The Die-hards vs. the Slightly-lesser-die-hards

There is an ongoing debate between two gun rights advocates, Kevin from The Smallest Minority and David from The War on Guns.

In essence, David is an “absolutist”, who insists that since the Constitution clearly states we have an unfettered right to keep and bear arms, any celebration of new laws that loosen previous restrictions by gun rights advocates is actually a further abdication of those rights because we are further acknowledging and in a sense endorsing the idea that the government has the authority to infringe those rights in the first place. At one point he likens gun licensing to paying the local thug for the right to drive your own car. In essence, he believes that to even join the discussion is to concede that the other side has a point; or to carry the analogy, to negotiate your driving with the thug is to agree he has the right to stop you from driving in the first place. (I hope that succinct description accurately describes his stance.)

Kevin, on the other hand, points to the progression of gun laws in the U.S. in the past 20 or so years. In a nutshell: “So… We should be unhappy that Nebraska just went from a ‘no concealed-carry anywhere’ law to a ‘concealed-carry most places’ law? This is a step backwards?”

The bulk of the original debate is here:… (and in comments) with more here:….

In a very real sense this is one of those “in the real world” vs. “in theory” arguments.

Theory: The Constitution says we have unrestricted gun rights, and therefore we should all be able to carry a weapon anywhere we want without restriction.

Reality: The Constitution says we have unrestricted gun rights, but there are many cases wherein if we do carry a weapon they will come for us and lock us in a literal cage.

I agree with the theory. It follows the almost lost idea that our government is beholden to the people; sadly most people these days seem to believe that the government is properly the more powerful of the two. The primary point of the Second Amendment was to ensure that the people remain more powerful than the government, in reality, rather than just in theory. One of my favorite statements regarding those who advocate gun restrictions goes something like this: “Saying that the Second Amendment is there so we can go hunting is like saying that the First Amendment is there so we can write the Sports page.” The right to keep and bear arms was not enumerated frivolously.

The idea set down by our founding fathers are excellent, and the theory sound, but I live in reality — and so does Kevin. As one commenter in those discussions put it, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

I must digress here for a moment, and bring up a different blog discussion that took place a few years ago on Steven Den Beste’s site. In it, Den Beste (an atheist) discusses a different kind of “right” — as in “right and wrong” — and its link to religion…

Does an act have an inherent ethical value?

Is an act right because God says it is right, or does God say it is right because it is right? In other words, either (1) the act has no inherent ethical value, but is assigned a value of “right” or “wrong” solely based on an arbitrary edict from God, or (2) God recognizes the inherent value of the act and then passes this on to us as received wisdom.

Whichever of these a Christian (or any other believer in a religion based on deities) chooses leaves him in a bind. If “wrong” acts are not inherently wrong, but only wrong because of God’s arbitrary edicts, then the Christian must face the possibility that God could change His mind. God could appear tomorrow, ten miles high, astride Jerusalem and announce in a booming voice that henceforth only murderers and torturers would be permitted into heaven, that slavery was a good thing, that genocide was noble and that anyone who helped a neighbor in need would burn in Hell for all eternity.[…]

Most Christians reject this possibility prima facie. But that leaves them with the other alternative, which is that the ethical value of the act exists independently of God’s declaration of it. God is not the source of the ethical value of the act, but only a convenient conduit by which we learn of that ethical value.

I think this is a solid argument, but barring the likelyhood of God appearing “ten miles high, astride Jerusalem” anytime soon, the reasoning therein has a lot more practical application within the context of this gun rights argument.

In other words: When the founders of our country wrote the Bill of Rights, did the rights they enumerated become rights because they wrote it down there, or did they write it down in order to specify that this was a right we already had? Did they create the right or simply describe it?

Most of them would have said they were merely specifying rights that clearly existed within the bounds of the Constitution they had written. In other words, it (theoretically) wasn’t even necessary for the founding fathers to have written the Bill of Rights, because it really just specifies things that the core Constitution already contains. The Constitution was in part written as a listing of specific powers the government had, with the assumption that if the paper doesn’t say it, then the government can’t do it. Since it didn’t say government could restrict guns, then, well, of course the government can’t restrict guns.

