Second Amendment

The NRA's Dystopian Future?

Two ivory tower academics argue that gun-rights advocates are inconsistent on human nature.

Michael Swartz · Apr. 20, 2018

An online editorial appeared on Thursday on The Washington Post’s website, using the long-ago philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke to stake the claim that the National Rifle Association is promoting the wrong policies for its worldview.

Authors Christopher Hallenbrook and Ryan Reed, both academics, conclude, “The NRA’s political philosophy is not consistent with its policy prescriptions. If the human condition is as the NRA describes it — arguably demonstrated by the episodic mass slaughters in the United States — then Hobbes would argue that the proper and consistent remedy would not be limited government, but a strong, unlimited sovereign who can do what is necessary to save irascible humans from themselves. Locke, who argued that human beings aren’t all that bad, might agree with the NRA’s prescriptions — but would shake his head at its diagnosis.”

Their piece was written in the face of two sets of contending events. On one side, three states are currently considering gun control legislation, including a Delaware proposal named after the late Beau Biden, in the wake of student protests against a repeat of the Parkland massacre. But, conversely, membership in the National Rifle Association has been on the upswing, thanks in part to a strong rebuttal stressing that “the threat to our Second Amendment has never been greater.”

To writers like Hallenbrook and Reed, this may well seem to be a contradiction in terms, but if one looks beyond the walls of the ivory tower — where both authors specialize in political science — one finds that history favors the NRA’s vigilance. No less than Alexander Hamilton declared in Federalist 34, “To model our political system upon speculations of lasting tranquility, is to calculate on the weaker springs of the human character.” In an age of despotic monarchs, our Founding Fathers not only worked to determine the proper role of government but also understood human nature. And history since that time has given us far too many examples of the human suffering caused by socialist and communist tyranny.

“In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker,” wrote James Madison in Federalist 51, “anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature.” The Second Amendment was intended as a way to level the playing field between both predator and prey as well as government and individual.

Hallenbrook and Reed’s contention that the NRA’s guiding philosophy is one of a “bleak worldview in which we are constantly under siege from threats” makes a lot of sense when we consider that, while measures such as a “bump stock” ban and universal background checks have popular support, there’s also a very vocal minority that would be just fine with repealing the Second Amendment. Recently that crackpot cause gained the support of a former Supreme Court justice, so now the idea is moving from the ivory tower fringe to a point where it has a little more legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Of course, without the Second Amendment’s protection, a disarmed population is at the utter mercy of the dictator of the day.

At its core, the National Rifle Association is an advocacy and lobbying group that stands for the right of the individual to keep and bear arms for not only sport and individual protection but also as a bulwark against government run amok. Right now, the NRA is doing a fantastic job of making its message clear: that while we’d all prefer a Lockean world of societal trust, we still need strong advocacy to help protect our rights against those Hobbesian elements out there to ruin it for the rest of us.

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