Conservatism's Weak Defense of Gun Rights
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Conservatism’s Weak Defense of Gun Rights

In today’s climate of polarized politics, we often get the impression that the modern-day Left is beyond reproach. This fear is not off base considering that certain figures like Senator Bernie Sanders and Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez have engaged in the radicalism of their own on issues such as gun control and socialism respectively.

However, recent events should make libertarian reconsider aligning with mainstream Right as a default option. As Executive Director of Turning Point USA, Charlie Kirk has made a laudable career of defending conservative and libertarian activists from radical leftist bullies on campus.

However, recent events show that he may be falling into a similar trap that plagues the modern-day conservative movement. On April 11, 2019, Kirk gave a warm endorsement of the federal government’s gun control policy.

Specifically, he supported the National Instant Background Check System (NICS). In an attempt to equate gun policy with voting and illegal immigration, Kirk revealed that he has “no problem with existing laws for background checks when it comes to firearms.”

Apart from the flawed analogy, background checks, be they the default NICS system or the newly minted universal background check systems in various states, should be categorically rejected by anyone who believes in limited government. The NICS system is an unconstitutional infringement on the right to self-defense. In addition, it produces dubious crime prevention results.

In fact, like most government programs, regular background checks are laden with unintended consequences. According to research from John Lott, NICS creates a surprising amount of false positives in NICS denials.  False positives are when law-abiding individuals’ information is erroneously matched with that of a criminal. As a result, they are stripped of their gun rights without due process.

Approximately 95 percent of NICS denials turn out to be false positives. Congressman Thomas Massie also stated that these false positives also hurt minorities disproportionately. In an interview with Conservative Review, Massie revealed:

If you look at the percentage of young black males who are locked up and have similar names to those who are not locked up, you can anticipate that a lot of them would be denied if they do try to buy a firearm, based on the failures that we see every day there.

Many justify NICS’s existence on the grounds that it prevents crimes. However, the evidence is not very clear of much impact it has had in that regard. In More Guns, Less Crime, Lott’s research found that crime rates began to fall in 1991 well before the federal NICS system started operating in 1998.

Apart from the policy implications of background checks, supporting this concept is a dangerous strategy. Once lukewarm forms of state intervention are accepted, subsequent interventions are much easier to sell to the public. Establishment conservatism has played a pivotal role in this process by doing the heavy lifting for the Progressive Left.

For this reason, political commentator Michael Malice says that “Conservatism is progressivism driving the speed limit.” In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, Gun Owners of America founder Larry Pratt understood the dangers of accepting small degrees of gun control. Pratt sees these moves as playing into the hands of radical anti-gun advocates, who will increase their demands with each small concession that takes place. Sadly, the Trump Administration’s enactment of the bump stock ban via bureaucratic decree has only reinforced this trend.

Although he was talking about economic intervention in his book Socialism, Ludwig von Mises was correct in his view that “It is indeed one of the principal drawbacks of every kind of interventionism that it is so difficult to reverse the process”.

For the sake of restoring our rights gun rights which have gradually decreased since the New Deal, it would behoove conservatives to start taking the Second Amendment seriously. Paying lip service to later negotiate gun rights away is no winning strategy. If conservatives were truly pro-gun, they would not be letting their enemies continue to gain ground on the issue.

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