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. Journal of Quantitative Criminology?
    Is is equivalent to "Journal of Family Research Council" which says their quantitative research showed children of gay parents are worse off?

    Posted by: simon | Dec 15, 2012 11:05:44 AM

  2. Don't know what drugs/medications he was on. But he left some writings behind, so we find out his motivation for killing five year olds.

    Many of the posts refer to the "Right to bear arms"......what about those who do not bear arms.....don't they have a right to be protected from those who do ?.....particularly by introducing strict licensing regulations.

    Posted by: JackFknTwist | Dec 15, 2012 11:09:47 AM

    Shame on you !
    Your post is flippant......"Because a couple of kids got shot.......blah blah blah."

    It's time you learned to show some respect.
    You are what they describe as an a$$hole.

    Posted by: JackFknTwist | Dec 15, 2012 11:13:42 AM

  4. Whenever something tragic happens to children we tend to punish ourselves as a society in the vain hope it won't happen again, but statistically rare events like mass shootings are very hard to prevent through force of will. "Anti-Social Disorder" is actually not a psychiatric condition like schizophrenia, and not treatable. The Columbine shooters were not mentally ill, as it turns out. Each case is going to be different, and that's one of the main reasons that prevention is so difficult. Gun control would help in a broad sense to prevent these tragedies, but more effort needs to go into more statistically likely events first, otherwise, we are expending a lot of effort on the wrong priorities.

    Posted by: anon | Dec 15, 2012 11:21:34 AM

  5. Regarding the above post:

    Yes indeed. Schizophrenia, even depression, are organic based brain disorders. Than there's things like brain tumors.

    So-called Antisocial Personality Disorders [psychopathy, sociopathy, maliganant narcissism, etc.,] are not organic based. Their cause isn't really known. And there's really no effective treatment.

    I don't understand why so many otherwise intelligent people don't grasp the pretty simple above points.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Dec 15, 2012 11:28:29 AM

  6. 99 year Anniversary
    HEADS UP EVERYONE . "At this time back in 1913 when most of congress was home for Christmas is when they got together to pass the Federal Reserve act" So if they want to pass either gun laws or some debt limit increase without Congress this is when they will do it.

    Posted by: Dan | Dec 15, 2012 3:17:32 PM

  7. to all who are, uh, *proud* to carry guns.... you're sad.

    you're not free. you're not empowered. you're not brave.

    by carrying you're simply living each day in a state of fear.

    so, while you may hold your gun up high, know that for people like you America is clearly no "land of the free and home of the brave"

    freedom and bravery are incompatible with living each day, armed, out of fear of violence.

    it's no freedom at all.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Dec 15, 2012 3:33:13 PM

  8. Petition the White House to take up common sense gun control.

    Posted by: bill | Dec 15, 2012 7:13:33 PM

  9. @SIMON

    No. The Journal of Quantitative Criminology is an academic journal. And the statistics I quoted are backed by another academic journal: The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, the FBI's Unified Crime Report and the National Crime Victimization Survey.


    My apologies, I certainly handled my post in an inappropriate manner.

    I'm not anti-gun control, I'm just against measures that would hinder the ~1,000,000 people who use a gun to defend themselves or others from violent crime (all violent crime, not just gun violence) every year just to put a dent in the ~10,000 firearm related homicides, that only a fraction of a percent are mass shootings.

    Posted by: Youthinasia | Dec 16, 2012 10:32:46 AM

  10. This now dead Lanza woman was IMO extremely negligent in having firearms around her obviously severely disturbed teenage son that he could access [which he did], and to make matters worse, take him target shooting! It also appears she took him out of school and started homeschooling him. Worse possible thing she could have done. The kid needed to be around other humans and kids his age, even if it made him uncomfortable. He should not have been isolated at home with his mom, who sounds more and more like she had issues, too. He was probably seriously mentally ill, isolated, lonely, depressed, frustrated with his mom, the whole nine yards. Where the F was his dad during all this? Busy with his high powered job in Stanford and with his new wife and family? And his only brother, who lives right down the road in NJ/NYC hasn't spoken to him since 2010? There's something wrong here.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Dec 16, 2012 11:39:00 AM

  11. IMO Harvey Bernard Milk committing homosexual statutory rape on a 16 year old boy in 1964 for which the California legal system didn't prosecute him for was worse. With Mayor George Moscone-that man used to be a public defender. Yes, people accused of crimes innocent or guilty have a right to a defense lawyer, but Mayor George Moscone defended child molesters.

    DJ White when he was a cop arrested and helped send to prison those who committed serious crimes while Mayor Moscone was trying to help them get free. Ordinary people can commit murder if given the circumstances and since we're talking felons, Harvey B. Milk in 1978 should've been a felon who lost his voting rights in 1964. I have no sympathy for Harvey B. Milk because the law didn't punish him for what he did.

