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.