Current Events

Stop Banning Muslims, Stop Banning Guns

The debate over President Trump’s travel ban and the debate over gun control look surprisingly similar – except for who’s on which side.

In each case, supporters of the policy argue that it’s necessary in order to prevent incidents of lethal violence, while opponents argue, first, that the policy’s likely impact on such incidents is overstated, and second, that it’s unjust to restrict the freedom of a vast group, most members of which are peaceful and innocent, merely on the grounds that a small percentage of that group’s members might turn violent.

When the vast group in question is Muslim immigrants and would-be immigrants, those defending restrictive policies tend to be Republicans, and those in opposition tend to be Democrats.

On the other hand, when the vast group in question is gun owners and would-be gun owners, those defending restrictive policies tend to be Democrats, and those in opposition tend to be Republicans.

Yet it’s hard to see how the two cases differ in fundamental principle. Either the state is justified in disrupting, micromanaging, and in many cases endangering large numbers of innocent lives for the sake of a speculative chance of blocking a small number of criminals, or it isn’t. The rights and wrongs of such a case can’t magically reverse themselves depending on whether it’s gun owners or Muslim immigrants who are being targeted.

Notice, too, how similar are the rhetorical appeals made by proponents of restrictive policies in both cases. “Look into the eyes of families impacted by gun violence,” many Democrats urge, “and consider how you can dare to support the rights of gun owners in the face of these victims’ suffering.” Or again: “Look into the eyes of families impacted by domestic terrorism,” many Republicans urge, “and consider how you can dare to support the rights of Muslim immigrants in the face of these victims’ suffering.” Each side finds such emotional blackmail convincing in one case, while rightly remaining unmoved by it in the other. For such appeals invariably blur the distinction between an innocent many and a criminal few.

The pragmatic aspects of the two policies are similar also. A travel ban’s likely impact on terrorist acts is questionable, given that most recent acts of terrorism within the United States have been homegrown (and given that many of those blocked from entry are potential allies against terrorism). Similarly, gun control’s likely impact on gun violence is questionable, given the existence of a thriving black market in guns (and given gun ownership’s role as a deterrent to crime). In both cases, the cost of government action is a curtailing of freedom for millions of harmless people, while the benefits appear scanty.

Liberals and conservatives both display inconsistency; each group employs arguments in connection with one issue, that they forcefully reject in connection with the other issue.

When Donald Trump’s son compared the risks of letting in Syrian refugees to eating Skittles from a bowl in which a small number of Skittles were poisonous, liberals were properly outraged, pointing out that such a comparison was not only insulting but also grossly exaggerated the risks involved. Yet liberal support for gun control is based on the same logic as the Skittles comparison – sacrificing the freedom of the many in order to ward off a potential threat from the few – and likewise ignores evidence of gross exaggeration of risks.

Liberals who rightly oppose Trump’s travel ban should consider looking at their own support for gun control through the same analytic lens. And conservatives who rightly oppose gun control should likewise consider looking at their own support for Trump’s travel ban through that same analytic lens.

Travel bans use the violent actions of a few as a pretext to victimize millions of peaceful Muslims. Gun control laws use the violent actions of a few as a pretext to victimize millions of peaceful gun owners. Neither policy has any place in a free society.

Published on:
Author: Roderick Long
  • Pingback: Stop Banning Muslims, Stop Banning Guns | Austro-Athenian Empire()

  • LLC

    I have long contended that the more ideological a person is, the more they must engage in massive acts of willful self blindness.

    • bladedoc

      It is my contention that libertarians are just as ideological except they (we) use liberty as a touchstone as compared to the left-liberal weak/strong/fair paradigm or the conservative duties/rights/state one

      • LLC

        I absolutely agree. I’d not meant to exempt libertarians.

      • Theresa Klein

        Libertarians also use fairness as paradigm. Something like, liberty/rights/fairness maybe. It’s not really liberty if only certain people have rights.

  • bladedoc

    From a libertarian perspective this piece makes sense, however from ANY OTHER perspective it is arrant nonsense if you do not accept the priors that makes libertarians libertarian.

    From a left-liberal perspective, immigration of oppressed minorities is seen from a power differential perspective (poor, oppressed people have a right to seek asylum and the role of government is to protect the weak). The gun issue is the same; the government’s duty is to protect the victim of gun violence from the threat thereof. “Liberty” as such is not an issue (nor AFAICT is it a left-liberal value to any great extent).

