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.

Feed This post's comment feed


  1. Yupp, no problem.

    Posted by: Mel Smith | Dec 14, 2012 10:51:13 PM

  2. If the second amendment really allows for severely mentally ill people (as yet undiagnosed) to purchase assault rifles and machine guns, then the second amendment MUST BE repealed. In it's place we could pass laws that make possession of firearms punishable by life imprisonment. If we're not willing to go that far, then the amendment should prescribe some very very onerous regulations for the purchase of firearms and serious limitations on the types of firearms that can be sold. ANything less is just placing gun rights over the lives of our children.

    Posted by: Dan Cobb | Dec 14, 2012 11:16:05 PM

  3. If there's a gun, it's gonna be used, guns are made for kill, why do civilians need guns for ? it's simple

    Posted by: MArk | Dec 14, 2012 11:22:16 PM

  4. Wow! Guess what "radical libertarianism" has acted as shield against any national discussion on censorship, or outlawing rights for gay people. Sorry, but never before have I thought someone writing for this site was just being an ass. But to scapegoat libertarians here is just indulging in his personal prejudices. A whole lot of respect for this page, which I read daily, has just gone down the tubes.

    Posted by: James Peron | Dec 14, 2012 11:22:33 PM

  5. The unintended consequence of gun control is more crime:

    "More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws," by Professor John Lott.

    Posted by: Mark Read Pickens | Dec 15, 2012 12:10:55 AM

  6. There are a lot of studies supported by NRA.
    As least his conclusion is wrong in Europe except may be some isolated incidence like in Norway that happens once every million years.
    You can say the same thing with drugs and smoking.
    The unintended consequence of drugs control is more drugs. The unintended consequence of smoking restriction is more people smoking. Since we can't control it by law, just don't bother. Only in the case of guns, it has more deadly consequence.

    Posted by: simon | Dec 15, 2012 1:54:15 AM

  7. Please, remove the post from SNOWFUN. Not only is it filled with disgusting lies and bigotry, it has nothing to do with the article.

    And nobody engage in a discussion with that troll, please. There's really no point and will only give SNOWFUN an excuse to repeat the vile nonsense.

    Posted by: Tanoka | Dec 15, 2012 2:12:08 AM


    Posted by: Bob | Dec 15, 2012 2:27:52 AM

  9. Violent crime rates nearly inversely match declining education rates. Mental welfare programs continue to have their budgets reduced, they are a mere 15% of what they were a decade ago. These things continue to happen because we want to believe an inanimate object is at fault, rather than human frailty. Because were it the latter we would have to admit our own failings and weaknesses. Only when we elevate the human condition will we see a decline in violence. Otherwise weak men will continue to do evil things even if they have to resort to swinging a rock to do it.

    Posted by: markankhamen | Dec 15, 2012 2:33:43 AM

  10. I agree with Markankhamen. The state of our mental health programs need to improve.

    Posted by: dm | Dec 15, 2012 3:40:40 AM

  11. I am disturbed by a post from Bill and I need to make some corrections from his post. First a psychotherapist does not prescribe drugs, a Psychiatrist who is a doctor (M.D.) does. A Psychotherapist is just that, a therapist and doesn't deal with the prescribing of meds. The only other professional that can prescribe medications is a nurse practitioner. Second psychotropic medications can change the lives of people dramatically who suffer from a mental illness. I am a professional counselor and I worked for a mental health center in Denver dealing with very ill individuals that society just wants to throw away. I have seen schizophrenics go from homeless to living independently and working because of these medications and living with dignity. Denver County has a very good mental health center that helps clients stay on meds and out of trouble, off the streets and out of hospitals. I worked there for 6 years and saw how lives could be changed with intensive case management and medications. Unfortunately not all mental health centers are this well funded and don't have the success like the center in Denver.

