Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Just a few quick thoughts, in response to Rob's recent post, "Catholics and gun control." I should start by disclosing that I do not own any firearms (though, growing up in Alaska, my family had several guns), am not a hunter, and do not engage in recreational shooting. My sense is that these facts put me in the same boat as post of those who support -- or, in the public debate, demand -- increased regulation of guns. And, I think it's important to be careful, when we are considering regulatory responses to serious problems or horrible events, which themselves have many and complicated causes, that we don't focus only on those responses that don't affect us or activities that we enjoy. (As others have noted around the blogosphere, it is common, in response to shocking and harmful events, to call for the "giving up" or the "limiting" of rights -- whether we are talking about the right to own firearms or the right to play violent video games -- that those doing the calling do not value very much.)
So, Rob asks, "why a Catholic worldview is consistent with the private ownership of guns designed for killing at a high rate of speed." Again, I don't have any interest in owning such guns, but my understanding is that there are people who enjoy collecting such weapons, and shooting them recreationally, and that -- while these people's hobby seems weird to most law professors -- they do so safely and without incident, and not because they are plotting mass violence. Is it un-Catholic to enjoy doing these things? I guess it could be -- again, I don't "get" the appeal of doing those things -- but my sense it isn't necessarily.
Rob also suggests that that "there is a Catholic understanding of freedom that is in considerable tension with the understanding of freedom that seems to animate the arguments of some gun rights advocates." This seems right, though there is also a "communitarian", "republican" argument (see, e.g., Sandy Levinson and Akhil Amar) for the ("embarassing") Second Amendment that might not create this tension.
John Courtney Murray emphasized the "principle of the free society," which "affirms that man in society must be accorded as much freedom as possible, and that that freedom is not to be restricted unless and insofar as is necessary. By necessary I mean the restraint needed to preserve society's very existence or—to use the concept and terms of the Declaration itself—necessary for preserving the public order in its juridical, political, and moral aspects." It seems to me that this "principle" points toward a policy with respect to the ownership and safe use of firearms under which reasonable, close regulation is both permissible and called for, but only insofar as it is "necessary" to protect people and the common good. (Actually, Murray's "necessary" probably sets the bar too high, But, some inquiry into the utility of the constraint, and the extent to which it actually accomplishes appropriate government purposes, seems called for.) Regulations that are symbolic, but extremely unlikely to have any real effect on violent crime or accidental gun deaths, and perhaps motivated primarily or facilitated by the dislike of some parts of society for the hobbies or "culture" of other parts, do not seem consistent with this principle.