    From a conservative right perspective the “gun control” issue is one of protection of the citizen from government interference in a clear right enshrined in the constitution. There is no such right of immigration and conservatives make a clear distinction between citizens and non-citizens generally believing that the state has the duty to put citizens’ benefit and protection above that of non-citizens.

    Saying that “if you accept the core concept of liberty as the driving value that should govern policy preferences” and then showing that a certain set of preferences should result is mere navel gazing or choir preaching.

    • Puppet’s Puppet

      It would perhaps have best been addressed at those who do accept libertarian priors. Most of the best political or applied ethics literature in general is similarly narrowly tailored, and certainly most of the best posts here are. And it would do some real work, too, since many (perhaps most) self-identified libertarians do not believe in open borders; and many (OK, exactly one–Jason Brennan) do not believe in gun rights.

      That said, this is the United States of America. Most people who do not identify as libertarians do not go around saying, “Fuck freedom. I do not give a rat’s ass about how many people’s lives I disrupt,” even saying this about issues where they take the side that happens to be pro-liberty. (At least, they don’t say this quite yet.) They do not display that kind of “purity,” however much libertarians might sometimes imagine they do. Making people who might ridicule a “Skittles argument” for one issue think about whether they have been indulging in one for another can be a fruitful project. Not saying it’s entirely successful in this case, but that’s the idea.

    • Unpoco

      I appreciate the choir preaching because I’m new to this choir and it helps give form to my latent ideology. And I like the comments even more because they take the argument deeper. Thanks all around.

    • Theresa Klein

      I think of it from the perspective of the individual affected. “How much does not being able to immigrate to another country affect my life (assuming I’m a person who wants to move somewhere else)?” vs. “How much does not being able to own a gun affect my life (assuming I’m a person who wants to own a gun)?”

      Both are certainly significant impacts, but it seems clear to me that one is a significantly bigger harm than the other.

  • Puppet’s Puppet

    Can anyone help? I’m seeing an anti-gun control post, but I’m also seeing the BHL logo at the top. Am I having a problem with my browser, or with Disqus? Is anyone else experiencing this?

  • JP

    It’s not obvious to me that the liberal is inconsistent at this point. Some liberties, she might say, are worth protecting, and some aren’t. Religious freedom yes; gun ownership, no. (She might offer many reasons for the asymmetry.) The proponent of gun ownership needs to convince her opponent either that liberty per se is worth respecting, and so, a fortiori, so too the liberty to own firearms, or she needs to make a particular case for the value of the liberty to own firearms.

    • Farstrider

      Agreed. And if “liberty per se is worth respecting” to the degree suggested above, then all coercive laws (meaning: all laws) are forbidden.

      • Theresa Klein

        I think the question is whether owning a gun causes harm to others in itself. You can make a statistical case that gun ownership creates risk and that risk is involuntarily imposed upon unconsenting individuals. But is a statistical case sufficient? At what level of statistical probability that activity A (i.e. gun ownership) will cause harm to other people do we decide that activity A needs to be restricted? It’s pretty clear that an activity which has a 99% probability of killing innocent bystanders should be banned, so what do we do about an activity that has a 0.3% probability of killing innocent bystanders?

        • Farstrider

          I agree with you, but I do not think many on this board would. Asking the question as you have framed it means you are open to the idea of regulating a whole host of activities provided they are sufficiently dangerous to others. Those dangers are, at least in theory, empirical matters that can be answered. We may be able to debate some of the facts, and some advocates (we call them slurs like “Republicans” and “Fox News”) will just deny the answers when they are inconvenient, but the important thing about what you are saying is that the answer lies not in doctrinaire defense of “liberty,” but in a cost-benefit analysis rooted in facts.

          • Theresa Klein

            Well, Nozick answers this in Anarchy State and Utopia, not by banning or regulating those activities, but by requiring those engaging in them to carry liability insurance sufficient to cover the risk. Most libertarians do support tort law and liability as important features of a libertarian society.

          • Farstrider

            If you assume that money can, say, adequately compensate a parent for the loss of their child, then sure, insurance sounds great. But that fundamental premise is questionable.

          • Hollis Butts

            Cars and insurance? Surely liability insurance can not adequately compensate the parent for the loss of their child.

          • Farstrider

            Hollis, that is why we have traffic laws and auto insurance: because sane people recognize that money is not enough to make people whole for every loss.