It did not take them too long to realize that future leaders would try to overreach the government’s power, however; so they decided it would be a good idea to specifically state the rights (already held by the people) that were most important to the preservation of freedom.

So… the gun rights absolutists’ argument is essentially that if we accept that the government does have the right to restrict gun ownership, then we accept that — like Steven Den Beste’s hypothetical god — government could tomorrow decide to ban all guns and we have already accepted their authority to do so.

The majority of society already believes that government has that power, and since government gets its power from the people, the government in the long run gets its power from whatever most of the people believe. (If this were not true, cities across the country would not be able to ban smoking in all restaurants!) So while both the Absolutists and the Incrementalists have the same goal in mind, the absolutists are trying to win the war by fighting a battle that has already been lost. What they should be attempting is to retake lost ground in a new battle.

Thus, the pragmatists approach to regaining gun rights seems to me to be the most effective. You incrementally “rent” back the rights that have effectively already been lost, and when you have enough power on your side, only then do you… *ahem*… pull the trigger and attempt to reassert the absoluteness of those rights — perhaps through new legislation that clarifies the true meaning of the Second Amendment. (Perhaps such a law could, for example, clarify that the first clause of the Amendment is descriptive and not restrictive? I’m not a lawyer, but I’m sure we’ll think of something.)

As things stand now, trying to implement a federal policy stating that there are to be no restrictions on gun rights constitutes a sea change in public philosophy — though it is becoming less and less of one as time passes and more states ease restrictions, (as illustrated in the map at the bottom of this post).

We’re getting there… “one bite at a time.”

Update– Steven Den Beste writes via email:

Are you aware of the history of the Bill of Rights?

There were a number of questions where were quite contentious at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, as to whether they should have been included in the Constution proper when it was presented to the states for ratification.

There were concerns by some that the issues, if left out, would lead to government abuse. There were concerns by others that if too much was put into the Constitution there was a risk that it wouldn’t be ratified at all.

The compromise they came up with was based on the recognition that the country needed a charter. So those issues were left out, but everyone agreed that if the Constitution was ratified, that the first Congress would then propose those issues as amendments.

There were 12 of them. Ten were ratified immediately, and those ten are what we call the Bill of Rights. (The eleventh one was ratified about 25 years ago, interestingly. The twelfth one is dead and won’t ever be ratified because it would increase the size of the House of Representatives to something like 5000.)

So the historical record nicely straddles the question of whether those are natural rights **recognized** by the Bill of Rights or rights effectively **created** by the Bill of Rights.

As a practical matter, though, that’s a difference that makes no difference.

Duly noted. Sometimes my understanding of history is a bit more of a “broad sweep” than I realize, and such corrections are welcome.

As he also notes, in practical terms it makes little difference — unless of course the government passes a new Constitutional Amendment repealing the 2nd Amendment. They could do so if there were enough support; this is what Kevin refers to as “the mistake a free society only gets to make once.”

16 Responses to “The Die-hards vs. the Slightly-lesser-die-hards”

  1. straightarrow Says:

    “the absolutists are trying to win the war by fighting a battle that has already been lost. What they should be attempting is to retake lost ground in a new battle.”

    That is not an apt description of our position. Marching proudly into captivity is not the same thing as engaging in a new battle. I am one of those absolutists. We applaud and help and work for the rolling back of restrictions. We revel in the advancements made in lesser restrictions as to where and when we can be armed. We just never forget that that does not constitute a right. It is a rented privilege. The danger we see is that too much enthusiasm for false victories, most probably will cause acceptance of the permanent loss of the right because to exercise the privilege is convenient. At least, temporally.

    “”Thus, the pragmatists approach to regaining gun rights seems to me to be the most effective. You incrementally â??rentâ? back the rights that have effectively already been lost, and when you have enough power on your side, only then do youâ?¦ *ahem*â?¦ pull the trigger and attempt to reassert the absoluteness of those rights â??””

