Ari Ezra Waldman | Guns | News

Gun Control and the Dangers of Radical Libertarianism


The words "Kindergarten" and "dead" should never be near one another. All school shootings are tragedies, but there is something particularly soul-crushing about gun violence that victimizes the beautiful, helpless, and idealistic innocence of the youngest members of the next generation. They should be learning to craft sentences and expanding their imaginations with Jake and the Neverland pirates. They should not be the victims of a senseless lunatic who used this country's lax gun enforcement laws to execute his insane agenda.

ShootingI know no one in Newtown, Connecticut, but some of today's victims were the same age as my eldest nephew. I can't imagine what their moms and dads are going through.

Unfortunately, I can imagine what's going through the minds of the strategists at the National Rifle Association (NRA). For decades, the NRA has raised and spent millions executing a policy that Charlton Heston explained best: "You can have my gun, when you pry it from my cold, dead hands." The organization says it supports sensible gun control, but really it doesn't. It has opposed every gun control measure at the state and federal level. It has challenged several of them in court, winning a few spectacular cases at the conservative Supreme Court. It has overturned several of them on election day, and threatened elected lawmakers with harsh payback if they vote against them.

In some ways, the NRA is like any other powerful lobby, winning cases here, passing laws there, and raising money for friendly politicians. But, there's a difference between the NRA and, say, the Chamber of Commerce. The NRA deals with guns. It deals in death.

The organization's strategists have done a remarkable job turning the "let's not politicize a tragedy" canard into an iron barrier against regulation by going beyond platitudes and taking a rich political tradition of civil libertarianism and radicalizing it. They don't like the government telling them what to do, what to eat, and what to kill. They take pride in the nostalgia and go-it-alone mentality of gun ownership and the American frontier, and because this tradition is so deeply engrained in certain segments of the population, the NRA can tap into an almost endless cache of civic indignation whenever the state or federal government does something.

The truth of the matter is that radical libertarianism has acted as a shield against any real national discussion about sensible gun control. The moment the topic is raised, the notions of propriety and silence in mourning spring up as a pretext. It allows conservatives to ignore statistics, sociology, and reality. We know that the majority of mass killers in the United States use weapons that they acquired legally. So, we should toss the theory that gun control only burdens hunters and not the lunatics who are intent on getting a gun anyway. We also have evidence that gun availability is linked to high murder rates and that gun control is linked to low gun deaths. To the NRA, none of this really matters because a bloated, ahistorical notion of radical individual freedom has taken over the thinking centers of the American brain.

It cannot be that the moments after 20 children are killed is too soon to discuss what to do about it; if anything, it is too late. What's really going on is the siren spell of radical libertarianism, a hex cast to confuse a population sympathetic to freedom yet unaware that the NRA wants this "machine of war" on the streets.



Ari Ezra Waldman teaches at Brooklyn Law School and is concurrently getting his PhD at Columbia University in New York City. He is a 2002 graduate of Harvard College and a 2005 graduate of Harvard Law School. His research focuses on technology, privacy, speech, and gay rights. Ari will be writing weekly posts on law and various LGBT issues. 

Follow Ari on Twitter at @ariezrawaldman.

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  1. Thanks Ari.

    Posted by: Lars | Dec 14, 2012 6:09:23 PM

  2. How many people have to die before we ban automatic weapons on our own soil?

    Posted by: TonyJazz | Dec 14, 2012 6:16:17 PM

  3. Except it's really incorrect to associate the NRA with libertarianism. As misguided as libertarianism is, in theory, at least, those people would support gay marriage. You'd have to turn over a LOT of rocks before you'd find someone in the gun rights lobby who's on record as pro gay rights. They might have hired a few token people with those positions these days. Nor do these people even believe in some of the other tenets of libertarianism. Most of them, I'm sure, support increased military spending. So I don't know what name you could come up with it. Radical gun deregulators? Radical arms anarchists?

    In any case you have to give them credit for having been a very successful lobby by focusing on that one issue, and, as noted, trying to prevent every little slippery slope toward gun control.

    Posted by: EchtKultig | Dec 14, 2012 6:39:40 PM

  4. Bravo

    Posted by: melvin | Dec 14, 2012 6:59:22 PM

  5. I appreciate being able to read Waldman's articulate commentaries here on Towleroad.

    Posted by: AG | Dec 14, 2012 7:04:28 PM

  6. As someone who lives in CT. It is just a very sad day. I haven't felt this way since 9/11.

    I would love to think this will change the gun laws in this country but I doubt it will.

    Posted by: Kevin | Dec 14, 2012 7:14:29 PM

  7. The blame for this and other such incidents lays squarely at the feet of the NRA. How many more dead children will it take people? How many more?

