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PARR: Judge policy decisions on results, not intentions

March 9, 2018

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One of the key traditional differences between conservatives and liberals is their approach to human nature. Conservatives, at least historically, tend to take the perspective that humans are basically about the same as they have always been, whereas liberals largely believe humanity can be improved, particularly through government action. If we were to ascribe labels, conservatives might be called practical (i.e., “This is the way it is; let’s figure out how to make it work”), while liberals could be described as utopian (e.g., “change you can believe in”).

These categories are not precise, of course, and other adjectives can provide greater specificity. For example, Ronald Reagan was a quintessential optimist and JFK, at least on foreign policy, a pragmatic realist.

How conservatives and liberals approach public policy most clearly represents these differing postures. And no policy discussion is more relevant right now than guns and what should be done following an atrocity like what happened in Parkland, Florida.

What are the actual consequences and results of calls to, say, ban the AR-15? I overheard a colleague recently say, “Why do you need an AR-15?” Where the AR-15 falls on the spectrum of the Second Amendment’s protections is an interesting discussion, but what about other firearms used in other shootings? If the objective is to never again have a large-scale shooting, banning the AR-15 can be only step one—handguns are far and away not only the most-used gun in mass shootings, but also in homicides in general.

Just days ago, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a scathing dissent on the court’s recent decision to reject a case from California that stemmed from that state’s mandatory 10-day waiting period to purchase a gun. He wrote that “the Second Amendment is a disfavored right in this court.” Strong words, to be sure. Whether he is right is well beyond my pay grade, but his statement certainly rings true to many outside the judicial system.

When various public officials or celebrities attack the Second Amendment, they either forget or don’t care that our constitutional framework has many other examples that also carry negative repercussions. Freedom, it turns out, has its costs.

Consider a criminal defendant’s due-process rights of requiring the state to prove each element of the alleged crime beyond a reasonable doubt; wouldn’t it be more efficient if the standard were lower? Say, merely a preponderance of the evidence—that is, just barely more likely than not that the defendant committed the crime?

Because of the high burden on the state, undoubtedly plenty of “guilty” people are out wandering the streets, some potentially very dangerous. Or what of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures? After all, if you didn’t do anything wrong, what is there to hide? Or we might, as some today desire, limit speech because it hurts this group’s feelings or offends that group.

Freedom is messy. That is not to say we should sit idly back and say, “That’s just the way it is.” Quite to the contrary. But what it does require is an honest assessment of what will actually work and its costs, and most important, what is constitutionally allowable.•

Click here for more Forefront columns.

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Parr is a student at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis and is treasurer of the Indiana Young Republicans. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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