In the December issue of American Conservative, I review the new book Living With Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment by Craig Whitney, and note that the sense of mission that propelled the book might be misplaced in a year when not even a series of shocking gun massacres could really juice any life into the corpse of increasing gun control regulation.
The book…pushes a set of policy prescriptions that Whitney paints as the rational, intelligent middle between untenable pro-gun attitudes (no new laws restricting our ability to buy, carry, and store weapons) and untenable anti-gun attitudes (no private ownership of firearms). Whitney argues there's an intractable political divide about guns that only his measured wisdom can bridge.
But the reaction to this year's string of prominent gun crimes undercuts Whitney's project. That reaction was—beyond personal and some civic grief—nothing, except a bump in private gun buying. No effective new call for stronger gun regulations arose. As gun-control activists complained, guns and gun policy didn't come up at all in the domestic-policy presidential debate in October between President Obama and Mitt Romney.
It may be true that there is still, as Whitney writes, "hysteria that passes for discussion of the Second Amendment by gun rights supporters and advocates of gun control." But that hysteria is localized within a narrow community of obsessives. It's not dominating American politics or tearing us asunder as a people…
Whitney stresses the importance of keeping guns out of what all reasonable people agree are the "wrong hands," even as he presents the embarrassing history of colonial and early America, in which seemingly reasonable people believed blacks, Indians, Roman Catholics, and non-property-owners should be kept from weapons. Whitney harps on the notion that the Second Amendment right is supposed to come with civic responsibilities. Though he knows that used to mean being prepared to fight government tyranny, he avoids saying that might ever be necessary today, and Whitney fails to convince a skeptical reader that the civic responsibility in question should mean much more than making sure no one is unjustly harmed by the weapons you own.
Reason on the Second Amendment.