“Assault Weapons” – Again!

Like socialism, some bad ideas just don’t stay away.  For instance, Democratic control of Washington undoubtedly will mean the return of the foolish idea of a national assault weapon ban.  As with other such bans, what’s on the way will define assault weapons as certain guns that have evil features like pistol grips, adjustable stocks and bayonet lugs.  Meanwhile, the supporting rhetoric will try to make the connection between the proposed ban and stopping mass shootings.  

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, whether or not a mass shooting takes place does not depend on the adjustability of the stock on the would-be murderer’s gun or on what kind of grip it had – and bayonets just aren’t a factor in shootings.  The most effective argument for an assault weapon ban?  The misleading term “assault weapon” itself.  

But this isn’t about whether you could reduce the homicide rate by passing a law that says no one can possess “murder weapons,” it’s about whether you are a populist or a conservative.  They’re not the same thing, and you can’t be both.

Sure, there is a great deal of overlap between the two.  Both populists and conservatives are strong supporters of the Bill of Rights; unlike progressives, they support all – not just some – constitutional rights.  But there are differences, one of which became apparent earlier this month concerning the Vice President’s authority relative to counting electoral votes.

President Trump made the populist position clear: “When you catch somebody in a fraud, you’re allowed to go by very different rules. So I hope Mike has the courage to do what he has to do.”  The President proposed a utilitarian balancing of interests which, to his calculation, would mean that the text of the Constitution would have less force than the policy goal to be achieved.  To populists, the Constitution is, thus, a living document.

In contrast, the conservative position is bound by that text and focuses on the original intent of its Framers.  Given such intent cannot be seen as consistent with the Vice President having a veto over what otherwise would be the Electoral College result, conservatives would oppose what the President proposed.  As phrased by Justice Scalia, to conservatives, the Constitution is not living, but enduring.

A meaningful distinction between “populist” and “conservative” is rarely made in the media and misuse is prevalent.  But as we’ll see in the coming months relative to the coming “assault” weapon ban, the media does not always bother to get terms right.

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