  • DBritt

    How about this dream scenario: We decide that it is sometimes necessary to limit liberties for the greater good. But instead of having ideological arguments about how to do that, we study the issue carefully and determine exactly what limitations lead to the least loss of liberty and the greatest outcome in terms of public safety and then implement those.

    In other words, I don’t think a blanket argument about liberty is the right approach here (you may wind up finding cases where you feel the limitation is justified, maybe e.g. speed limits). I would heavily admonish both sides for choosing whether to support a policy based more on its ideological contents than its actual effectiveness.

  • As others have pointed out, despite the analogies there is also a disanalogy. The gun issue concerns what it is permissible for the state to do to its citizens, the immigration issue concerns what it is permissible for the state to do to people who are not its citizens. One may consistently be both anti- gun-control and pro-immigration-control.

    • AP²

      Exactly. And conversely, to many liberals, banning immigration concerns whether it’s ethically permissible to separate families and condemn people to live in shitty places, whereas the gun ban is about whether it’s ethically permissible to take away people’s toys.

      In the end, both sides think there are fundamental differences between the two cases, and therefore it’s futile to claim hypocrisy.

      • Theresa Klein

        Yes, there’s also a difference of opinion about whether non-citizens are human beings entitled to the same human rights as citizens. Or whether rights are even universal at all, or of they only belong to “Americans”.

    • Nathan Goodman

      But this ignores that immigration controls also restrict the freedom of citizens by regulating who they may hire, who they may rent an apartment to, who they may sell an airline ticket to, and so on.

      • I don’t think that affects my point. Put it this way: the gun issue concerns only what it is permissible for the state to do to its
        citizens, the immigration issue concerns also what it is permissible for the
        state to do to people who are not its citizens.

        • Puppet’s Puppet

          You just restated your earlier point nearly verbatim without addressing Mr. Goodman’s objection. He denies the premise that immigration controls only “concern what it is permissible for the state to do to people who are not its citizens.”

          He’s wrong, of course; simply dressing one’s inability to do something in the language of “freedom” and “regulations” does not lend it moral import, reifying it into some sort of right in the liberal conception that has been violated. And even if I’m wrong about this, the point still stands that supporters of immigration controls do not think that I am. Therefore they are not guilty of some sort of “hypocrisy,” or of an inconsistency that they could recognize merely by reading this article, but rather of a deeper flaw in reasoning that this article merely begs.

          • I re-stated my point in a way which took account of Nathan’s objection. It looks as if you mis-read it.

          • Puppet’s Puppet

            Ah, you’re right. But I think that’s partially because, as written, I can’t really make sense of it.

            Your original point referenced people who are anti-gun control and pro-immigration control. Not vice versa. You write, “The gun issue concerns what it is permissible for the state to do to its
            citizens, the immigration issue concerns what it is permissible for the
            state to do to people who are not its citizens.” Naturally, both Nathan and I assumed that the force of this to be that the gun issue concerns what it is permissible for the state to do to its citizens, whereas the immigration issue concerns only what it is permissible for the state to do to its noncitizens, because that is the only way what you said makes sense.

            If the point instead is that the gun issue concerns only citizens, whereas you are granting that the immigration issue also concerns citizens, but it may also concern noncitizens… Well, first of all, I don’t really see how the gun issue does only concern citizens, but far more importantly: If immigration restrictions affect a wider group of people, if “immigration control concerns what the state may do” to a wider group of people, how could that fact possibly be a difference that suggests that immigration control would be less problematic? Which is clearly the work you are trying to make it do here, in defense of the consistency of people who oppose gun restrictions but favor immigration restrictions. So I don’t think Nathan and I in our wildest dreams thought you were trying to say that, which is why we assumed what we did.

          • I think this is getting a bit convoluted. It is not a matter of the number of people affected. It is a matter of whether the people affected are citizens of the state or not.

            People may have different reasons for thinking it is important what state an individual belongs to. Here, briefly, are mine. The existence of individual persons presupposes an institutional structure in which they came to be. Any institutional structure in which persons can flourish includes a state. The world is too big for there to be a world state which does what it is the purpose of a state to do. Therefore, there ought to be numerous states, each with its own citizens and a circumscribed jurisdiction. So, as far as states are concerned, immigrants have a different status to citizens (and perhaps other residents) and control (or not) of immigration thus raises some different or additional issues to those raised by the question of gun control.

