The Slippery Slope Argument On Guns

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 5 months ago

There is an increasing number of charges that the recent gun control legislation was rejected because of slippery slope arguments.  One such charge was leveled by the loser himself, Joe Manchin.

Think gun control failed in the Senate because of gun-clutching extremists? Or because of fanatical radicals who want to abolish the Second Amendment? Senator Joe Manchin, who’s been at the heart of the effort, says it’s nothing of the sort. In fact, the central problem really has nothing to do with firearms at all — it’s about trust.

When he speaks to gun owners, “they’re scared this is the first step” in a massive government overreach, said Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat. He made the remarks during an interview with Margaret Carlson at the New York Ideas Festival, a daylong conference sponsored by The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute.

“When you say universal background check, the first thing that comes in the mind of a gun owner is that means registration, and registration means confiscation. ‘I haven’t broken the laws, why do you want to know everything?’” he said. According to Manchin, even in gun-loving West Virginia, constituents he spoke with repeatedly told him that if the bill did only what it said it does, they would wholeheartedly support it. (“There’s a lot the NRA likes in this bill,” he added.) The problem is, they’re skeptical that the bill will in fact go farther than it claims. That means the effort to pass it on a second try will require emphasizing, for example, the harsh penalties associated with keeping records past a certain period.

He portrays gun owners as pitiful sheep, “scared” of anything and everything.  The reality is much different.  But then there is Cass Sunstein, who thinks he is much smarter than we are.  You can read his entire piece, but this is the money quote.

Illuminating though it is, Hirschman’s account misses an especially pernicious example of the rhetoric of reaction: the slippery-slope argument. According to that argument, we should reject Reform A, which is admittedly not so terrible, because it would inevitably put us on a slippery slope to Reform B, which is really bad.

But the problem is that this criticism neglects to consider – or maybe intentionally ignores – the real presence of intentionality.  I have never made the case that the proposed gun control law should have been rejected because it is a slippery slope and could lead to more pernicious or onerous things.  I don’t know another gun rights blogger who has made that case.

The case that I have made, and repeatedly so, is that a system of universal background checks is a precursor and necessary prerequisite to a national gun registry.  I have never charged that it would be some accidental feature of overbearing governance.  I have charged that it would be intentional, and that universal background checks would have no effect on gun crime.

Furthermore, I have pointed to progressive arguments for that very system, showing that this is the real goal of every progressive.

The only way we can truly be safe and prevent further gun violence is to ban civilian ownership of all guns. That means everything. No pistols, no revolvers, no semiautomatic or automatic rifles. No bolt action. No breaking actions or falling blocks. Nothing. This is the only thing that we can possibly do to keep our children safe from both mass murder and common street violence.

Unfortunately, right now we can’t. The political will is there, but the institutions are not. Honestly, this is a good thing. If we passed a law tomorrow banning all firearms, we would have massive noncompliance. What we need to do is establish the regulatory and informational institutions first. This is how we do it.  The very first thing we need is national registry. We need to know where the guns are, and who has them.

In the end, Manchin’s proposals were rejected because the people didn’t like his ideas, and Cass Sunstein isn’t as smart as he thinks he is.  Gun control laws such as universal background checks may in fact end up a slippery slope because the federal government is a micromanager and even if there is opposition to a national gun registry one may develop anyway.  But the reason to oppose them has more to do with intentionality, not accident.

Finally, there is another reason to have opposed Manchin’s proposals.  We simply didn’t like what he proposed.  Or in other words, we like the idea that we can buy and sell guns to each other without having to go through a federal firearms license and pay a transfer fee, and we like the idea of gifting guns to each other without telling the federal government about it.



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  • Chuck

    Manchin, and others like him, just don’t get it (or pretend not to) when we say NO NEW GUN LAWS, PERIOD.

    We mean just what we say: NO NEW GUN LAWS.

    The only legislation we will support regarding guns is that which seeks to repeal previous Federal gun prohibition. Starting with the Brady Law and working all the way back to the 1934 National Firearms Act. All of it is unconstitutional. The 2nd Amendment couldn’t be any clearer: ALL Federal gun legislation is strictly prohibited by the 2nd Amendment and the weak-sauce justification that somehow it is allowed under the much abused Commerce Clause is preposterous.

