"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Bang Bang 

I am tardy in recommending this excellent post by Digby, from two days ago. In it, he attempts to create "a western and southwest red state strategy using a platform of personal liberty, economic responsibility, land conservation, energy independence and effective national security." He notes - correctly, I think - that the quasi-libertarian, socially tolerant Western red states are a fundamentally poor fit for the modern Republican party which, increasingly, does not trust people to make their own decisions.

The match between rural libertarian conservatives and urban progressives, however, is not perfect. Digby mentions in particular four points of frequent disagreement:
A few of the areas that are problematic for this coalition are guns, business regulation, unions and immigration. On the first I would adopt a states' rights position and use governor Dean's formulation that the rural areas have different concerns about guns than the cities and so there can be no national, one size fits all solution. Big city cops have different concerns than those in Montana.

He goes on to discuss business regulation, unions, and immigration in some detail, and his thoughts in these areas are good, if still subject to considerable fleshing out (and I share with Digby an inability to suggest a good approach to the immigration controversy; hopefully, others will step in here). I think, however, that the issue of guns is huge, and I want to step in with some thoughts on the subject.

First - and just keep this in the back of your mind, as you read on - I'm not sure why so many liberals are comfortable with the notion of living in a country in which only soldiers and cops are armed. Just sayin'.

Second, I don't think that liberals who profess to value the Bill of Rights are free to pick and choose their favorites from the first ten amendments to the Constitution. We can argue all day about the specific wording of the Second Amendment, but clearly it means something. Whatever it is, we should be in favor of it, unless we are willing to stand for repeal or amendment of the Second Amendment itself (and good luck with that; I'm sure you will find plenty of rural support for the idea).

But here's the thing: None of the enumerated rights set forth in the Bill of Rights is absolute. The Constitution's guarantee of free expression does not stop Congress or the states from regulating libel, copyright infringement, insider trading, death threats against the President, or me standing under your bedroom window at 3:00 AM with a bullhorn. The right against unreasonable searches and seizures does not prevent police from responding in good faith to exigent circumstances. The guarantee of due process does not, by itself, define what process is due in any particular case. The liberties reserved to the people in the Bill of Rights are necessarily flexible, lest they become absurdities.

The right wing, as represented in this area by the National Rifle Association, has been openly hostile to the idea of any restrictions on Second Amendment rights. They have stood in favor of assault weapons, cop-killing bullets, and unregulated sales and purchases at gun shows (where any old felon can arm up), any of which are more likely to cause mayhem in the night than me and my outlawed bullhorn. Cities, in particular, need more and different firearm regulation than do rural areas, and (appealing to the rural voters' appreciation for populism) the residents of cities want more and different firearm regulation. This should be an easy sell to the guy in Wyoming - the NRA is nuts, the right to bear arms comes with corresponding responsibilities, and it makes perfect sense that the citizens of Seattle or Los Angeles want to have tools to control armed thugs and gangs.

Unfortunately, we liberals have earned no trust on this subject. Historically, we have been just as guilty as the NRA in taking extremist positions that are insensitive to the constitutional issues (as well as the practical, political issues) that rural voters believe are important. This was our mistake, and we need to find a way to fix it.

In the meanwhile, the NRA is more than a mere interest group - it is a funding and organizing machine, with a member database that the Republican Party is free to treat as its own. Unless and until liberals succeed in peeling away the support of thoughtful rural red state voters - who may or may not be dreaming of deer season even as we speak - on the issue of secure firearm rights coupled with sensible and community-appropriate firearm responsibility, the Republicans will continue to dominate the West.




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