            What libertarians, and political phlosophers generally (especially social-contract theorists), tend to overlook is the institutional presuppositions of personhood. If you are interested, I have a critique of John Searle’s ‘construction of social reality’ in which I spell out some of that. It is available here:
            https://www.academia.edu/26222060/Are_Institutions_Created_by_Collective_Acceptance_A_Critique_of_Searle

          • Puppet’s Puppet

            I don’t see what is so convoluted about it.

            Measure G potentially infringes upon the rights of Group 1. Measure I potentially infringes not only upon their rights but upon the rights of some people outside the group as well–upon the rights of Group 1 plus Group 2, that is. Therefore, it is perfectly consistent to be against Measure G but for Measure I.

            This was absolutely the form of your original argument. It’s not at all “convoluted,” and it makes absolutely no sense as far as I can see. No, it’s not “a matter of the number of people affected,” as in the cardinality. I never said anything of the kind. It is about sets and supersets (indeed, about “whether or not the people are citizens of the state,” as you say), and about what is damn near close to logic. Your further explanations are taking us further away from clarifying this simple matter, not towards it.

          • Cardinality, sets, supersets – aren’t those abstractions unnecessary for our discussion? It seems that you have a tendency to convolution, whether you realise it or not.

            Your representation of the form of my argument is mistaken. I said that it is consistent to hold both of the following
            (1) it is impermissible for the state to tighten gun controls;
            (2) it is permissible for the state to tighten immigration controls.

            There are, I guess, numerous different self-consistent positions that combine (1) and (2). Some of them, I guess, will not refer at all to the rights of people belonging to different groups (some forms of utilitarianism or some forms of rule-utilitarianism, for instance). But even someone who insists that tightening gun controls is impermissible because it violates the rights of the citizens can also hold (2), because he may argue that immigration controls violate no one’s rights.

            The existence of states with borders means that the question of immigration control raises an issue (legitimate border-crossings) that is not raised by the question of gun control. It’s a simple point; but one which, as I said before, libertarians and others tend to overlook if they do not see that persons and institutions are mutually implicative.

          • King Goat

            Your last paragraph of course implies that the question of tariffs and gun control ‘raises an issue’ that would allow libertarians to take the position that one is ok and the other is not. But libertarians are not ‘bordertarians.’

          • That is true. But there can be grounds (I think there are) for treating the two issues (tariffs and immigration) differently.

          • King Goat

            Oh, I’m sure you think that.

          • Puppet’s Puppet

            I said that it is consistent to hold both of the following
            (1) it is impermissible for the state to tighten gun controls;
            (2) it is permissible for the state to tighten immigration controls.

            Yes, you did, and you specifically said this was because “the gun issue concerns only what it is permissible for the state to do to its citizens, the immigration issue concerns also what it is permissible for the state to do to people who are not its citizens” (emphasis mine). That is specifically, verbatim what you invoked by way of explanation/justification of your position. Yes, obviously if one thinks (2) is permissible he will not think it infringes on anyone’s actual rights, but your argument was that immigration restriction concerns “what the state may do” to a wider group of people than with gun control; therefore one may hold it to be permissible while gun control is impermissible. Which, again, makes absolutely no sense. And it is what you clearly said.

            Abstraction is perhaps the central technique of philosophical practice. “Cardinality,” “sets,” and “supersets” are not some sort of arcane, confusing bits of conceptual jargon; they are extremely simple, rigorously defined (hence their use in clarification) terms that are regularly taught to elementary school children in both our countries, and are regularly recruited into use in every single area of modern philosophy. You are utterly the first philosopher I have encountered in my entire career to rebuke the use of them as some sort of confusing, “unnecessary” tool that is contributing “convolution” to a discussion. Utterly the first.

            Can someone help me if I’m missing something? I feel like I’m fucking taking crazy pills here.

          • When you say,

            ‘your argument was that immigration restriction concerns “what the state may do” to a wider group of people than with gun control; therefore one may hold it to be permissible while gun control is impermissible’

            you are imposing on my argument a form it did not have. There was no inference from the fact that one group is wider. The relevant contrast was between citizens of the state and non-citizens of the state. I agree, though, that I could have put it more clearly.

            There is a place for set theory. But it is a pointless complication to introduce it here. And it is not so simple: simple set theory leads to the paradoxes. All manner of weird, usually ad hoc, complications have been introduced to try to avoid them.

