On the words of dead white men

As a policy wonk and part-time economist, I’m constantly having to remind customers of the existence of the “do-nothing” option. Status quo ante.

In the wake of the shootings in Newtown, there’s a call for a national conversation – as if we haven’t had that conversation for over 200 years – about what a bunch of old (now dead) white guys meant when they wrote this:
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I mean, they’re old words, fading on the paper they’re written on. They’re obviously in need of…interpretation. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Leave it to the American Civil Liberties Union, bulwark of democrats democracy to come through with a Primer on the Bill of Rights. It’s important to know what others think of your rights, so lets look at what the nation’s preeminent body on civil liberties thinks of its source material.

References to “arms”, “firearms”, “second amendment”, “keep and bear”: zero.

References to “right to privacy”: check.

In reality, the ACLU’s “brief history” of the Bill of Rights really only gets deeply into three of the ten amendments: I, III, and V. More time is spent on non-bill-specific items, like judicial review, the lack of protection to the historically aggrieved, and the history of the ACLU. In fact, one has to look elsewhere on their site to find a discussion of the ACLU’s take on the Second Amendment:

The ACLU disagrees with the Supreme Court’s conclusion about the nature of the right protected by the Second Amendment. We do not, however, take a position on gun control itself. In our view, neither the possession of guns nor the regulation of guns raises a civil liberties issue.

I share, because I care. It’s good to know what your betters think of your rights.

On the tenth amendment, the ACLU is all for it, as long as it’s a Bush War on Drugs law being subverted at the strength of a state law. No doubt they’d feel the same on a state firearms law that countermanded an Obama-Reid “for the children” gun ban.

Because they’re consistent.

I place these facts out there because they need to be known, to be seen, not in the panicked darkness of a catastrophe for which we lack answers and the power to change the past, but in the stable light of day of an enduring Republic, one that has had good and bad moments, but whose intentions have always had better angels in mind. Our friends on the left side of the aisle despised the Patriot Act, said it was enacted in the heat of the moment following 9/11, and that it gave the sitting President too much power…until they got to use it themselves. So lets do a simple logical discussion, for sake of clarity:

First, plenty of gun laws exist today. In fact, the assailant in this case was stopped in an attempt to buy a gun by those very laws;

Second, where gun laws are most stringent in the United States, in places like Chicago and Washington, DC, gun crime continues at high levels;

Third, we can pass a utopian set of laws regarding gun ownership, storage, usage, training, mental health assessments – the veritable wet dream for the anti-gun community – and we will still have gun crime, because criminals, or those partial to or lacking the stability to discern criminal behavior from non-criminal behavior are the least likely to follow the law. There is a human element in the system, and it has more performance flaws than the typical handgun or shotgun.

So what are we to do?

We must do something.

If you’ve read this far, you know one potential answer. It is in paragraph one.

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