I’ve watched the press reports over Newtown over the past few days with a confused kind of feeling, and I think this blog post from The Economist finally explains why. On the one hand, this is a terrible tragedy for the mothers, fathers, sister, brothers, and friends who were directly and personally affected by loss of young lives in Newtown. But on the other hand, the whole “Why God Why?” outcry seems pretty damn silly when one considers the chances of catastrophic gun violence in a country where citizens can arm themselves to the teeth. Rather than crying out as if this were some sort of random act from the heavens, why aren’t we doing something to take guns out of people’s hands?
For those that know me well, my response to Newtown might come as something of a surprise. I’m generally a “conservative” guy, and the conservative party line is that the right to carry a gun is sacrosanct.
But truth is, I’m beginning to think that’s bullshit. Witness Eugene Volokh over at the Volokh Conspiracy pumping out weak sauce defenses over the past few days on the almost-unlimited right to carry a weapon. Compare those writings of an accomplished constitutional law scholar to those The Onion. I never thought I’d say this, but The Onion wins this fight hands-down.
And perhaps even more troublingly for me, this issue seems to reflect the recent conservative inclination to elevate abstractions over reality. Sure a few kids die, but our Founding Fathers (with capital Fs!) wanted us to have guns. Freedom! Democracy! And hey, the budget’s a mess and everyone understands that we all need to chip in more lest we tip into the abyss, but we can’t do that lest we suffer under tax tyranny, right? And oh yeah, it’s definitely murder and a catastrophic harm to kill a fetus, but screw the poor little thing once it’s actually born and breathing on its own. Welfare programs for children? Ha!, comes the conservative response. Those parents should be forced to bear the consequences of their own actions.
I’m not sure that this all makes any sense to others. But for some reason, in my own mind, Newtown has served as a kind of crystallizing moment. Shouldn’t we be paying attention to what’s here and now, rather than making policy judgments premised on abstract notions of rights and values? Shouldn’t our policies be built around ensuring the day-to-day betterment of each person?
I’m done with it. Abstractions are nice in good times. But they are cold comfort in times like these.
Update: And now I’m agreeing with the New York Review of Books. *sigh* Anyway, here’s an article making a point similar to the one I try to make above: that cherished but vague “principles” are causing us to lose sight of empirical consequences.