The New Way of Thinking about Law

I have to strongly recommend, as odd as it might sound, this post over at Free Range Kids for some interesting reading on the way one mother believes many Americans view the use of laws, specifically registry laws. The post has nothing to say about guns or gun laws, but I think it’s very insightful and applies to many of the ways that anti-gun advocates view gun laws, even when they know they won’t work to reduce crime. Here is a sample, but you should go read the whole thing:

I think what we’re really seeing here is just our country’s punitive mindset. It’s like we cannot imagine any way to express to somebody that we don’t like what they are doing except for calling it “abuse” and putting them on a registry. …

The point of laws should be public safety, not public humiliation, but more and more of our laws and moving in the direction of seeming to be more about shaming and humiliating and branding people who made decisions we don’t like rather than actually protecting the public from truly dangerous people.

I think the Connecticut gun owner registration picture we saw is a great example of how this works in our issue. Law enforcement officers know that the person who is going to use a firearm to rob or murder a person isn’t going to register it. They also know that they are unlikely to catch them with the unregistered firearm before (or during) the crime. But, this kind of perp line is designed to shame the gun owners who are not dangerous and pose no threat to society. Even better for the anti-gun advocate is the fact that creating such a scene makes it easier for them to judge and try to shame the non-threats over the simple fact that they disagree with the decision these men and women made to own guns in the first place.

If the oppressive laws keep you from buying more guns or send you packing out of the state, well, that’s just even better from their point of view. Now they can try and shame you without actually facing the consequences of such a decision or having people challenge them to what it means.

As I said, the letter at Free Range Kids has nothing to do with gun laws, but I think it does accurately represents the way that many voters now think about how they would like the force of law to work. The letter published there does a great job of highlighting ways that the slippery slope of this way of thinking could end up making you a criminal on a public humiliation registry for just about every common decision that someone somewhere might not like.

14 thoughts on “The New Way of Thinking about Law”

  1. You are correct that a lot of this an attempt to shame gun owners to the point where they either get rid of their guns or go deeply into the closet. Much of the same approach that was used to keep sexual deviants in the closet is being used here as well.

    1. But it’s OK in this case because they’re shaming the “right kind” of people.

  2. And of course, the same force people into the closet is the reason for the sexual orientation antidiscrimination laws. What businessman is going to contribute to any one man, one woman campaign knowing that his contribution is going to be used in court as evidence of bias when a state or local government decides to sue him because a worker decided to be fabulous!

  3. I very much sense a religionist cultural influence guiding the “shaming” phenomenon. Frustrated that people can’t be pilloried or put on a dunking stool for moral indiscretions (as judged by the “community”), the indiscretions can at least be remembered for all time, so that the people can be shunned by all who are right-thinking. The Scarlet Letter my be electronic today, but it’s purpose remains the same.

    The phenomena won’t always be perfectly analogous to that, but I think the existence of the analogy in the minds of some subcultures contributes to its proliferation.

  4. This reinforces my belief that the gun rights battle is fought on shooting ranges and in NRA First Step classes. I feel reasonably hopeful for PA because we have lots of gun owners, and the statistics show very strong growth on our side.

    But if gun owners slip below a certain proportion of the electorate, its game over. The antis will just keep hammering and hammering their bullshit restrictions. The most insidious restrictions are the ones that make it difficult for the number of 2A supporters to grow. Like shaming people for being a gun owner.

    Check out this forum thread detailing what its like to get a handgun license in NY:

    Implementing a system that forces people to pay hundreds of dollars and wait months to even touch a gun is going to seriously impede the growth of gun owners. If they can keep that in place, they’ve won. That’s why the antis will have complete control over CA and NY for the foreseeable future.

    That’s why I think the most important thing we can do for our cause is to take new people shooting. Very few people go shooting for the first time and don’t have fun. And even if they don’t join the NRA and buy an AR, you’ve at least educated them. And the anti-gun machine is fueled by ignorance. People who know even a little about guns don’t buy into MSNBC’s bullshit. Its only the completely ignorant who support gun control.

