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Terrorists Attacked Gun Control Movement

"I think all women oughta carry a cell phone and a three-fifty-seven. Loaded."

So declares a woman interviewed by The New Republic's Michelle Cottle.

That statement seems to sum up the post-Sept. 11 attitude toward gun control. Things were already tough for the gun-control movement. Convinced that Al Gore's strong anti-gun stance had cost the Democratic Party the 2000 election, the Democratic Leadership Council had already called for a softer line on gun control. Bill Clinton and former White House spokesman Joe Lockhart had pronounced Gore's stance a mistake. Meanwhile, product-liability suits brought against gun manufacturers were failing miserably in courts from New York to California.

These, however, were all tactical defeats. The gun-control movement could still boast the loyalty of most of the media; favorable treatment from the courts on Second Amendment cases; the strong support of women; and a new book by a celebrated historian that claimed guns weren't important to the framers of the U.S. Constitution. Most important of all, the movement resonated with the Rosie O' Donnell culture of "niceness" that assumed that the best way to avoid harm was to be harmless.

But now all of this has changed. Though gun-control groups have tried to capitalize on the Sept. 11 attacks, those attempts have misfired. Tom Diaz of the Violence Policy Center tried to claim that Barrett Firearms had sold .50 caliber sniper rifles to Usama bin Laden. Not many in the media bought this, which was a good thing since it turned out that those rifles had actually been sold to the United States Government.

Even lamer was the claim that the Sept. 11 attacks were an argument for closing the (nonexistent) "gun show loophole." This claim, made first in a Brady Campaign press release and then in a suspiciously similar op-ed  bearing the byline of former Clinton Administration official Eric Holder, just plain flopped. Nobody could be persuaded that Usama bin Laden’s boys would have trouble laying their hands on an AK-47, regardless of what rules govern gun shows.

The much-touted book by Michael Bellesiles, Arming America—which claimed the framers of the Constitution must not have intended the Second Amendment to protect an individual right to own guns because private gun ownership was exceedingly rare at the time — also lost most of its resonance when legal historians and reporters at the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, and National Review concluded that it was based on false, and possibly fraudulent, evidence.

Bellesiles’ employer, Emory University, says that a prima facie case of academic misconduct has been made out, and is requiring him to explain himself.

Nor have the courts been much help. On Oct. 16, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit released its opinion in the case of United States v. Emerson , holding that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own a gun. The opinion is long, scholarly, and careful in its dissection of flawed reasoning in earlier decisions by other courts.

As a result, according to Michael Barone, "It will now be very hard–I would say impossible–for any intellectually honest judge to rule that the Second Amendment means nothing."

These are all serious defeats, and would have left the gun-control movement reeling all by themselves. But it is the change in the culture since Sept. 11 that has probably been the most damaging to the gun control movement’s project of removing guns from the hands of ordinary Americans. 

Properly understood, the gun control movement has always rested on certain essentially religious notions (indeed, though it is little publicized, much of the gun-control movement’s financial and institutional support comes from non-evangelical Protestant denominations). These notions are that violence – even against a criminal – is always bad, that ordinary people are not to be trusted, and that it is best to let the authorities look out for you. 

In addition, the movement has always contained a rather strong undercurrent of hostility toward traditional American standards of masculinity, of which it sees the gun as a symbol. 

It is here that things seem to have changed the most. Americans have learned that being harmless does not guarantee that they will not be harmed: in fact, it seems that terrorists (like ordinary criminals) actually prefer victims who cannot strike back.

The heroism of ordinary people in the aftermath of the attacks has also undercut the gun control movement’s elitist notions that ordinary Americans are dangerous, violent rubes who must be kept under control. (The absurdity of the chattering classes, with their exaggerated panic over anthrax mail and the ridiculous posturing of some peace advocates, has also served to give elitism a bad name). 

According to reports, 75% of Americans want pilots to be armed , and Americans are voting against gun control with their pocketbooks as they rush out in large numbers to buy guns, many for the first time in their lives. 

An Oct. 15 Zogby poll found that 56% of Americans feel the National Rifle Association speaks for them at least some of the time, and 66% feel that people who have passed a background check and taken a safety course should be able to carry a gun on their person or in their car.

Another poll of 1,000 people conducted by The Polling Company between October 11-14 found that 45% valued their Second Amendment rights "much more" (31%) or "somewhat more" (14%) since Sept.  11, while only 5% valued their Second Amendment rights "somewhat less" (3%) or "much less" (2%). 

And, as Patricia Leigh Brown writes in the New York Times , manly men are back. What’s more, they’re at the forefront of our defense against terrorism in the skies, as the Times reports in another article. A hostility toward traditional American masculinity is no longer a workable basis for a political movement.

Worse yet, from the gun control movement’s standpoint, even the women are acting manly. As the quote that I opened this column with illustrates, American women are being particularly bellicose this time.

Maybe it’s the Taliban, with their nasty hostility to women. Maybe it’s just that this is the first major attack on the United States since feminism took hold. But whatever it is, the gloves are off, and the Rosie O’Donnell culture of passivity is dead. That means that efforts to stigmatize gun ownership as promoting violence, or vigilantism, or unseemly masculinity, are now sure to fail. That’s bad news for the gun control movement. But it’s worse news for the Taliban.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds is Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee College of Law, and writes for the InstaPundit.Com web site.

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