We are Having the Wrong Debate

A good number of people in my Facebook feed are passionate about gun control right now. And it appears that I have friends or “friends” on both sides of the debate. It would be nice if this passion would transfer to other amendments such as the Fourth or the First.

Alas, much of it is painful to read. As, Facebook does not exactly lend itself to intelligent discussion of any serious issue — its as if the whole thing is system of bumper stickers in real time. I’ll lay out some things that make it tough and explains why this development in the news has led to more “unfollows” than even the election had to this point.

  • The discussion is a policy debate masquerading as a Constitutional debate. The government’s ability to regulate the purchase, manufacture, and possession of firearms and ammunition is not unfettered, but it is far-reaching. The Supreme Court of the United States said so in Heller. I have written about Heller in a past post. Most of the big questions related to the second amendment are settled as a matter of constitutional law. The question is not whether a ban on certain types of rifles or more rigorous background checks is constitutional. The real question is whether such policies ought to exist as a matter of law. Constitutional law should likely never be debated by memes on social media. But here, the whole exercise is a bit of a detour even if memes were intellectually a good idea. If only Facebook had a way to test its users on whether they have read Heller before allowing them to write “Second Amendment” in a post.
  • Nobody Seems to Know What an “Assault Weapon” is or What Kinds of Weapons are More Dangerous than Others. The AR-15 is at the center of the controversy. But perhaps this part of the debate is misplaced as well. In a closed fire setting such as a nightclub, a handgun seems a more deadly prospect than an AR-15. In close quarters, a handgun would be more difficult to grab versus a rifle. And a rifle offers little by way of an advantage where the target is close. In reality a handgun can be fired rapidly, can be concealed, and is more difficult to take from an assailant. Yet, much of the talk is about banning automatic or semiautomatic rifles. Why is there no discussion of handguns? It is likely because handguns aren’t as visually powerful as rifles and because more people are likely to have handguns than AR-15s.
  • Religious Fundamentalism is the Issue. More dangerous than the weapon used is the ideology of the man who held the weapon. Sam Harris, in his most recent podcast, notes that much of the Obama administration’s reaction to the nightclub shooting would not make sense if the weapon of choice had been a pressure cooker bomb similar to the one used in the Boston terrorist attack. Religious fundamentalism is the real problem. In its Islamic form, it has led to terrorist attacks around the world. In its Christian form, it has led to terrorist attacks around the world and to some some fairly discriminatory recent legislation.

In the political discussion around the Orlando nightclub shooting, we are missing an opportunity to have a First Amendment debate and are missing the opportunity to take a sobering look at the real cost of religious fundamentalism. The second amendment piece is largely settled.

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