    Posted by: jonny | Dec 14, 2012 7:16:27 PM

  8. The reason that the gun man killed is like most of the school shootings, he was either seeing a psychotherapist or taking psychotropic drugs. Decades ago when there were not all of these psychotropic drugs and psychotherapist we never had young people shooting up schools at work, etc.. Guns have nothing to do with it if the person is being treated or is on drugs by a psychotherapist they do this kind of thing. If you get all the information you find this to be true. Stop these psychotherapist from giving drugs to people and you will see this kind of killing go down. Not to mention psychotherapist give these drugs to LGBT people in Ex Gay Therapy than also is linked to the gay person then killing them selves because even the people who make these drugs know and have to label that the drugs can cause deaths. Stop them a and you will stop the killings like this.

    Posted by: Bill | Dec 14, 2012 7:57:26 PM

  9. The NRA is America's newest religion, and its followers are just as fanatical as fundamentalists and jihadists. Gun control is no longer possible. The time for serious controls was 30 years ago; now the NRA has made it so political, you'll have a civil war on your hands if you try to push through new controls. It's just plain too late.

    Posted by: Kyle M. Sullivan | Dec 14, 2012 8:04:20 PM

  10. It's really, really odd, but every time there's some unspeakable horror I instantly think of Anne Coulter...and what fresh obscenity will utter forth. I'm so surprised she didn't immediately issue a statement condemning the "godless, liberal children who brought it on themselves"...or how "they all should have been armed also". It's early, though. I give her mere moments.

    Posted by: Geoff | Dec 14, 2012 8:32:33 PM

  11. Seriously? You can't wait one day to publish this? Christ the bodies of these poor kids are still in the school.

    Posted by: Markus Taylor | Dec 14, 2012 8:33:08 PM

  12. Bill's theory holds just as much water as Bryan Fisher's and is just as damaging.

    Posted by: Sean in Dallas | Dec 14, 2012 8:37:54 PM

  13. Please consider signing my new petition to the White House to request media no longer report about gun attacks on the day they occur.

    Posted by: Marc C | Dec 14, 2012 8:46:53 PM

  14. Markus, I would humbly put forth that now is exactly the time to discuss this. In several days the news cycle will have grabbed onto some other story. The time to act is when the outrage is fresh. Otherwise, nothing changes, ever. Tragedy after tragedy after tragedy we hear leaders speak how their hearts and minds go out to the victims, and nothing is done.

    Posted by: bluedogj | Dec 14, 2012 8:49:31 PM

  15. How did this person get 4 guns??? Sick how easy it is for people to get guns.

    Posted by: Mel Smith | Dec 14, 2012 9:21:46 PM

  16. Mel Smith. How do we know it was "easy" to get four guns? Maybe it took him years of manipulation, tons of money, dealing with smugglers, etc. I'm not trying to argue with you, I'm just saying....we gotta stop assuming so much.

    Posted by: Yupp | Dec 14, 2012 9:29:22 PM

  17. Too bad Ari couldn't give a rat's ass about Tyler Clementi and used this blog to complain that Dharun Ravi's life had been "destroyed."

    Posted by: Vicki | Dec 14, 2012 9:34:26 PM

  18. Yupp, the only thing I see right now is little children and others killed by a man with 4 damn guns.

    Posted by: Mel Smith | Dec 14, 2012 9:48:50 PM

  19. Thanks for the article.

    Libertarians have a comprehensive approach that involves gun ownership, local volunteer patrols, not filling kids with Ritalin, and more...

    For info on people using voluntary Libertarian tools on similar and other issues worldwide, please see the non-partisan Libertarian International Organization @ ....

    Posted by: ken | Dec 14, 2012 9:53:54 PM

  20. Mel : We all see that. Still wrong to assume it was easy to get those guns.

    Posted by: Yupp | Dec 14, 2012 10:02:17 PM

  21. Yupp, it is easy for people to get guns in some states. The gunman got those guns from his mother.

    Posted by: Mel Smith | Dec 14, 2012 10:09:31 PM

  22. Yupp, he got those guns from his mother, not smugglers.

    Posted by: Mel Smith | Dec 14, 2012 10:14:36 PM

  23. When did you find out they were from his mother ?

    Posted by: Yupp | Dec 14, 2012 10:17:44 PM

  24. Yupp, that's what the media reported earlier. By the way, your demeanor is inappropriate right now.

    Posted by: Mel Smith | Dec 14, 2012 10:31:28 PM

  25. Mel Smith : I don't think my demeanor is inappropriate. ( Isn't it a little hard to be inappropriate on THIS blog, anyway? With the evil junk people say about each other and always wishing death on others. No standards here. ). Anyway, okay....I hadn't heard about the weapons being his mothers'. (That still doesn't mean it's easy to get guns, though. maybe the little brat stole them from her....) I won't argue with you though because I'm not trying to fight with you, seriously, my dude.

    Posted by: Yupp | Dec 14, 2012 10:47:48 PM

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