  • halfdar

    Mr Smith et al;
    If this entire discussion had only to do with what was logical or right or reasonable, we gun owners would have long since taken the field and gone home to clean mags and check bores.
    This is not, has never been, and never will be about those things. It is about control and who has it and how easy it is to enforce, full stop.

    Nothing these people say can be taken at face value, since they are without honour and thus can’t help but be disingenuous.

    The endless surprise displayed by the left at how little they are trusted by us is pathetic and sad because it is so obviously false. They know exactly what they are doing; the discussion is fake, since none is really required to advance the agenda. The only people they can convince are those who were never really part of the discussion in the first place.

    This is all such bullshit. Pure and simple.

    With respect,
    Michael Young
    CANADA

  • http://street-pharmacy.blogspot.com Divemedic

    It’s because any new gun laws are not the first step on the slippery slope: we are more than halfway down the slope already. To use Lawdog’s cake analogy:
    Allow me to explain.

    I hear a lot about “compromise” from your camp … except, it’s not compromise.

    Let’s say I have this cake. It is a very nice cake, with “GUN RIGHTS” written across the top in lovely floral icing. Along you come and say, “Give me that cake.”

    I say, “No, it’s my cake.”

    You say, “Let’s compromise. Give me half.” I respond by asking what I get out of this compromise, and you reply that I get to keep half of my cake.

    Okay, we compromise. Let us call this compromise The National Firearms Act of 1934.

    There I am with my half of the cake, and you walk back up and say, “Give me that cake.”

    I say, “No, it’s my cake.”

    You say, “Let’s compromise.” What do I get out of this compromise? Why, I get to keep half of what’s left of the cake I already own.

    So, we have your compromise — let us call this one the Gun Control Act of 1968 — and I’m left holding what is now just a quarter of my cake.

    And I’m sitting in the corner with my quarter piece of cake, and here you come again. You want my cake. Again.

    This time you take several bites — we’ll call this compromise the Clinton Executive Orders — and I’m left with about a tenth of what has always been MY DAMN CAKE and you’ve got nine-tenths of it.

    Then we compromised with the Lautenberg Act (nibble, nibble), the HUD/Smith and Wesson agreement (nibble, nibble), the Brady Law (NOM NOM NOM), the School Safety and Law Enforcement Improvement Act (sweet tap-dancing Freyja, my finger!)

    I’m left holding crumbs of what was once a large and satisfying cake, and you’re standing there with most of MY CAKE, making anime eyes and whining about being “reasonable”, and wondering “why we won’t compromise”.

    I’m done with being reasonable, and I’m done with compromise. Nothing about gun control in this country has ever been “reasonable” nor a genuine “compromise”.

  • http://www.captainsjournal.com/ Herschel Smith

    There will be no compromise. Thus it has been spoken, let it be so.

  • scott s.

    It’s obvious the intent is to use the “smoking” strategy on firearms. Three-prong attack. 1) ostracize gun-owners as anti-social and likely to cause self-harm 2) increase the costs of firearm ownership 3) enact a series of bans incrementally.

    scott s.
    .

  • Sven

    Those who think that the slippery slope argument is ridiculous need only look at the history of gun laws in England. The little “reasonable”laws, enacted one at a time, ended up as a complete ban.

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  • Snowleopard

    The Second Amendment is really quite simple. It recognizes that the people (everyone) have an unfettered right to keep and bear arms. Arms are the tools and equipment needed to wage war.

    At the time of the American Revolution, the people owned field artillery and gunboats. They were, as a group. better armed than the government. The purpose of the Second Amendment and many other provisions of the constitution was to continue that state of affairs. It has failed.

    There is no slippery slope left. We have been at the bottom of it since at least 1968. Arms are long since proscribed for the majority. Since then, the arguments are over what personal weapons we are allowed to keep, and under what restrictions.

    The purpose of federal government was to preserve our liberty, not make us safe. Safety is the responsibility of the citizen, thus his need for arms. All firearms and military weapon laws restrict citizens liberty, make the citizen the dependent of the government instead of the reverse, and are obviously unconstitutional.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Gun Control,Guns and was published May 7th, 2013 by Herschel Smith.

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