Trump’s Wrong on Muslims and Guns

Nobody expects a president to be a constitutional scholar. If our current chief executive is any guide it ought to be considered disqualifying -- though Obama’s claims to constitutional knowledge and scholarship are actually much thinner than the parchment upon which that document is written.  So Donald Trump’s lack of constitutional erudition is not in itself terribly disturbing. What’s more problematic is his seeming lack of interest in the topic, and as is the case in other areas, a stubborn unwillingness to learn. Trump, on the other hand, has been winging it successfully so far, at least as a political matter, but this trait is coming back to bite him, as it did recently on the issues of guns and Muslims. 

Our republic is deliberately not efficient. A monarch or dictator is much more capable in theory of keeping the trains running and the population physically safe, than deliberately the convoluted constitutional system that governs the United States. Part of that inefficiency is our rights. They sometimes impact what seem to be practically sensible policies on both the right and the left. In recent days Trump has run afoul of this principle from both ends of the political spectrum.  

Trump announced his position on Muslim immigration long ago, to condemnation on the left and from many conservatives as well. He doubled down on this stance shortly after making it initially, and again after the Orlando massacre, adding (somewhat more sensibly) that he would also ban immigration from countries with a proven history of producing terrorists.   

The problem is not whether Trump’s proposals are sensible or not -- in many respects they are reasonable. Terrorism in today’s world (and in America) is overwhelmingly an Islamic phenomenon. As a practical matter, the country is under regular attack by Muslim terrorists, who are largely either recent immigrants or the children of recent immigrants. Banning Muslim immigrants logically ought to reduce the risk of such terrorism. 

However, it is a position that simply cannot be defended constitutionally. The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion. A law that effectively bans one confessional group from entering the United States, and thereby obtaining a path to citizenship, will not pass constitutional muster.  The formula that most terrorists are Muslim, but that most Muslims are not terrorists -- which also states an objective truth -- produces a result that makes banning Muslim immigration legally indefensible, no matter how satisfying it may be on an emotional or practical level. 

Defending this constitutional principle means putting Americans at greater risk, because as a practical matter, not banning Muslim immigration will probably result in death and injury to Americans that would not otherwise occur. That is part of the price we pay for our freedoms. 

Since the Founders recognized that liberty was a risky business, they added to the Constitution an additional means for the people to protect themselves, without reliance on the government, which may or may not prove “efficient” or sensitive to all their needs -- the right to keep and bear arms. 

This right -- enumerated in the Constitution just after those of speech, religion, press and assembly -- has been the unremitting target of the left for obliteration for at least the past half-century, precisely because it is the lynchpin of America’s unique and historically unprecedented liberties. Of course, it’s only the rare leftist that will come out and say that.  Instead, anytime the emotionalism of a violent tragedy provides an opportunity, Democrat politicians and their media helpmates propose limiting the 2d Amendment in the name of “common sense” and “safety.” 

Sometimes those limits sound pretty reasonable, as demand to ban the sale of firearms for people on the “no fly list.” If you can’t be trusted to fly in a commercial airliner, then it stands to reason you can’t be trusted to purchase a firearm. This proposition attracted Trump, whose overall view of the matter seems to be more Manhattan than Montana. That’s understandable on a personal level, since it reflects Trump’s reality, even as he insists his sons are different. Of course, he is up for election, not his boys. 

American citizens don’t have a constitutional right to fly on airplanes, any more than they have a right to drive a car. They do have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. So despite the seeming “sense” of the proposal, it is not constitutional. Months ago the rabidly pro-gun control Washington Post called the Democrat position on this issue false, its Fact Checker giving it two pinocchios.     

The NRA and millions American gun owners understand this. The only way you can take gun rights away from a citizen without due process is if you don’t regard the 2d Amendment as coequal to the other Amendments. If Mr. Trump intends to maintain the endorsement of that organization and those tens of millions of gun owners, he needs to understand that.

More than that, what the NRA and 2d Amendment defenders understand, but Trump does not, is that the gun control debate is a zero-sum game. Every loss to any element of our 2d Amendment rights is damaging, because the other side is not is not operating in good faith. The Democrats want to abolish the 2d Amendment. They can’t do that, so instead they nibble away at it. It’s not a negotiation, any more than being attacked by a pack of wolves is a negotiation.  It is a matter of fighting off the attack or being consumed.

Now it is true that ISIS and the radical Muslim terrorists it inspires in this country have recently taken advantage of our 2d Amendment freedoms to obtain and use legal semi-automatic guns with which to attack their fellow citizens. As a purely practical matter it is not clear that this a greater problem than the Islamic terrorists who have managed to obtain even more powerful actual (automatic) assault rifles and machine pistols to attack civilians in places like France, Belgium, and Israel -- all states that have highly restrictive gun laws. 

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the proposition is true. Then as a practical matter, our 2d Amendment freedoms will result in some Americans becoming victims of Islamic terrorist gunmen, just as not banning Muslim immigration will have the same consequence. Defending both freedoms requires taking some risks. A people unwilling to do so, will not long remain a free people. 

The gun-banning Democrats on the left are as wrong about limiting our 2d Amendment rights as Trump is about banning Muslim immigration. Sadly, Trump has managed to get himself on the wrong side of both issues. His heart may be in the right place, but his emotionalism is more a trait of the left than that of traditional American conservatism, which is the last best hope of preserving what rights remain to us. And Trump’s apparent unwillingness to mount a more conventional campaign, to admit mistakes, or to accept advice from advisors, does not bode well for his prospects in a general election against a fundamentally weak but well-supported, disciplined, and aggressive opponent who would surely coddle Islamists and do her best to eviscerate the 2d Amendment.