    People are so ignorant when It comes to mental illness and people like Bill whom I'm sure has no training in the mental health field, telling people that meds are the problem is ignorant and dangerous. Two of the biggest issue with treatment is medication compliance and society prejudice. Would you tell someone on heart medication to stop taking their meds,of course not but when it comes to mental health it's alright. Mental Illness is an illness where the chemistry of the brain is affected and causes marked impairment cognitively and distress to daily living and that's just a quick definition. No person in their right mind would go into a theater or school and kill innocent people if their wasn't something wrong with their thinking and logic. These horrible acts can be a manifestation of trauma in their lives, personality disorders (which are created in a person through life traumas and horrible environments) and/or a mental illness.
    Educating society about mental illness could help prevent tragedies like this because people would become more aware of warning signs and intervention could become possible. Also we need to revamp our mental health system with funding so people can get the help that is needed. Its so easy to label these gunman as evil but that is just lazy. Understanding what makes a person tick and trying to understand their motivation and why they felt that killing kindergartners or movie theater patrons was a solution can be a key component in intercepting these distressed individuals and hopefully can prevent future people from committing these horrible acts. Unfortunately its too late for these children and teachers, the victims at the Oregon mall, the victims in the Wisconsin Temple, the victims in Aurora theater, the victims in the mall in Canada, the child victims of the Amish school, the victims at Columbine, the victims killed at Virginia Tech...

    Posted by: brett | Dec 15, 2012 5:01:29 AM

  12. The NRA is one of the only political organizations we have that has made an effective stand against "The Homeland Security Act" The NRA is vigilant angainst a governement that is always encroaching on allowing the police to use illegal search and seziure. Someone at that school should have been trained how to use a gun and should have had a key to the gun locker. Every gay man and woman in the United States, and every gay man and woman in Uganda should own a gun.

    Posted by: Craig LaRue | Dec 15, 2012 7:44:12 AM

  13. we live in a nation that regulates fireworks and cigarettes because they can be dangerous, but we lack the moral backbone to sensibly regulate weapons that are designed and produced to kill. It's sick.

    Posted by: grego | Dec 15, 2012 8:15:27 AM

  14. Lets stick to SCOTUS cases ok Ari. This lacks insight.

    Posted by: Dustin | Dec 15, 2012 9:31:51 AM

  15. Nancy Lanza was an avid gun collector, according to Reuter. She is the mother of the gunman. she would often go target shooting with her kids. With all the guns she collected, she can't protect herself and her son used them to kill her and many small children.

    Posted by: simon | Dec 15, 2012 9:41:53 AM

  16. FYI. That is not a machine gun. An assault rifle for sure but not a machine gun. More kids died last year from car crashes so let's talk about car control and banning cars. Hell just burn the constitution and bill of rights and let the government rule us all as they see fit. They have done a pretty good job of supporting gay rights.... Oh, wait, now they have not.

    This is a tragic event for sure but banning one type of gun will only lead to the use of other types of guns, then we ban those, then another till we are England with no guns. Then the mentally ill people like this will start building homemade bombs to kill lots of people.

    Posted by: Corey | Dec 15, 2012 9:56:02 AM

  17. Mel. I own 30+ guns. Several of which are assault rifles. I walk in to a gun store. Sign a few papers, they call and do a federal background check and 20 mi uses later I walk out with whatever gun I want.

    I carry a gun with me everywhere. I have a conceal carry permit. I feel that my safety is more important than anything. After you survive a knife attack like I did you take on a whole new perspective on personal protection.

    Posted by: Corey | Dec 15, 2012 10:00:52 AM

  18. OMG, where to begin:

    I'm not a huge gun affecionardo. But, the ignorance routinely displayed by the media and many in our society [and more-so outside the U.S.] regarding firearms is breath-taking. Of course, some of it is deliberate obfuscation based in ideological talking points and narratives. That said, a scary sounding 'semi-auto' gun [pistol or rifle] simply means a single shot. AN auto [or full auto as it's sometimes referred to as] means it fires multiple rounds [bullets] rapidly, in succession. Full auto firearms are illegal outright in many states, and require a special license beyond the standard firearms license. ALL the recent mass shootings [in fact pretty much all mass shooting over the past say 40 years or so in the U.S.] have involved simple semi-auto [single shot] hunting rifles or pistols. When the media refers to them as scary sounding 'assault' rifles, they are incorrect. They're simply common and popular hunting rifles, like the bushmaster Adam Lanza used. Some may be made to superficially look like a military grade full auto 'assault' rifle, but they aren't. In fact, phrase 'assault' rifle is basically made up by I assume the media and maybe some firearms manufacturer marketers.