            Formalisation always risks introducing new errors, because transposition of the unformalised material into a formal counterpart is always a conjecture. That is one of the earliest lessons learned by students of symbolic logic: some plainly valid arguments come out invalid when formalised. That can be because the student has chosen an inappropriate form or because the formal system is inadequate to the material being formalised. The latter is one of the things that drives the development of logic and mathematics.

            I am sorry that I am utterly the first philosopher you have encountered in your entire
            career to point out these things. Perhaps I am the first philosopher you have encountered who has studied symbolc logic in some depth.

          • Puppet’s Puppet

            Well, logic is my AOS so no, probably not. I assure you, neither logical nor set-theoretical paradoxes have the slightest relevance to what either one of us has been discussing. Simply invoking the elementary-school notion of one set (here, a set of persons) being a subset of another, in order to precisify/disambiguate language, is not grounds for throwing up one’s hands and saying, “Set theory! Well, that brings up all kinds of paradoxes!” Indeed, I have never heard such a simple, elementary notion as this even bestowed with the distinction of “doing set theory.” (I must likewise apologize for the “theory of algebraic groups” Goat engaged in with his talk of Y plus Z, and hope it was not too misleading.) But if you must: Yes, naïve theory is very often perfectly adequate.

            Your subsequent observations, while rather awkwardly put, appear to be basically true. One may indeed make mistakes in the process of abstraction, and one may abstract correctly but abstract away a relevant detail. These are the hazards of the process. But, on to the details.

            Your original “relevant contrast” was that gun control affects citizens of the state, whereas immigration control affects citizens of the state and noncitizens of the state. And that this very fact (you had mentioned no other at this point) is somehow helpful to the anti-gun-control, pro-immigration-control advocate. And I am saying that no argument of that form–whereby one says, oh, note that Measure G concerns what the state has the right to do to Population A, whereas Measure I concerns what the state has the right do to Population A in addition to Population B; therefore one might well support Measure I but oppose Measure G–makes any sense whatsoever. Potentially affecting the rights of a broader group of persons, no matter what that group happens to be, can only, by virtue of that distinction, make it worse.

            Of course, as I mentioned to Goat, there could well be other qualities of the measures that make the broader-affecting measure permissible whereas the narrower-affecting measure is not. The broader-affecting measure could very well indeed happen to not infringe on any rights. It just would not do so by virtue of the population it concerns, which was indeed your original claim.

          • I don’t see why you are making this such heavy going. You just insist that my argument has a particular form when I have pointed out that it does not. You say:

            ‘Your original “relevant contrast” was that gun control affects citizens of the state, whereas immigration control affects citizens of the state and noncitizens of the state.’

            But that is not so. Here is my original contrast:

            ‘The gun issue concerns what it is permissible for the state to do to its citizens, the immigration issue concerns what it is permissible for the state to do to people who are not its citizens.’

            Nathan objected that immigration controls also restrict the citizens of the
            state. So I reformulated the point:

            ‘the gun issue concerns only what it is permissible for the state to do to its citizens, the immigration issue concerns also what it is permissible for the state to do to people who are not its citizens.’

            The aim, it ought to be clear, is to point out that the two issues involve
            people with different statuses, so there is not, as Roderick implied, a
            straightforward analogy between the two cases.

            Notice, that I do not say in the last-quoted passage that:

            in gun control, the state applies a rule to its citizens; but, in immigration control, the state applies the same rule to its citizens and to immigrants.

            I do not say that because it is plainly false. But that, or something like it, is what you keep attributing to me when you invoke Venn diagrams. I also said nothing about rights or rights-infringement in the quoted passages, but you keep attributing such claims to me too.

          • Puppet’s Puppet

            Yes, “people with different statuses,” but more precisely, one is a superset of the other. And again, expanding the set of persons affected (affected in whatever fashion) can only make things worse–if we are speaking, that is, specifically about the matter of which persons are affected. I said nothing about “the same rule” or any such thing.

          • Rob Gressis

            So, Danny writes this: “the gun issue concerns only what it is permissible for the state to do to its citizens, the immigration issue concerns also what it is permissible for the state to do to people who are not its citizens.”

            Maybe his point would be made clearer if he explained in what ways the state relates to its citizens via gun control, vs. the ways in which the state relates to its citizens via immigration restrictions?

