When it comes to the Second Amendment, conservatives insist that despite liberal arguments that more gun control will prevent firearm violence, the constitutional rights of citizens cannot be infringed upon.
Conservatives are right.
From the First Amendment to the Tenth Amendment, both well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning voices have often made what sound like reasonable requests to diminish freedoms in the name of societal goods. Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union was told it must choose between “free speech” and “racial justice” if it insisted on being First Amendment purists when it came to the white nationalist alt-right.
It’s not unreasonable to not want to defend racists. But the principle of freedom of expression still matters—even the freedom to express disgusting things—and the ACLU was right to resist this backlash.
In 2013, a federal judge ruled that the New York City police tactic of Stop-and-Frisk was unconstitutional because it violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on illegal searches and seizures. It was good to have such a ruling, but the notion that police officers could search random people based on nothing more than a hunch should have struck everyone as unconstitutional from the get-go. In America, you can’t just stop passersby (so many of whom were innocent) and intrude on their personal spaces and lives in brute fashion.
As part of his 2013 mayoral campaign that year, Democrat Bill de Blasio vowed to end the practice, something many in law enforcement and on the political right insisted would inevitably spike crime. That isn’t what happened. Today crime is down in New York City significantly, to levels not seen since the 1950s.
So kudos to National Review’s critic-at-large Kyle Smith for recently admitting his publication was wrong for supporting Stop-and-Frisk:
Today in New York City, use of stop-and-frisk, which the department justified via the 1968 Terry v. Ohio Supreme Court ruling, has crashed. Yet the statistics are clear: Crime is lower than ever. It’s possible that crime would be even lower had stop-and-frisk been retained, but that’s moving the goalposts. I and others argued that crime would rise. Instead, it fell. We were wrong.
Those of all ideological persuasions should respect anyone who has the guts to admit he was incorrect, and my purpose here is not to undermine in any way an important concession from an esteemed conservative journal about an awful police practice.
Nevertheless, de Blasio was correct in saying the city could withstand a sharp decrease in stop-and-frisk. And he was right to draw attention to the social cost of the practice; more than 80 percent of those subjected to stop-and-frisk since the start of the Bloomberg administration were, according to the NYPD, completely innocent. That means hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers were unjustly subjected to embarrassment or even humiliation.
Remember, respecting constitutional rights in toto would have prevented such embarrassment and humiliation in the first place. And it isn’t just the right that’s struggled with the Bill of Rights’ protections. Every liberal I know thinks it’s necessary to infringe on (or at least distort by pretending their actions don’t constitute infringement) the Second Amendment in order to lower gun crime. Significant portions of the illiberal authoritarian left now think free speech is no longer sacrosanct.
The basic freedom of a man or woman to walk down the streets of New York or any other city without fear of being harassed by law enforcement is something we should all be able to agree on and defend. There are no exceptions great enough to dismiss that principle. It’s why we have a Fourth Amendment in the first place.
I’m not such a libertarian purist that I believe the scale between liberty and security should always tilt in the direction I prefer, particularly in times of crisis. But not every moment is a crisis. Government will always tend towards exploiting our fear to take away our constitutional rights: mass shootings, murderous white supremacists, urban crime.
It’s good that crime has not risen in New York City with the demise of Stop-and-Frisk. It’s good, too, that National Review is admitting it was wrong to support that heinous policy. But conservatives must remember going forward that invoking the Second Amendment to defend gun rights or the Tenth Amendment to defend states’ rights means you must also back the Fourth Amendment—even if it positions you against those you cherish and support.
Jack Hunter is the political editor of Rare.us.