December 14, 2012
Yes, it’s no secret that I find myself refusing to accept unregulated gun ownership. But I’m not going to use this short post to advance that view specifically.
Without speaking to the many rational arguments both supporting and opposing gun rights, specifically in the context of the United States, I wanted to point out the illogicality1 of the modes of argument adopted by some in this debate.
1 Look it up in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Generally, the label of “un-American” is applied to people and policies that are perceived to be contrary to “American values”—whatever they may be for the speaker who uses this label.
There is no shortage of recent news articles highlighting someone’s usage of this label:
As these examples illustrate, the users of this label are not limited to one party or view. They are often the worst self-evident cases of ad hominem attacks on the person who holds a view rather than the merits of the view.
In another more subtle form, this argument is stated like “gun rights are a part of American identity; refusal to accept that is incompatible with being American”. This comment on a CNN article exemplifies this point of view:
An expression of the un-American attack
The problems with this are in its implications:
- Gun rights are unquestionably integral to American values.
I’ll address this below under the constitutionality argument. Nevertheless, the fact that there is any domestic debate on the issue naturally refutes this.
- It’s wrong not to embrace American values.
There’s two ways to address this. First, there should be no obligation for a non-American (by birth, citizenship, etc) like myself to accept American values, whether I live in the US or not. Second, even American citizens are members of a pluralistic society that should respect differences even if they do not conform to norms.
- Dissent is invalid unless it conforms to American values.
Isn’t dissent and discussion a part of liberty and democracy—actual values that most Americans embrace and share? Why should moral views on specific issues be uniform?
Nothing to learn
Furthermore, the comment above espouses the view that America has nothing to learn from other nations and cultures, a supremely arrogant and unacceptable view for any member of any nation.
If another nation is better at ensuring widespread access, low costs, and high quality of health care, or then there is something for America to learn, even if that system is socialist.
If another nation achieves a lower crime rate without granting unrestricted gun ownership, there is something to learn.
Or I could accept her argument that anyone seeking to make America better in any way by modelling changes on other nations should just leave. In that case, see ya, suckers. Feel free to let your beloved country suffer from all of its problems.
Constitutional ≠ righteous
I don’t care how you interpret the Second Amendment, but either way, a legal document does not, by itself, provide a moral basis. Laws are formed from morals and to uphold morality, but are not themselves sources of morality.
Just to remind you of that, the University of Pennsylvania’s motto:
Leges sine moribus vanae
Laws without morals are in vain
Not the most eloquent motto in English, but 1) I’m sure it loses something in translation, and 2) the actual importance of this statement is deep.
Just because the Constitution can be interpreted to protect the “right to keep and bear arms” doesn’t mean that the amendment should exist. That would be begging the question (that is, asking whether it’s morally right to have firearms by relying to a document which itself relies on a judgement of whether it’s correct to have the right). The very fact that laws are changed over time reflects the fact that laws come from the values of the populace, which can and do change.