    We absolutists don’t have too much problem with that course of action. But we have seen “reasonable” accomodation result in the loss of our citizenship and the establishment of an agency whose stated purpose is to violate the constitution. Why should we not fear that when we have universal or almost universal “Permission to Carry” the “reasonable” among us would not be willing to accept that as the best we can do. What scares us is when those supposedly on our side praise permitting as a victory in regaining our rights. it is no such thing. It is just another instance of our agreement that we do not have that right and only have that privilege at state sufferance.

    We do not imbue the pragmatists with evil intent. We just have seen the results of the last set of pragmatists. If everybody was always pragmatic we would all still live in caves.

    Pragmatism is the art of living and personally benefitting from the state of things as they are. In and of itself, it is not evil. Unless the state of things as they are, is. Then you are a participant in the trespass.

    I don’t believe any of the pragmatists on any of these sites can find an example of an absolutist campaigning to invalidate the incremental gains or condemning the pragmatists that helped bring it about.

    We condemn them when they tell us absolutists that we are childish and having temper tantrums because we want the law obeyed the way it was written and intended for the purposes it was intended, and we don’t want the struggle to end until we have returned to the law (the supreme law of the land). At that point, we don’t have much choice in forming an opinion of whether we are on the same side. We know we have been abandoned because some are willing “to take what they can get” (pragmatism). Yet, we didn’t and don’t abandon them when they are trying to advance incrementally.

    Sailorcurt may just have the best dynamic working and he is an incrementalist, but he educates and exposes new people all the time to the principles involved here while they think they are only learning to shoot and how much fun it is. That is how we can convert a privilege back to the right I was born with. Getting all the states and territories to “allow” CCW does nothing to restore our rights. It only makes our rented privilege more convenient.

  2. straightarrow Says:

    There is a “not” in my comment that doesn’t belong. I bet you can find it.

    [got it. –ed]

  3. Sailorcurt Says:

    Perhaps we are looking at this the wrong way.

    We are placing ourselves in opposing camps and treating each other as the enemy.

    It strikes me that this is a common human trait. During my 21 years in the military I experienced this phenomenon repeatedly. Anyone with siblings has probably also had similar experiences.

    It goes something like this. Two sailors and two marines are in a bar in a “port of call”. The sailors call the marines “jar-heads”, the marines call the sailors “squids”, they belittle each other, they call each other names, it may even degenerate to fisticuffs. But let a civilian in the bar take a swipe at either the pair of sailors OR the pair of marines and see how fast it becomes a group of sailors and marines against the civilians.

    Similarly, my brothers and I would pick on each other, bicker and fight relentlessly…but let an outsider try to get away with picking on any one of us and instantly it would end up with three brothers, who may have been bitterly duking it out a minute ago, kicking the outsider’s butt.

    We are doing the same thing. We are picking each other apart in our individual efforts to achieve the same goal. We’ve even coined new political affiliations for each group: “absolutists” and “incrementalists”.

    It strikes me that BOTH camps are necessary to waging a successful war. Sort of like squad tactics; you have your infantry weapons and your crew served weapons. The crew served weapons lay down suppressing fire while the infantry weapons advance on the objective one step at a time.

    The “absolutists” can absolutely refuse to acknowledge anything but total recognition of our rights. The fact that they have never admitted the veracity of governmental regulation gives them the moral high ground in that specific debate. They lay down the supressing fire.

    The incrementalists, in the meantime, while acknowledging all along that the objective is a return to total recognition of our rights, advance steadily taking incremental objective after incremental objective.

    If we work together versus belittle each other, perhaps our two approaches can be complementary rather than adversarial?

    I’m going to post this on some of the other boards that have been slinging this issue around as well. I just came up with this while reading this post so it really hasn’t had time to percolate much yet…maybe this discussion will result in a workable strategy that effectively utilizes both schools of thought.

  4. E. David Quammen Says:

    This is the way it is, and/or supposed to be:

    (It has been reviewed by Constitutional scholars).

    This is the explanation for what is happening to our Right(s) by a former Judge, (who walked away in disgust);

  5. Stephen Rider Says:

    Sailorcurt — I don’t think disagreement within the ranks *to a certain extent* is a bad thing, I think it’s healty. In fact, When I look at the broader Republican vs. Democrat situation, I think one of the greatest failings within the current Democrat ranks is that nobody is able to say a word that doesn’t precisely hew to the party line, or the party leaders will immediately move in to strike the speaker down.

