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As part of his series on gun control in America, Piers Morgan has invited a number of political adversaries on his show to discuss the issue. The most famous interview so far has probably been with Alex Jones, who went so far off the rails that even Glenn Beck denounced him as a "madman." In reviewing Morgan's interviews however, it was the interview with editor at large, and author of Bullies: How the Left's Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America, Ben Shapiro, that really stood out. If you really want to get your blood boiling, check out the interview here. My response to Mr. Shapiro below the break.

Dear Ben,

Watching your recent appearance on Piers Morgan’s show to discuss gun control left me with a number of concerns that I would like to discuss with you.

First, I am concerned about your understanding of the Second Amendment. I find it somewhat ironic that you told Piers he “should probably read it again,” shortly after stating that the purpose of the Amendment is “to protect against the possibility of eventual government tyranny.”

This is not, in fact, the purpose of the Second Amendment. The true purpose of the Second Amendment—“the security of a free state”—is, conveniently enough, explicitly stated within the text of the Amendment itself. Curious, isn’t it? It’s the only amendment that includes a clause that serves to explain why it was added. Seems to reason that if our forbearers sought fit to include a why for that singular particular right, that why must be pretty important. And yet a lot of people, including some Supreme Court Justices, seem to want to ignore the Second Amendment’s prefatory clause altogether, or ascribe the purpose of their choosing.

Yes, it is true the founding fathers spoke of tyrannical governments quite frequently; they were living under one. It was called the British Empire. Surely you remember that. And surely you should also remember that when the Bill of Rights was being ratified, the security of these newly free states was very much in jeopardy—not theoretical jeopardy that our own government might one day go tyrannical, but very real jeopardy from the British, the Spanish, the French, and at least some of the Native Americans, and with no standing army and no means of communicating faster than a horse, a “well-regulated militia” was very much “necessary to the security of a free state,” and it was really as much a man’s right as it was his responsibility to keep and bear arms.

With regard, however, to the notion that our own government could at some point become tyrannical, and precipitate the necessity of overthrowing a national standing army that is wholly loyal to it, it was concluded after great examination, by Alexander Hamilton and many others, that, “It may safely be received as an axiom in our political system, that the State governments will, in all possible contingencies, afford complete security against invasions of the public liberty by the national authority.”  Hamilton, too, seemed to find it slightly absurd to think that the rise of despotism would not be effectively checked by our electoral system, or that an army made up of citizens of this country would impose a tyrannical regime over their fellow citizens, but he entertained the idea anyway, and at considerable length, finally driving his point home by asking rhetorically, “When will the time arrive that the federal government can raise and maintain an army capable of erecting a despotism over the great body of the people of an immense empire, who are in a situation, through the medium of their State governments, to take measures for their own defense, with all the celerity, regularity, and system of independent nations?”

Even without considering, then, that a semi-automatic assault rifle would likely be of little use against the weaponry our U.S. armed forces have at their disposal, if the prospect of the eventual rise of government tyranny is your primary argument against stricter regulations on the ownership of military style assault weapons, it would seem that your argument falls rather flat. Or rather more strongly as Hamilton states at the end of Federalist No. 28, “The apprehension may be considered as a disease, for which there can be found no cure in the resources of argument and reasoning.”

Indeed, the deterrent enumerated by the Second Amendment, if it should be considered for this purpose, is not a mass of untrained citizens, but well-regulated militias that can be called into service “through the medium of State government.” From this perspective, and with due consideration to the preponderance of horrifically devastating tragedies resulting in no small part from all too easy access to weapons of such lethality, it does not seem at all unreasonable for duly elected legislatures to declare that these weapons may only be owned by those with proper training, and must be stored securely under lock and key, whether it be in one’s home, or more properly in a communal armory.

It seems, as you pointed out to Piers, that we may not be so far apart here once we start examining policies, but the bigger concern lies more with the rhetoric than with the policy, because while I suppose entertaining hypothetical problems has hypothetical value, I want to discuss a real problem, which has real value. I often hear people say, if it’s not guns, it’s knives, or arson, or bombs. And of course these are all slightly different yet related problems, and this letter would go on forever if we tried to parse them all right now, so I’m not going to indulge the conflation you made between addressing the problem of semi-automatic assault weapons and their relation to mass shootings, and addressing the issue of hand guns and gang violence, or crimes of passion where guns happen to be readily available--but I do want to bring up Oklahoma City. One hundred sixty eight people died that day--including 19 children under the age of 6--and 680 more were injured. It remains the worst case of domestic terrorism in our country’s history, committed by a man who was wrestling with the violence he saw committed against Iraqi civilians during the Gulf War, and similar uses of force at Waco and Ruby Ridge. He came to see the government as a bully, an aggressor, and determined that these actions must be met with like actions; that a message must be sent. “With Oklahoma City being a counterattack,” he stated in an interview he gave while awaiting execution, “I was only fighting by the rules of engagement that were introduced by the aggressor.”

