Yesterday on Facebook, Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, addressed the question of whether last week's massacre in Oregon had changed his position on the Second Amendment. Here is the relevant part of his answer:
I grew up in the slums of Detroit. I saw plenty of gun violence as a child. Both of my cousins were killed on the streets. As a Doctor, I spent many a night pulling bullets out of bodies. There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking—but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.
Here is how New York Times reporter Alan Rappeport translated that comment:
Ben Carson…has intensified his defense of gun rights in response to last week's Oregon campus massacre, arguing that the Second Amendment is more sacred than spilled blood.
The headline for Rappeport's story on the paper's home page today reiterated that gloss: "Gun Rights More Sacred Than Spilled Blood, Carson Says."
Rather than comparing the Second Amendment and the blood of murder victims on a scale of sacredness, Carson said depriving people of the right to armed self-defense would be more "devastating" than any given murder. Granted, neither of those statements has a precise meaning, but Rappeport's reframing suggests that people who defend the Second Amendment have an irrational, quasi-mystical faith in it that blinds them to the real-world consequences of allowing widespread gun ownership. It is like matter-of-factly stating that people who defend the free-speech rights of racists view the First Amendment as "more sacred" than the safety of hate crime victims, or that people who criticize warrantless surveillance view the Fourth Amendment as "more sacred" than the lives of children killed by terrorists. In short, it is the sort of demagogic attack on civil liberties that you would not expect to see in a news story dealing with constitutional rights that are more popular among New York Times reporters.