    Every time the Republicans argue a point, or repudiate one of their own who has clearly done something wrong, the Democrats cackle and crow about how they’re falling apart; but all the Democrats are doing is stifling open discussion within their own ranks.

    So… I have no problem with the discussion itself. By arguing it out we strengthen our own arguments — so long as both sides argue honestly. (As soon as it gets down to “do anything to win” the system breaks down.) I haven’t been seeing ad hominem attacks or other major signs of breakdown, except for what I see as a relatively minor breakdown of civility directed toward Kevin “Smallest Minority” Baker. Even in the midst of that, the overall discussion remained on track, and I think something good will come of it. I’m personally what appears to have been dubbed an “Incremental Absolutist”, though who knows… y’all Absolutists might just sway me.

    And for those who are at odds with Kevin, you might just note that I credit him, personally and specifically, with making me the strong gun rights advocate that I am today. So while you get after him for “negotiating away your rights”, don’t overlook that he is probably doing more to “grow the ranks” of *philosophical absolutists* (gad — another categorization) than most of you probably are.

    If you sound too extreme, you scare away the fence sitters, which is a BAD thing.

  6. Stephen Rider Says:

    Secondary note: I joined the NRA a few years back, and was thus put on their calling list. You know the ones… “Hi, we’d like you to listen to this important recorded message from Wayne LaPierre….”

    Without fail, those calls then kicked me over to this recording that was a) so loud that I could literally hold the phone a foot away from my ear and still hear every word, and b) so full of screeching extreme-sounding rhetoric that had I not already been a supporter of gun rights, I would have been quickly convinced that “those gun people” were a bunch of raving loonies.

    I would patiently wait out the recording until the real live person came back, and then would *tell them* these two points. I did this *every time* I got one of those calls. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one doing this, but I can tell you that the last time I got one of those calls, the volume was at a normal level, and the rhetoric was turned down to a reasonable level that actually sounded like a sane person speaking.

    It appears that the NRA does listen to its members, which is a nice thing to know.

  7. Stephen Rider Says:

    straightarrow says:

    “I donâ??t believe any of the pragmatists on any of these sites can find an example of an absolutist campaigning to invalidate the incremental gains or condemning the pragmatists that helped bring it about.”

    In the “War On Guns” blog link above, David says in comments:

    “[Y]ou are creating settled law–binding on me–in a land that makes its judicial decisions based on precedent and stare decisis.

    My individual rights are not yours to bargain with, and I will oppose you or anyone else doing so every step of the way.”

    Clearly, David is condemning the actions of the incrementalists who are “bargaining” away his rights. I’ve read a whole lot of quotes to this effect in the comments that started me into this discussion.

    And to be honest, straightarrow, I think he’s right in a sense. As I say above, his theory is absolutely sound. I just don’t think it’s the best approach to regaining the free exercise of the rights it represents. (Though I’m somewhat on the fence on this….)

  8. straightarrow Says:

    SR, there is a cure for this. I align with David C. on this. No, we don’t walk in lockstep. We have a vehement disagreement on another issue.

    I don’t know how long you have read David, but if it has been longer than a short time you will realize the David was not declaring war against the incrementalists that have expanded privilege. However, when an organization of which one is a life member that is charged with protecting the members’ 2A rights, writes and lobbies for more restrictions of the 2nd amendment, calling passage of such victory and an incremental step in regaining our rights through compromise. Something is drastically wrong and needs to be corrected. Ala Gun Free School Zones, Project Exile, Project Safe Neighborhoods, the call for “just enforce the existing laws” some 20,000 of which all are unconstitutional.

    I have read David long enough to know that he does not disparage the honest incrementalists unless that person is trying to give away something that is not his to give. David doesn’t need my help, but I did this for you, not him. I think you read him wrong. I can see how that would be if you weren’t familiar with his philosophy. I am sure David will correct me if I misrepresented him.