For as extensively as you have written on bullying, it seems like you should easily be able to see the hypocrisy of accusing Piers of bullying those he doesn’t agree with on gun control while in the same breath characterizing his actions as “standing on the graves of the children of Sandy Hook.” It then seems almost farcical for you to call for a “rational political conversation about balancing rights and risks,” when right out of the gate you are going on the offensive, and using overblown, emotionally charged, divisive, inflammatory rhetoric that in no way furthers rational conversation.

To be sure, there was a missed opportunity for a teachable moment here. Rather than hyperbolizing, you could have cited a specific example where Piers engaged in what you perceived as bullying, and explained how he could have handled the situation better. Instead, you did exactly what you said just seconds later we don’t need to do-- “demonize people on the other side,” and then proceeded to justify your characterization by saying you were not being a bully, but “hitting back twice as hard.”

Not only is this sentiment quite far from the Christian maxim to “turn the other cheek,” it also seems both dishonest and irresponsible. If everyone who perceived they were being bullied “hit back twice as hard,” the conversation would quickly devolve, with increasingly inflammatory rhetoric giving way to insults, threats, and even actual violence. And this is why I brought up Timothy McVeigh--because for as concerned as you are about the spectre of government tyranny, the much more realistic threat, which you seem to be ignoring, is that the constant usage of this sort of incendiary language in our political discourse has the potential to incite individuals or small groups who believe they are acting on behalf of the people of this country, to take up arms against a government they view as tyrannical, resulting in more tragedies like Oklahoma City. After all, Mr. McVeigh did believe, until the very end, that his actions were “for the greater good.” And being a person of some influence in the political discourse on the right, I do believe this is something you should consider quite seriously.

On a completely different subject, there is one other matter I would like to address--it was really nothing more than a throw-away line during your interview with Piers, but I also want to talk about why you “don’t believe in a progressive tax rate.” Elsewhere, you have argued for a flat tax rate, claiming as one of your main arguments that “it is perfectly equitable, because by nature, percentages are perfectly equitable.”

I do not think a flat tax rate is perfectly equitable, because, to quote Tim Robbins, “equality is not in regarding different things similarly, equality is in regarding different things differently.”

Consider one person making $20,000 a year, and another person making $200,000 a year. Under a flat tax of 10%, the former would pay $2,000 in taxes, the latter $20,000. Now while it is true that proportionally, the government is taking the same amount of income from each, a person making $20,000 is different from a person making $200,000, so let us consider for a minute the relative value, to each of these individuals, of this “equitable slice of income” the government is taking.

For the person who makes $200,000, $20,000 may be a significant amount of money, but this person is still comfortably upper middle class, and should by all accounts have no trouble paying for necessities and saving for retirement, while having plenty of money left over for discretionary spending. For the person who makes $20,000 however, virtually all of their income is going toward necessities--the proportions that go to discretionary income and savings, if they exist at all, are very limited. They are far less likely to be able to afford to own their own home, save for their children’s education, or purchase a decent health insurance plan. That $2,000 could easily make the difference when it comes to whether or not they can pay their bills, or afford to eat three square meals a day. So even though the tax percentage may be equitable, it is not hard to argue that the result is not, since the $2,000 in taxes the person making $20,000 is paying can be considered to hold greater relative value than the $20,000 holds for the person making $200,000.

Your other main argument for a flat tax appears to deal with the subject of effectiveness: “The most effective thing is to not tax the upper end of the income bracket very much at all,” you state, “because those people are the ones actually earning money, producing products, providing services and hiring people.”

My first question here would be effectiveness in doing what exactly, because owning slaves was a pretty effective way to get cheap labor and create wealth for white aristocrats, but we did eventually determine that while effective, it was also morally reprehensible. So, I will assume that by effectiveness here, you are speaking of effectiveness in ensuring sustainable economic growth and vitality, increasing social mobility, and other things of similar nature.

To this end, not only are there are mountains of evidence that contradict your assertion, but your logic is fairly shoddy as well.  First of all, the people who are physically producing the products and providing the services are usually not the ones at the top of the income bracket, they are usually the ones at the bottom.  Second, the decision to hire, or more appropriately the creation of jobs, generally has a lot more to do with whether or not there is a demand in the market than it does the tax rate of those personally reaping the majority of the profits. Third, that demand in the market in most cases comes from the ability of middle and working class people to earn and spend money, and so from this perspective, it is logical that a greater share of the tax burden should fall to those with higher incomes, rather than lower ones. And finally, there seems to be an implication here that the rich are inherently better at enabling overall prosperity, and therefore should be entitled to keep more of what they’ve earned based on the presumption that they will put it to better use than someone of lesser wealth might, which, while not wholly illogical, is certainly not true in all cases, and would appear to run counter to the fundamental principle of equality of opportunity. It is for these reasons we as a people generally believe those who benefit the most from the society we have all worked to create together should give back in like proportion, because in the end we are not judged by what we earn, but how we treat those who are less fortunate, and how contribute to the betterment of society.

Thank you for your concern, and I would welcome a continuance of this conversation.



Originally posted to Frank Lee Speaking on Fri Feb 08, 2013 at 12:37 PM PST.

Also republished by Repeal or Amend the Second Amendment (RASA) and Shut Down the NRA.

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