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The civil rights attorney who rejects rights

Saturday, August 8, 2015 10:28
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Lawyer jokes are a popular genre of humor—even among many lawyers, or so I’ve been told—but once the levity is over, we do need to respect the work that attorneys do, especially with regard to defending our rights in the courts. Cases have to be tried with evidence and logic, and just as with medicine and science, the legal profession requires experts who know what they’re talking about.

One lawyer who has spent decades in legal controversy is Alan Dershowitz. Agree with him or not—and I often do agree with him—he fills a valuable role once assumed by Socrates, that of a gadfly to annoy those in power. He even has made one statement about the Second Amendment that a lot of gun-rights supporters love to quote:

Foolish liberals who are trying to read the Second Amendment out of the Constitution by claiming it’s not an individual right or that it’s too much of a safety hazard. They don’t see the danger in the big picture. They’re courting disaster by encouraging others to use the same means to eliminate portions of the Constitution they don’t like.

I have exercised and advocated for the right of self-expression much longer than I’ve been on the side of gun-rights, but it was an argument exactly like Dershowitz’s that convinced me to defend the Second Amendment as much as the First.

Unfortunately, Dershowitz fails to live up to the lofty expectations his remark creates. He doesn’t merely want the courts to read the Second Amendment as a collective right. He wants to repeal the whole thing.  If you need a gun for self-defense—need to be determined by the government employees he’s fought against his whole career, presumably—you would have to get permission to possess one after proving your need. If you’re a hunter, you would have to go to “a hunting place where they give you the gun and then you give it back when you finish hunting.” He also claims that the United States is the only nation that protects gun rights in its constitution and that we have “more gun murders than any other country in the world.”

Where to begin? More gun murders than any other country is flat wrong, whether we mean per capita or in total.  Some two dozen nations have more gun murders per hundred thousand citizens than we do, and Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico have more such homicides period. Brazil’s number is almost four times ours.

He’s almost correct about the unique status of our Constitution. Guatemala also has a protection for gun rights, and Mexico sort of does. Switzerland and the Czech Republic have gun cultures of long standing, though their legal systems could toss that out by a vote of their legislatures. Many nations—Mexico and Venezuela being prime examples—have strict gun controls that their populations ignore.

But consider Dershowitz’s idea that people who “need” a gun can be issued the weapon in the time of need and turn it back in once the job is done. This demonstrates his fundamental lack of knowledge about the subject. As the recent murder of Carol Browne demonstrates, if you need a gun, you need it right now, not when bureaucrats get around to giving you permission. And if you’ve spent any time hunting or shooting in competitions, you know that being handed any old gun at “a hunting place” once a year is no way to develop proficiency.

Proposals such as what Dershowitz make never cease to astonish me. He is an intelligent person who has spent a long time honing and practicing the skills of his field, but apparently believes that performing in another field can be done in a cartoonish manner in which only heroes score hits after vaguely pointing their guns at their targets, whether deer or bad guys.

Many sophisticated people who are broadly aware of the world lose their minds when the subject of guns comes up. This strange mental block is something we who value gun rights must fight. Hardcore gun control advocates won’t listen, but there are many in this country who can be persuaded, and the facts and logic are on our side.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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