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December 24, 2012

Mark Steyn on Newtown and Calls for Gun Bans

Hello! And Merry Christmas' Eve!

You've probably read this but I'm behind on everything and besides I've wanted to write about a point made in it.

Since the humiliations of November, the Right no longer has any hot brands, so this time round the biens pensants have fallen back on "gun culture." Dimwit hacks bandy terms like "assault weapon," "assault rifle," "semi-automatic" and "automatic weapon" in endlessly interchangeable but ever more terrifying accumulations of high-tech state-of-the-art killing power. As the comedian Andy Borowitz tweeted, "When the 2nd Amendment was written the most lethal gun available was the musket."

Actually, the semiautomatic is a 19th century technology, first produced in 1885. That's just under half-a-century after the death of Madison, the Second Amendment's author, and rather nearer to the Founding Fathers' time than our own. And the founders were under fewer illusions about the fragility of society than Hollywood funnymen: on July 25, 1764, four Lenape Indians walked into a one-room schoolhouse in colonial Pennsylvania and killed Enoch Brown and ten of his pupils. One child survived, scalped and demented to the end of his days.

Nor am I persuaded by the Right's emphasis on pre-emptive mental-health care. It's true that, if your first reaction on hearing breaking news of this kind is to assume the perpetrator is a male dweeb in his early twenties with poor socialization skills, you're unlikely to be wrong. But, in a society with ever fewer behavioral norms, who's to say what's odd? On 9/11, the agent at the check-in desk reckoned Mohammed Atta and his chums were a bit strange but banished the thought as shameful and discriminatory. In a politically correct world, vigilance is a fool's errand. The US Airways cabin crew who got the "flying imams" bounced from a Minneapolis plane for flamboyantly, intimidatingly wacky behavior (praying loudly, fanning out to occupy all the exit rows, asking for seatbelt extenders they didn't need) wound up in sensitivity-training hell. If a lesbian thinks dragging your wife around in a head-to-toe body-bag is kinda weird, she's being "Islamophobic." If a Muslim thinks taking breast hormones and amputating your penis is a little off, he's "transphobic." These very terms make the point that, in our society, finding somebody else odd is itself a form of mental illness. In an unmoored age, what's not odd? Once upon a time, TV viewers from distant states descending on a Connecticut town to attend multiple funerals of children they don't know might have struck some of us as, at best, unseemly and, at worst, deeply creepy a Feast of the Holy Innocents, so to speak.

OK, what about restricting it to wishing murderous ill upon someone? In her own response to the Sandy Hook slaughter, the novelist Joyce Carol Oates tweeted that hopes for gun control would be greatly advanced "if sizable numbers of NRA members become gun-victims." Who's to know when violent fantasies on social media prefigure a loner getting ready to mow down the kindergarten or just a critically acclaimed liberal novelist amusing her friends before the PEN Awards cocktail party?

On this last point, something occurred to me. It's obvious, I guess, but worth noting anyway.

As the State creates more prohibitions and steals more freedoms, it experiences an unavoidable problem: Those who administer or at least vigorously support the Prohibitive State discover that the laws they wish to inflict on others are uncomfortable straitjackets on themselves.

For example, this statement by Joyce Carol Oates. I take it as a given that Ms. Oates would strongly urge the State to investigate, harass, and imprison anyone on the detestable right making a similar statement about who on the left should be killed by gun violence. And yet, as Steyn notes, we all understand -- even those of us who oppose the socialist project -- that Ms. Oates is to be excepted from the sort of controlling regime she favors.

Rosie O'Donnell's bodyguards can carry handguns, for example. She's Important; it is therefore Important that her life should be protected, by use of a gun's deadly force, should it come to that.

The number of celebrities and powerful people who have either paid armed guards or who have a gun themselves (gotta protect yourself from a stalker) is fairly large.

Which brings me to my point: As the State increases in its ambition to Decide for us, those at the top of the control structure naturally look to excuse themselves from the blessings of Government Surveillance and Prohibition they would so generously grant to us all. And more and more what should be a liberal governance (old meaning of liberal) becomes a decidedly illiberal one, one in which Actions are not paramount, but Status.

Rosie O'Donnell can agitate for all the gun bans she likes -- she knows she'll never actually have to live under them. Her Status will make an exception for her. It is the lesser citizens of the lower castes to whom these laws will apply.

And Joyce Carol Oates? Well, a no-account Tea Partier who incited violence should surely be locked up for breaking some law or another (as the Egyptian filmmaker was). But Joyce Carol Oates has High Status in the regime -- those who administer the State are friends with people who are friends with Oates -- and so she will be excused from such persecutions.

A liberal governance -- again, I mean it in the old way -- takes each man as equal and judges his actions only. But a government determined to make decisions for everyone and criminalize anything that it doesn't actually mandate must begin making these determinations based on Status, because it's the people with Status who have the ear of officials or friends in the media.

And so we start finding ourselves becoming more like the Soviets we thought we defeated, with classes afforded greater or lesser privileges depending on how close they might be to Government Power.

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posted by Ace at 12:38 PM

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