    I attended grade and HS school not that long ago, roughly 20 odd years ago. We had no such thing as 'lockdowns', no armed guards, no security cameras, doors were left unlocked...NOTHING HAPPENED. And I lived in a big urban area. I know for a fact high schools in NYC up to at least the 1950s-early 60s had GUN CLUBS and kids would travel on the subway with their .22 rifles NO PROBLEMS. WHY so many problems now?

    American who were born and raised in urban/suburban areas have to understand that rural people use firearms all the time for everything from hunting, to pest control and yes protection from animals including the most dangerous kind, the ones that walk upright on two legs. Most rural areas proportionately have very low violent crime rates, far lower than the suburbs and urban areas most people live in. Northern New England [Vermont, northern New Hampshire, and Maine] has the lowest crime rates in America. Violent crime, especially murders, are rare. Many communities go for decades with no murders. EVERYONE has firearms [including the progressive paradise, Vermont], everyone knows how to use them, and like I said violent crime, shootings, murders, are rare. Why?

    We have a lot of mental illness in our society and our mental heathcare infrastructure can't handle it, it's broken. We also have the gross over-use of powerful and dangerous psychoactive drugs [sorry, medications] especially in young adults, and an epidemic of broken homes/broken families. There are also many angry, marginalized and isolated people of all ages. These things must be addressed. There's way too much exclusive talk about 'guns'. And yes, I understand it's 'talking point' and important part of a a whole narrative for many shills.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Dec 15, 2012 10:03:17 AM

  19. @Markankhamen,

    James Holmes, Adam Lanza, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, etc., etc., had all what incommon, other than the obvious? They all came from well off upper middle class, WELL EDUCATED, families.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Dec 15, 2012 10:12:49 AM

  20. So let me get this straight: Nancy Lanza bought numerous guns for her own protection. However, those guns were entirely ineffective in saving her life. On the contrary, they became the instruments of her own violent death. And the deaths of 20 little kids and 6 educators.

    Just want to make sure I'm understanding this whole self-defense argument for why we need permissive gun laws and less regulation.

    Posted by: Lars | Dec 15, 2012 10:13:56 AM

  21. The Lanza's previously lived in New Hampshire, and Newtown,CT is a rural area. I'm guessing Nancy Lanza grew up in rural New England and was used to firearms and using them. If she allowed her disturbed son access to firearms, then she was very negligent, to say the least.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Dec 15, 2012 10:14:41 AM

  22. @Lars,

    Some people simply like target practicing and collecting firearms. Many also do this thing called hunting. We don't know if Nancy Lanza had her firearms solely because she needed them for protection. She in fact lived in a VERY low crime area, statistically one of the safest places in the U.S. If she is guilty of anything, it was allowing her disturbed son access to firearms, which normally should be secured/locked up. And we don't know if even this is the case.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Dec 15, 2012 10:19:19 AM

  23. I'll just have to say it here.

    ~10,000 homicides involving a firearm every year. - FBI Uniform Crime Report.

    U.S. Citizens use private firearms to stop violent crime, directed at themselves and others, at least 989,883 times a year.
    - Journal of Quantitative Criminology
    - National Crime Victimization Survey: Criminal Victimization, 2008

    No form of Gun control besides complete and total firearm abolition would have prevented this particular crime from happening.

    Because a couple of kids get shot, you are going to prevent nearly a million people from stopping violent crimes every year.

    Use your brain.

    Posted by: Youthinasia | Dec 15, 2012 10:26:25 AM

  24. Psychiatry and their drugs are to blame for these killings.

    Posted by: Tracy | Dec 15, 2012 10:49:52 AM

  25. Guns do not kill, people who are on psychotropic drugs do.

    Posted by: Tracy | Dec 15, 2012 11:00:07 AM

  26. « | 1 2 3 »

Post a comment


« «Ugandan Parliament to Adjourn for Session Without Considering Anti-Homosexuality Bill« «