It Takes a Nation of Millions to Pass a Law

One thing that’s been circulating in the wake of yesterday’s shooting at a Congressional baseball game is Mo Brooks‘ excellent response to a reporter question about whether being shot at had changed his views on gun control.

Not with respect to the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment right to bear arms is to ensure that we have a republic. And as with any constitutional provision in the Bill of Rights, there are adverse aspects to each of those rights that we enjoy as people. And what we just saw here is one of the bad side effects of someone not exercising those rights properly. But we’re not going to get rid of freedom of speech because some people say some really ugly things that hurt other people’s feelings. We’re not going to get rid of the Fourth Amendment search and seizure rights because it allows some criminals to go free who should be behind bars. These rights are there to protect Americans, and while each of them has a negative aspect to them, they are fundamental to our being the greatest nation in world history. So no, I’m not changing my position on any of the rights that we enjoy as Americans.

It was an object lesson in how this is supposed to work, reminding the general public of two points it often forgets: first, that political issues are bigger than individual experiences, and second, that there are tradeoffs.

But one thing that I think a lot of people who are cheering this ex temp speech might be wrong about is their impression that Brooks has just called gun control Democrats out for their hypocrisy. Has he? Maybe less than people think.

But we’re not going to get rid of freedom of speech because some people say some really ugly things that hurt other people’s feelings.

That’s right, and I’m truly glad. But let’s be honest – a lot of the people who are for gun control would be more than happy to restrict your speech rights as well. They’re actually not kidding with their overextended metaphors about speech being violence. I mean, I’m sure they know the difference between just saying something and doing it – but they’re serious about wanting to jail people for saying things they don’t like.

We’re not going to get rid of the Fourth Amendment search and seizure rights because it allows some criminals to go free who should be behind bars.

On this one it’s actually Brooks’ Republicans who could use the lesson. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people on the left who would be happy to relax search and seizure protections, but Republicans are bigger offenders here. When law enforcement is before the Supreme Court on questions of whether evidence in a criminal case were illegally obtained – and the Court almost always finds that it was – there’s invariably some law-and-order Republican complaining that criminals get off too easily on "technicalities," by which they mean asking the police to know and follow the established rules.

In reality, politicians pick and choose which rights are important. Brooks made the right speech at the right time, but it’s not really true that Second Amendment rights are uniquely under threat, and it’s certainly not true that non-originalist Democrats are all that fussed about what the Constitutional says most of the time. We need to get back to the idea that enumerated rights are sacrosanct, that anyone who wants to abridge them needs to meet a high burden of proof, and that sensational events are not a good basis for policy.

Yes, what happened yesterday is terrible, and it could’ve been even worse had some fortunate coincidences (like Scalise being present with his security detail) not obtained. But if you want to restrict gun rights over it, you’ll have to do better than just interviewing one of the guys who was there. The details of a single individual’s biography are still not a sound basis for public policy. Public policy is about the whole public, not just Mo Brooks. Brooks, to his great credit, understands that. Why doesn’t the media?

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