, we understood immediately that by pushing the Patriot Act after 9/11, the Republicans were seizing the moment to impose the kind of fascistic police-state laws that it was in Dick Cheney’s nature to want to pass.

For a counter example, when the bombs went off in London, we pointed to the British and said, “Look at what fine people they are. They suffer a blow and suck it up; they don’t torque their laws and society out of shape in a panicked attempt to feel like they’re ‘doing something.'”

Remember the University of Wisconsin political theorist Murray Edelman; government doesn’t solve problems, it seeks or manufactures problems to justify “solutions” it already wants to impose. Large-capacity magazines have been freely available for years, and the number of times someone has committed a massacre with them can be counted on one hand. The desire to ban them now is not in response to a problem. There is none to solve. So what else is it?

Look at it another way, if we’re going to start talking of banning things. Ban advocates say, “nobody needs a 33-round magazine.” I’d argue that in a free society, one doesn’t have to prove need if one wants something; the burden of proof is on he who wants to ban. Moreover, in terms of which is more destructive — which has caused more harm, and more limited human potention — is the 33-round magazine worse than the 6,000 square-foot house? I’d argue no. Not even close.

The 6,000-foot house consumes tremendous resources to build, heat, and cool, and forces us to lay out communities so they can only be navigated by car. They’ve done incalculable damage to the planet and our way of life. But we’re not talking about banning 6,000 square foot houses.

Rachel Maddow dismisses the Second Amendment with a sneer, saying that a strict reading of it would allow individuals to own nuclear weapons. There is indeed a large wing of the gun community that believes that the Second Amendment precisely protects military weapons. The Brown Bess musket was the premier infantry weapon at the time 2A was written, so today’s premier infantry weapon — the assault rifle — should be the gun most protected by the Constitution and the last to be banned.

It’s about their definition of “the militia” — the collective community of armed citizens. The weapon of an individual citizen is the rifle, not a complex system that requires many people to operate. So nobody’s asking for an F-16 or a nuclear weapon. From the point of view of the 2A absolutists, those are not militia weapons. There is no constituency for those. So to say that people shouldn’t have 33-round magazines because the next step is people having nuclear weapons is the worst kind of straw-man demagoguery.

I would argue that we on the left have a real opportunity here, both to do our side good and the nation some good as well. And that is to calm the fuck down. I’ve already argued at length how reaching for the smelling salts every time someone does something bad with  a gun is bad for our side; it drives the other guys deeper into their protective crouch, and makes those who live on a Fox News diet that much easier to stampede. But beyond the partisan politics, rushing into passing restrictive laws because one bad thing happened is just dumb, and beneath or dignity. We knew it after Len Bias and after 9/11, and we should know it now.

What do we liberals want to do? Do we want to reduce gun violence in America? If so, perhaps we should just keep doing what we’re doing, because I don’t know that there’s been another twenty-year period in American history that violent crime has dropped as much or as fast as it has in the past twenty. Or is it that we want to get rid of the guns? If the latter, I come back to the question, why? These past twenty years were when gun laws got much looser and gun ownership went way up.

I think we on the left should be leaders in doing what we so admired in the British — we should say, steady on, people. This was a terrible event. But overall, things are fine. And we don’t need to make enormous, destructive changes just because one bad things happened.

Instead, we on the left are revealing our pre-existing impulse to “get rid of guns.” I understand why we don’t like them; they reinforce everything we stand against — war, force, cowboy individualism and so on. I think it’s fine to argue against war, force and cowboy individualism. But I don’t think it’s right, or smart politics, to use restrictive law to make those points, any more than it’s right or smart to use marijuana laws to reinforce the Protestant work ethic.

[Dan Baum is a respected author and TTAG commentator. Please visit his website so that he’ll keep cross-post here. So to speak.]

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  1. Personally, I hope “the left” ignores Dan’s sound advice. There are two years remaining until we will have an opportunity to undo America’s biggest mistake since James Earl Carter “bubba-ed up” the White House like a low-rent Jed Clampett. With no Ronald Reagan to galvinize the right, and America’s puzzling fascination with the current occupant of the White House, it’s going to be an uphill battle. Americans rarely reject a personable president. The more restrictive laws that the left proposes, the better, until they drive themselves right out of office. And forgive me for not genuflecting before The POTUS. I know that would be the civil thing to do. But after he turned a memorial service into a campaign rally, I’m not feeling all that civil.

    • Ah, more empty criticism of the President. How refreshing. I wish I understood what terrible thing he has done to our country that makes him “the biggest mistake ever”. I thought that President Obama’s speech at the memorial in Tucson was both kind and constructive. I fail to see how he turned it into a “campaign rally” or how, what the President said, was in any way offensive. I think people on the Right just hate to see a liberal do or say anything good that might make them popular. You just can’t stand to see the other guy win.

  2. Dan, great article. This should be printed somewhere where it’ll get more circulation among your peers. As much as I enjoyed reading it, it seems like a bit of a waste to be posted here where I imagine few liberals visit.

  3. Good luck trying to find hand grenades for sale, all the way up to IEDs and suitcase nukes.

    Then again, these are disposable weapons – probably not covered under the 2nd Amendment either. Rifles and some machine guns are items that can easily be maintained and used time and time again after the first trigger pull.

        • Just got off the blower with Baum. He reckons a quarter of gun owners support the ban. He said I should get out more. Back atcha Dan.

          • He may actually be right. There are a huge number of gun owners who aren’t in the NRA or any other pro-gun organization, don’t read gun blogs, don’t think about things from a 2nd amendment perspective, don’t really think too much at all about gun laws that don’t affect them immediately.

          • “He reckons a quarter of gun owners support the ban.”
            I’d say 1/3 of em & they’re called “fudds”.

  4. Good article. On a funny note… am I the only one that cringes when they refer to mags as clips. Urrr…

  5. One-quarter or one-third, the point is a good one. Many gun owners are not along for the gun-rights ride. I often hear gun rights folks claim to have 80 million gun owners on their side. It’s just not like that.

    I agree with Dan’s questioning all the hysteria about magazine size. But I don’t agree with the larger point about guns. Guns are bad news and whatever the stats show, without guns they’d be much better.

  6. I urge and endorse legislation to take these big magazines off the market for ordinary civilian use. People need to take a step back and have an honest look at how much lethal firepower 30+ rounds of 9×19 actually represents. The Bill of Rights was not written in consideration of cheap, mass-produced handguns that, in a public space like a shopping mall or workplace, can mow down a dozen or more human beings in a matter of seconds. None of the rights in the Constitution, including the Second Amendment, are boundless or absolute; all are subject to reasonable regulation. A ban on magazines of 30+ rounds capacity would be such a regulation.

  7. I wonder how many shooting sportsmen have been driven away from the NRA by its self-absorbed, intransigent, and utterly irresponsible practice of obstructing virtually all gun regulation, no matter how sensible or necessary. The NRA is the preeminent example of scorched-earth, me-first, single-interest politics we have in Washington these days. It was sort of a big deal for me at the time but it isn’t anymore: I essentially walked away from an NRA Life membership. The NRA does not represent me.

  8. I have two Glocks that work with my 3 30-round mags. I’m not about to use them to mow anyone down. I do, however, like to try to get up to the indoor shooting range once a week for just a little while. If I didn’t have the pre-loaded mags, I would be there much longer, probably wouldn’t get to go as often, and would spend even more money on lane cost while I reload. Of course, as many – I know I am safe with them. I’m not so sure about all the other guys 🙂

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