Aug 20th, 2019
You may have noticed that all advocates of federal gun control are arguing for the same end result, which is federal limitations upon the individual right to own firearms. But the underlying arguments as to why they believe that the federal government should be allowed to do so can vary, and often pretty wildly.
There are some who argue, for example, that the Second Amendment was never meant to guarantee any individual right, as CNN’s Chris Cuomo recently argued. Some others may argue that the Second Amendment only protects guns owned for the purposes of hunting or sport. That’s all intellectually indefensible, given the precise words of the Second Amendment and ample facts which provide the historical context for its inclusion in the Constitution. As such, these examples are rarer than the other, more honest argument among gun control activists that I’ve encountered.
Generally, this latter group of gun control advocates rightfully concede that the Second Amendment does protect an individual right to own firearms, but that the Founders just never imagined weapons as deadly as an AR-15, for example. They argue that it was never meant to protect those kinds of deadly firearms, despite the fact that the deadliest firearms on the planet at the time of the Constitution’s ratification (the same used by regulars in the British army, for example) were clearly meant to be legally kept in law-abiding American citizens’ homes.
But in the end, all these arguments boil down to one thing -- what gun control advocates think Americans “need.” Irrespective of the mental gymnastics needed to philosophically get there, the closing statement in these arguments for gun control invariably goes something like this: “Why does anyone need a [insert any arbitrarily chosen gun, or gun accessory, of some specific caliber, muzzle velocity, rate of fire, cosmetic accoutrements, magazine size, etc., here]?”
We proponents of limited government and individual rights can, and often do, present substantial arguments as to why such firearms might be necessary to protect ourselves against evil neighbors or government agents who might choose to infringe upon our right to life and liberty, and why the gun control proposals being offered would be ineffective.
We might point out, for example, the data showing that there is absolutely no evidence that “assault weapon” bans and gun confiscation programs (like the much-touted Australian “buyback”) do anything at all to reduce homicide rates. We might mention that violent crime and murder rates have fallen sharply since the National Assault Weapons Ban was lifted in 2004 (as I did in 2013, here), despite the number of firearms owned by individuals in this country growing dramatically in the years since, and the prevalence and expansion of concealed and open carry laws in many states. We might also point out that the CDC has observed that guns are used as a means of self-defense in “about 500,000 to more than 3 million” instances annually, clearly signifying the value of gun rights in protecting Americans’ lives and preserving their liberty. Or, we might argue, as David French does at National Review, that “for the Second Amendment to remain a meaningful check on state power, citizens must be able to possess the kinds and categories of weapons that can at least deter state overreach, that would make true authoritarianism too costly to attempt.”
But you might notice that all of these arguments, however correct and practical they may be, are not effective in moving gun control advocates’ away from their quest to rob us of our individual rights. That is because they are clearly arguing on the grounds of raw emotion, and they are therefore incapable of adequately appraising facts and reason. They are making what they believe to be a moral argument -- if you don’t “need” the thing that they surmise you shouldn’t have, then why should you be allowed to legally own it?
Our moral objection to that question should be abundantly clear. If it is, indeed, my legally protected “right to keep and bear arms,” and it’s true that this right “shall not be infringed” by the federal government, then the question about why I might
need an AR-15, or any other arbitrarily maligned firearm, is inconsequential. The more appropriate question to ask is why anyone else believes that he has the right to demand that the federal government take that explicitly defined right away from me, or any other law-abiding citizen.
We are constantly besieged by variations of this argument about an American’s “need” being required to justify the most fundamental of American rights, and these arguments exist well beyond the debate around gun rights. Leftists incessantly entreat Americans with the question, for example, “why should someone need X millions” of legally acquired dollars? Our response shouldn’t be to ponder or address why someone else might need that amount of money. That question is utterly irrelevant. What we should be asking is, what right of mine do I own to demand that the government take their individual property rights from them?
The “ultra-millionaire” wealth tax that Elizabeth Warren has proposed is, without question, an unconstitutional violation of individual property rights. But it’s seductive, because the masses buying into it care more about their moral indignation resulting from someone potentially having more money than he or she might “need” than about the individual right to property which would be unmistakably stolen from those Americans who are targets of any new “wealth tax.”
Direct taxes, according to the Constitution ratified in 1788, must be applied by the federal government in a strictly limited manner which is consistent with “apportionment” of taxes collected among the states and according to the census. To get around this restriction and allow the government to discriminately tax individuals’ incomes, the Sixteenth Amendment was passed in 1913, which “permits the imposition of a federal income tax without regard to apportionment among the states.”
But even with the Sixteenth Amendment in place, there are still some strict limitations to the government’s power to tax. To be clear, progressively taxing income is technically legal due to the Sixteenth Amendment, though it is still morally wrong and inconsistent with property rights as originally protected by the Constitution, I’d argue. However, taxing an individual’s assets, or “wealth,” is a horse of a different color. To this day, there remains no enumeration in the Constitution of a power to levy a direct tax on “personal property” which is “imposed solely by reason of its being owned by the taxpayer.”
In other words, if an “ultra-millionaire” has $100 million in a bank account or a brokerage account, the interest and earnings can be legally taxed by the government, and are. However, the assets (i.e., property), upon which the owner has already paid taxes, cannot be legally taxed again until there is further transmission of the property. This is a profoundly clear distinction, and yet Warren is promising that, under her presidency, she would actively seek to violate the Constitution and tax that property.
I am not an “ultra-millionaire,” and short of winning the lottery or something, I’ll never be one. I don’t know any other “ultra-millionaires” personally, either. But that doesn’t change the simple fact that they, whoever they may be, should also enjoy the protection of their property rights under the Constitution. This is the only way to ensure all Americans’ equal protection under the law, and this, I believe, is the only correct moral position.
Individual rights, such as the right to property and the right to “keep and bear arms” in order to preserve one’s life and liberty, are not “rights” at all if it is broadly imagined that they can be selectively stripped when the whims of politicians and activists demand it. We cannot continue allowing the Left to focus the debate about individual rights around the arbitrary and malleable “needs” of Americans that are defined by the government and the media.