    Now, to my own defense. I recognize the reference to my comments about subject and citizens, though you were polite enough not to repeat them in this reference; “what I see as a relatively minor breakdown of civlity directed toward Kevin ”

    Everyone, including Kevin seem to have taken my statement as a denigration of his stance on incrementalism as regards 2A , or his degrading of the characters of those “absolutists” (he actually did infringe civility first), But neither was the impetus for my statement.

    This was; ” A “right” is what the majority in a society agrees it is. Period”-Kevin

    That is just so wrong on so many levels that it should require no explaining as to why. That is not a sentiment worthy of a free man.

  9. Stephen Rider Says:

    “…’A â??rightâ? is what the majority in a society agrees it is. Period’-Kevin

    “That is just so wrong on so many levels that it should require no explaining as to why. That is not a sentiment worthy of a free man.”

    And therein lies a much, *much* larger argument, which lies at the essence of my statement in the post where I said: “In a very real sense this is one of those ‘in the real world’ vs. ‘in theory’ arguments.”

    You basically are arguing that “rights” exist outside of human action or belief. I tend to think that — regardless of what a piece of paper might say — if (for example) speaking your mind results in the authorities coming and putting a bullet in your head, then you don’t have the right to free speech. *Should* you have it? Yes.

    This is an argument over wording, really, but for different people to have a substantive discussion on anything, the meanings of words must of course be agreed upon — thus such arguments are pertinent and useful. We are at the point of arguing the meaning of the word “right”.

    It appears to me that to you, a right is a platonic ideal. You might, for example, argue that a peasant in modern China has a right to free speech, because that is a human right. I would quickly point out that any attempt to exercise that “right” would end very badly for the peasant.

    Or… maybe you wouldn’t. The other way you might go is to say that you’re applying the argument specifically to Americans, because we have the piece of paper saying we have the right. Again the question from the main post: does the paper *give* us the right, or merely *describe* it?

    And if exercising a “right” written on that paper (theory) earns us a swift trip to the inside of a cage (reality), then which is more real — the theory or the reality?

    You can (and should) fight for the reality that you *desire*, but don’t mistake it for the reality that *is*.

    The law (theory) says you’re not allowed to enter my home and rob me, but I still lock the door at night, in case reality rears it’s ugly head (and though I don’t currently, I may someday choose to have a gun in my nightstand for that same potential situation). In such a case, the majority of society will probably side with me, but what happens when the majority of society sides with the burglar and his “right” not to get shot?

    In a word, England.

    In England, they do not have the right to bear arms. Should they? I think so. But they don’t.

    Kevin has fought this fight before, and probably done a better job of it than I have in this comment. I’m busy at the moment with other things (damn that reality again!) but would like to discuss this further. If I have time I’ll try to find Kevin’s previous argument on the nature of “rights”. (And Kevin, if you read this, feel free to link it yourself 😉 )

  10. straightarrow Says:

    And my point is that reality differs from theory because the majority, who could have, but did not, refused to bargain my rights away for their comfort.
    I do not accept that because reality is less than it should be, that means it is acceptable. I can rule the world if I adhere to that. Seriously. So can anyone else so motivated if they embrace that philosophy and everyone else accepts his imposed reality because it is what is.

    If all your neighbors voted to sell your home and pocket the money, despite your objection and let you know you could get in trouble if you didn’t accept it. Would you? That would be the new reality. Do you really have the right to your home if I want it and people vote with me. (I know this is a bad example, especially after Kelo v. New London) should we just accept it? Can we call it a victory if you are allowed to pay an admission fee to visit your former home. Would it then be just semantics about the meaning of words if you held that your neighbors had no real right to sell your home? Especially since they have already done it and you just need to deal with what is and never demand a return of your property.

  11. David Codrea Says:

    I get in enough trouble for what I said–I don’t need to get in trouble for what I didn’t say.

    I must be having another senior moment, because I just don’t recall talking about thugs drving my car.

  12. Stephen Rider Says:

    David —

    My error. Straightarrow said it, in
    this comment at Smallest Minority.

  13. straightarrow Says:

    Mea Culpa, that was me. I think it an almost perfect analogy.

