Mike Rosen Misfires on Gun Analysis
by Ari Armstrong, October 13, 1999
Colorado radio personality Mike Rosen, under cover of criticizing "extremist" gun rights groups such as Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, actually supports a diluted right to bear arms, including more liberal concealed handgun carry laws ("Firearm activists open fire, hit foot," The Rocky Mountain News, September 24, 1999). However, in cozying up with those suspicious of gun rights, Rosen makes some remarkably bad arguments and waters the seedlings which threaten to overtake freedom in America.
Rosen sees gun rights groups as taking a hard-line in order to "exaggerate their positions" so that the eventual political compromise will be palatable. Rosen calls this "political melodrama." You see, gun rights activists don't really want an uninfringed right to bear arms, we just say that so we'll have more political leverage.
However, continues Rosen, the politics of exaggeration doesn't work very well, because it makes one seem like an absolutist in a case where a pragmatic approach is clearly appropriate.
The Second Amendment is not absolute. You can't legally own an Abrams Main Battle Tank or a nuclear missile. To oppose any and all restrictions on gun ownership or sales, even reasonable ones, just for the sake of opposition merely guarantees that you'll not be taken seriously as a political entity.
Rosen's first error is in suggesting battle tanks or nuclear missiles could possibly be including in an interpretation of the Second Amendment. The men who wrote that law recognized the right to bear arms as encompassing all able bodied men (and now we would include women) and all arms in use by the standard infantryman in the army. It simply does not follow that, because the Second Amendment permits laws outlawing private nuclear weapons, it also permits laws restricting lawful citizens from carrying small arms. That Rosen would invoke this shrill, silly argument used by the most ardent (and least educated) anti-gun activists is surprising.
The history of the Constitution defies Rosen's reasoning, and so does standard libertarian theory. Murray Rothbard, the Austrian economist who studied under Ludwig von Mises, points out that guns are inherently suited for personal protection, whereas large weapons of mass-destruction cannot be used without harming innocent persons. Rothbard writes,
...while the bow and arrow, and even the rifle, can be pinpointed, if the will be there, against actual criminals, modern nuclear weapons cannot. Here is a crucial difference in kind. Of course, the bow and arrow could be used for aggressive purposes, but it could also be pinpointed to use only against aggressors. Nuclear weapons, even 'conventional' aerial bombs, cannot be. These weapons are ipso facto engines of indiscriminate mass destruction. (The only exception would be the extremely rare case where a mass of people who were all criminals inhabited a vast geographical area.) We must, therefore, conclude that the use of nuclear or similar weapons, or the threat thereof, is a crime against humanity for which there can be no justification. (The Ethics of Liberty, pages 190-91).
Thus, a principled position defends small arms for lawful citizens but allows for a ban on weapons of mass-destruction.
So, not only can gun rights activists take a principled ("extreme") stand on the Second Amendment, but most of them do so. Rosen's suggestion that pro-gun activists are engaged in some sort of political melodrama is simply false, and indeed offensive. We take our support of liberty much more seriously than that. Perhaps Rosen is just playing political games with his article, but gun rights activists are engaged in a rather more noble pursuit.
Rosen suggests, though, that some exceptions to the Second Amendment are "reasonable." But what are Rosen's reasons? Where are his facts and logic to back up his contention that some of the recently proposed anti-gun laws are "reasonable?" He fails to give any.
But reason is not really the subject here. The term "reasonable" is a code-word in modern American politics for "moderate," whether or not the proposed law meets any reasonable standard. However, to invoke the sentiments of Senator Goldwater, moderation which permits injustice is a vice.
Colorado libertarians have hoped Rosen would develop a consistent, pro-freedom political philosophy. (For instance, see Is Mike Rosen a Closet Libertarian? in these pages.) However, in his recent article, Rosen shows that he's still a pragmatist at heart. He defends moderation as an end-in-itself.