  5. I very much sense a religionist cultural influence guiding the “shaming” phenomenon.

    You are likely right about that; Connecticut was still criminally charging people for adultery in 1990. But I would also point out that this same set of values is present even in people with no such cultural influence. Nien Cheng’s Life and Death in Shanghai is one of those astonishing works detailing how the Red Guards would use language and ideas that were largely religious in nature to impose the Great Helmsman’s ideas. (And yes, the term is a traditional Chinese way of referring to a god.)

    1. I am reminded of Eric Hoffer’s citations of numerous parallels between religious and secular “mass movements,” in his classic book “The True Believer.” In some cases the use of parallel tactics was deliberate, but in other cases it was coincidental, by tacticians having an intuitive feel for what works for manipulating people, especially masses of people. It can be discomforting for those of us who want to believe our every thought and move is rationally planned, and not manipulated.

  6. Political correctness is a perverse sickness. It goes along with what we say about why government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers.

  7. The public shamming is what the liberal newspapers are doing when they publish the list of CCP holders name and address. Just like they used to publish the list of men picked up on soliciting charges years ago, not tried just charged. They must think that if Everyone knows you own a gun then you will be sooo ashamed that you will throw them all in the bay and denounce the Bill of Rights.

    CT has almost a million brand new felons that they have to humiliate by placing them into concentration camps. How many trains & box cars will the state have to commandeer to haul them?

  8. “They must think that if Everyone knows you own a gun then you will be sooo ashamed. . .”

    Maybe a good tactic would be for hundreds of people to send in letters-to-the-editor saying simply “I just want to make sure my name wasn’t missed.”

  9. Hello folks, please remember that maybe well over 90% of more of gun owners are proud of it and don’t have to hide it under a bushel for business, personal, or family reasons. They actively encourage others to take up shooting hobbies, too. But there are also people who must keep their gun ownership secret, especially women who have been on the receiving end of violent crime. Just because those of us who post on blogs like this are happy and glad to be known as gun owners, there are people in far more dire circumstances. The “shaming” dialogue does a disservice.

    1. Wait, we’re talking about anti-gun advocates who are actively trying to use registries and public shaming strategies in order to turn people off of owning a gun, and our conversation about this trend – in and outside of the gun issue – is a disservice? Explain, please. What exact language did you read that has someone trying to “shame” a gun owner who chooses to remain private for personal reasons? I’m lost in where you are going with this.

  10. Law has always been used as a tool to shame certain subgroups in this country.

    The power of the law ostracized non-Puritan believers in colonial New England. Heck, they fricking HUNG non-believers publicly from time to time (google “Mary Dyer,” a woman who dared by Quaker in Massachusetts…).

    The law has traditionally been used in this country, until relatively recently, segregate and limit racial minorities.

    These are groups that just wanted to exercise what we now view as natural rights, too…

    The Constitution was supposed to take such laws off the table. Sometimes it has proven effective. Sometimes it is not effective at restraining vindictive majorities, which is why the founders put in three branches of government, a federal system with sovereign states, and the 2A.

    1. To be fair to Puritan Massachusetts, the Quaker women who were executed were not just minding their own business. Like many Quakers in the pre-George Fox era, they were actively disrupting Puritan church services, sometimes every Sunday. Some early Quakers were so convinced of their own correctness that they regarded all other forms as apostate, and in England at least, disrupted services of other churches by walking in wearing nothing but a layer of ashes.

      The Quaker women hung by Massachusetts had been expelled from the colony before for this, had been warned not to return, had been given multiple chances during the trial to leave, and were given a last chance to do so on the morning of execution — and still preferred execution to leaving.

      There is a strong tendency to imagine early dissenters as being tolerant and gentle unoffending sorts. Often they were not. Roger Williams as tolerant dissenter is not quite the same “I’m right, and you are wrong” sort that was kicked out of both Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies.

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