  14. E. David Quammen Says:

    right; Something that is due to a person or governmental body by law, tradition, or nature.

    I. Natural Rights of the Colonists as Men.

    Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can. These are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature. – Samuel Adams, The Rights of the Colonists

    “Man [is] a rational animal, endowed by nature with rights and with an innate sense of justice.” – to William Johnson, 1823

    “Our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them.” – Notes on Virginia Q.XVII, 1782

    “No one has a right to obstruct another exercising his faculties innocently for the relief of sensibilities made a part of his nature.” – to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1816

    “Were [a right] to be refused, or to be so shackled by regulations, not necessary for…peace and safety…as to render its use impracticable,…it would then be an injury, of which we should be entitled to demand redress.” – Report on Navigation of the Mississippi, 1792

    “[These are] the rights which God and the laws have given equally and independently to all.” – Rights of British America, 1774

    “[The] best principles [of our republic] secure to all its citizens a perfect equality of rights.” – Reply to the Citizens of Wilmington, 1809

    “The right to use a thing comprehends a right to the means necessary to its use, and without which it would be useless.” – to William Carmichael, 1790

    “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”

    – Thomas Jefferson, Arguably the most intelligent U.S. President ever.

  15. Stephen Rider Says:

    David —

    All of that is what I call theory. it’s theory ***I agree with***, but it’s theory.

    In fact, I would say that both sides in this argument agree with those ideas. The question is what tactics *in reality*, dealing with the actual political and social landscape that exists today, are going to restore the genuine Free Exercise of our rights?

    That question is the only thing that matters to me on this.

    (and by “free exercise of our rights”, I do, in fact, mean “full recognition that it is a right and not a ‘privilege’.”)

  16. E. David Quammen Says:

    I would have to heartily disgree with that assessment. It is my contention that Right, is Ultimately, is what GOD says it is. And that anything held out to the contrary by man is insignificant, void and without meaning. That IS the Principle on which our Founders BASED our Constitution and country on. And I can PROVE this contention.

    Declaring perversion to be reality lacks any type of moral clarity at all. You dance with the devil, the devil doesn’t change – the devil changes you. (Which is what we are witnessing in our country presently). Thnk how hypocritical it is. Our Founders claimed God as the reason for Founding the nation. Claimed Him to build the greatest nation ever.

    And then their evil progeny dimisses Him and casts Him off. Going so far as declaring Him not to be? There was a time in this very land, when that would have gotten you; burned at the stake, thrown in the stocks, hanged or tar and feathered.

    One of the greatest things which the Framers did, was stop this ‘religious’ lunacy. Which was clearly one of their reasons for the seperation of church and state. To wit; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – Thomas Jefferson

    And, as witnessed by Samuel Adams;

    “In short, it is the greatest absurdity to suppose it in the power of one, or any number of men, at the entering into society, to renounce their essential natural rights, or the means of preserving those rights; when the grand end of civil government, from the very nature of its institution, is
    for the support, protection, and defence of those very rights; the principal of which, as is before observed, are Life, Liberty, and Property. If men, through fear, fraud, or mistake, should in terms renounce or give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the grand end of society would absolutely vacate such renunciation. The right to freedom
    being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of man to alienate this gift and voluntarily become a slave.” – The Rights of the Colonists

    Sort of spells out precisely how it was intended. And what we ‘absolutists’ intend on returning to.

    Now, if Freedom, Liberty and Rights are the gift of God. And, you take away God, the One whom is the source of these. Does it stand to reason that you will keep the gift(s), if the giver of them has been perversely dismissed? Look carefully at our history, and other countries histories. You will discover that whenever a country has become perverse – it falls. And many times is utterly destroyed for its folly.

    We took all of these gifts for granted. And now we’re feeling the pains of retribution. Despite whatever the perverse declare. Nature itself shows how the perverse are never allowed to stand for very long. This has been proven repeatedly throughout history.

    The perverse are inevitably destroyed and usually without remedy. And I, and many others I’m aware of. Will fight these perverse hyenas, to the death if necessary. There is going to be no Chinese Comm., Nazi, or Soviet style takeover here. Not without one hell of a bloodbath happening first.

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