    Something more to add-both Harvey Bernard Milk and Methew Wayne Shepard have become 2 icons for gay groups but both mistreated others. With Harvey B. Milk gay/lesbian groups such as Laramie Project, Shepard Foundation's Executive President Jason Marsden (Fartsden) and Journalist Tiffany Edwards Hunt of Big Island Chronicle see nothing wrong with Harvey B. Milk committing homosexual statutory rape on a 16 year old boy and there's a holiday after him in California.

    No, not pleading the case of the 2 who killed Shepard in October 1998 but before his death as 1 of the killers A.J. McKinney was a drug dealer, robber who got into a fight with 2 men not long after killing Shepard and the 2nd man R.A. Henderson was a drunk driver and drug dealer. But Methew Wayne Shepard a drug junky who mixed Ecstasy with antidepressants. Methew Wayne Shepard was regarded by many including friends as moody, obnoxious and selfish. Metthew Wayne Shepard even rudely cut in line in front of retirees while shopping. Methew Wayne Shepard chose Univeristy of Wyoming out of all colleges but then insulted the college and Laramie. In August 1998, 2 months before his killing Methew Wayne Shepard falsely accused a man of a crime. Excuses made by Shepard's friends and family is his depression, PTSD, etc. Truth is before Metthew Wayne Shepard was killed he was viewed as obnoxious, moody and selfish but after he has killed by 2 men, people fell in love with him though Methew Wayne Shepard was a drug junky who mistreated others including falsely accusing some1 and in the end he got killed by 2. See Journalist Tiffany Edwards Hunt of Big Island Chronicle is a drug junky who has smoked drugs & admits that she passes farts front of her kids to entertain them. On her blog Journalist Tiffany Edwards Hunt who covered the Shepard case didn't dispute ugly truths about Methew Wayne Shepard, she got mad because it was said.

    Posted by: snowfun | Dec 16, 2012 1:47:07 PM

  12. .I love you people who like to selectively pick which civil liberties should be upheld.

    Don't bother mentioning all the mass shootings that would have been that were prevented by use of force:

    A 1997 high school shooting in Pearl, Miss., was halted by the school's vice principal after he retrieved the Colt .45 he kept in his truck.

    A 1998 middle school shooting ended when a man living next door heard gunfire and apprehended the shooter with his shotgun.

    A 2002 terrorist attack at an Israeli school was quickly stopped by an armed teacher and a school guard.

    A 2002 law school shooting in Grundy, Va., came to an abrupt conclusion when students carrying firearms confronted the shooter.

    A 2007 mall shooting in Ogden, Utah, ended when an armed off-duty police officer intervened.

    A 2009 workplace shooting in Houston, Texas, was halted by two coworkers who carried concealed handguns.

    A 2012 church shooting in Aurora, Colo., was stopped by a member of the congregation carrying a gun.

    At the recent mall shooting in Portland, Ore., the gunman took his own life minutes after being confronted by a shopper carrying a concealed weapon.

    Posted by: Aaron | Dec 16, 2012 2:41:35 PM

  13. LOL, what a joke. "Machine of war"? Just because it looks scary, it must be evil, right? As the facts come out we're finding that no proposed gun control laws would have stopped this from happening. The kid was disturbed, obviously. He got his hands on the guns of another person who negligently made them available to a person who shouldn't have had access to them.

    In searching around the net for some parts for y rifle, I'm encountering "sold out" graphics everywhere. All this is doing is encouraging people to buy more guns and stockpile them.

    With 300,000,000 guns in America, it's not possible to ban them.

    Oh, and Switzerland required everyone to own a fully-automatic machine gun in their home... that doesn't seem to be working out so badly. Fully-automatic firearms are already illegal in the US.

    Posted by: joe | Dec 16, 2012 6:19:20 PM

  14. I am sorry for the victims and their families; however, you aren't taking my weapons. Maybe the school should have had better security measures in place instead of making it easy for anyone to just walk through. What if a group of terrorists took over a school and started shooting students one at a time? Grow up, this is the world we live in.

    Posted by: Bill Michael | Dec 16, 2012 7:48:47 PM

  15. as an unpopular minority, you would be a serious dumb ass not to protect yourself and take advantage of your 2nd amendment rights.

    Gun control NEVER works. Connecticut has some of the strictest gun laws in the country.

    Posted by: James Savik | Dec 16, 2012 8:39:44 PM

  16. Thanks, Ari. Clear thinking as usual. Bravo.

    Posted by: abel | Dec 17, 2012 10:22:01 AM

  17. I'm a libertarian, I support the right to bear arms, and I support gay marriage.

    This control discussion is fun and all, but it's part of the constitution: In the US people have a right to own a gun.

    To say that evidence is linked to gun death reduction is linked to stricter gun control laws I tell you to take a look at the city of Chicago: #1 in Gun Control, #1 in gun related murders.

    I don't own a gun, probably never will, but it's our right to be able to. It's a sovereign right, and one recognized by the consitution of the United States.

    If all these advocates want to make new laws and reduce freedoms why won't they ammend the constitution? It's crazy to see how many more federal laws we have in place yet there hasn't been an ammendment to the constitution in what...60 years??

    Posted by: Monster | Dec 18, 2012 5:26:20 PM

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