Rosen writes, "It's true that [Congressman Tom] Tancredo and [Governor Bill] Owens have given a little ground on gun-control issues in the wake of Columbine, but what else could they have reasonably done? The body politic has given ground as well." Tancredo and Owens could have reasonably stood up for gun rights and explained how the right of self-defense protects us from violent criminals. That's the reasonable position, supported by facts and logic. But Rosen doesn't want our politicians to be reasonable, he wants them to be moderate. He wants them to compromise because, hey, it's America and that's what American politicians do. Moral principle counts for nothing.
[Dudley] Brown [of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners] and others may choose to ignore political reality, but that doesn't alter it. If what they want from elected officials is unwavering fealty to their absolutist positions, the fact of the matter is that they simply cannot have that. It's not on the political menu.
However, it is Rosen who ignores the reality that politics is largely driven by ideology. The New Deal was made possible by the ideals of Karl Marx. The Reagan Revolution (as wimpy as it was) was made possible by the ideals of libertarian and conservative academics. To be sure, taking a principled stand may not yield immediate political results, but ultimately it is only principled stands that yield any political results whatsoever.
In his quest for political expediency, Rosen is willing to accept gross injustice. He says the anti-gun "compromises aren't particularly consequential." But why don't you ask the 20 year old woman who is threatened by her violent ex-boyfriend and who is prohibited from buying a gun for self-defense if the laws are inconsequential? Why don't you ask the hundreds of women who have been raped, the hundreds of families that have been victimized by crime, all because Colorado and other states have prevented citizens from carrying concealed handguns, if those laws have been inconsequential? Why don't you ask the poor, single mother who is priced out of a new gun if the laws that will restrict her ability to buy a gun at a gunshow are inconsequential? Far from being inconsequential, the newly proposed anti-gun laws are a matter of life or death for some individuals. They may mean the difference of whether my sister, now 16, ever falls victim to rape.
But what's life and death, what's justice, what's public safety, what's liberty, in the face of political melodrama?
Someone with Rosen's mentality might have written, in the years following the Civil War, something like, "Abolitionists might want blacks to be treated equally in our society, but that's just not political reality. It's not on the political menu. Sorry! To oppose any and all Black Code laws, even reasonable ones, just for the sake of opposition merely guarantees that you'll not be taken seriously as a political entity. Give a little ground! Don't be so absolutist! Compromise! It's just political melodrama, anyway!" Certainly the subject is different, but the logic is precisely the same (and some of the Black Codes were written specifically to disarm blacks, so the subjects aren't too far apart).
I rather agree with the sentiments of Ayn Rand, who wrote, "In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit" (Atlas Shrugged). Or, in the words of the great civil rights leader Martin Luther King, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." There's no such thing as an inconsequential unjust law, or an inconsequential violation of civil rights.
Rosen closes by claiming gun rights activists are wrongly fearful of gun confiscation.
[A]s economist Colin Clark once put it: 'The piglet that grows up to become a hog does not go on to become an elephant. We should beware of extrapolating every movement to its ultimate possibility.' You can maintain your footing on a slippery slope without being paranoid.
The casual slander aside, it's not paranoia when they're demonstrably out to get you. The leaders of the anti-gun movement, including several politicians in Colorado, have publicly and loudly called for the ban of at least all handguns. The British lost their rights of self-defense over a period of decades, one inconsequential compromise at a time. In America, some guns have already been confiscated in New York, California, and Washington, D.C.
In the final analysis, there's nothing "reasonable" about Rosen's proposed political compromises. He wants to compromise, not in order to achieve good law, but to appease the zealous anti-gun activists. Sure, we're not going to suffer total gun confiscation in Colorado tomorrow, or next year, or even next decade. The political melodrama is a protracted one. But every compromise makes it that much harder for honest citizens to defend themselves, and every compromise takes us one step closer to total control.
Rosen may flippantly mock idealistic pro-gun activists, but those who are assaulted now by criminals because their right of self-defense has been infringed, and those who are born in subsequent generations without the right to bear arms, may fail to share Rosen's cynical mirth.