            I’m naive about how gun control and border restrictions work, but here’s a first gloss (and here I’m imagining “gun control” to mean that the state is permitted to impose a complete bun on gun ownership, and border control to mean that the state is permitted to impose a complete ban on immigration):

            (1) With gun control, the state can say to its citizens: you may not own a particular kind of property; you may not buy this property from other citizens; and you may not use this kind of property.
            (2) With border restrictions, the state can say to its citizens: you may not hire non-citizens who come here.

            In (1), the state is saying to its citizens, “here are things you may not do yourselves or with each other”; in (2), the state is saying to its citizens, “here are things you may not do with non-citizens”.

            Unless you can point out a way in which (2) also involves the state saying to its citizens that there are things they cannot do with other citizens, then it seems that Danny has pointed to a relevant disanalogy between gun and border control.

          • Puppet’s Puppet

            Wow! Thanks for reading this far into such an arcane and completely unimportant tangent that I led myself down; I certainly never imagined anyone would have any interest in doing so!

            I would say that “the immigration issue concerns also what it is permissible for the state to do to people who are not its citizens” would be a stupendously unclear way for him to have described what you are saying. Unclear to the point of bizarre; and bizarre, in turn, to the point of it simply not fitting. But, after experiencing this interaction, I have to admit I would not at all be surprised if he indeed did mean that. Or much of anything else, come to think about it.

            But, again, all he had to do was say what you did, instead of…whatever that was. Look how utterly simply and clearly you stated it! Seriously, that was fucking surreal. I’ve never experienced anything remotely like it before–certainly not in my wildest dreams from another philosopher. It certainly hasn’t brought out the best in me, for my part. So once again, thanks for helping me out here! Your point, of course, is a good one.

          • Rob Gressis

            First, I really enjoyed the exchange between you two. That said, I’m a bit surprised at your remark that “I’ve never experienced anything remotely like it before–certainly not in my wildest dreams from another philosopher.” I’ve definitely experienced exchanges like this. In fact, I just gave a talk at the Central APA, and Helga Varden, who, from what I can tell, is a good philosopher, raised a question three times about my presentation that everybody else seemed to understand except me. I still don’t understand it.

            I agree that my reconstruction doesn’t fit easily with what he initially said (which he admitted was incorrectly put), and also with his first, subsequent clarification (which he continues to stand by). I’m really not sure that I have him right. But I’m a Kant scholar, so this is my daily plight.

          • King Goat

            Puppet, I think the answer is: you think, quite reasonably, restriction X affects Y population, restriction A affects Y population plus Z population, so in a system concerned with restrictions (could we call this ‘libertarianism?’) the latter automatically and obviously seems more suspect, right?

            But Danny has a different type of theory. One where ‘whether something is a restriction on a peaceable action’ is not the only criteria (or, to be fair to him, it’s the only criteria, but it’s reached sometimes in a very indirect way [such as, this seems like a restriction, but if humans don’t have states, and states don’t have this seeming restriction, then they’ll have more restrictions in the end, so this restriction is OK because it mitigates later restrictions]). Since, in the long run, having states which have certain restrictions on what seems like freedom (in this case, border restrictions [but only on persons, not goods, of course!]) furthers human flourishing and liberty, then what seems like restrictions on a greater set of people (citizens and non-citizens alike) is not, because the second set (non-citizens) had no claim to be free from those restrictions (otherwise we wouldn’t have these liberty-human flourishing states, which by definition or something restrict that freedom). Or something.

            In the long run, I suspect it’s about having one’s libertarian cake (I don’t like most government restrictions) and, conservatively (except immigration controls, because those people are *the worst*), eating it too.

          • Puppet’s Puppet

            …restriction X affects Y population, restriction A affects Y population plus Z population, so in a system concerned with restrictions…the latter automatically and obviously
            seems more suspect, right?

            Well, not quite. Obviously if restriction A says “no one is allowed to burn toxic waste” and restriction X (oy, your choice of letters!) says no one in the first half of the phone book is allowed to leave home past 6 PM, then the second is obviously worse despite affecting the narrower group of people.

            What is important is to look at the dialectic here, to go back and look at Danny’s own words. Of course a restriction that affects a broader class of people could be permissible where a different one affecting a narrower class would not be. But he was saying, oh, it isn’t inconsistent to support the one and not the other–because the latter affects a narrow class. And, of course, that makes absolutely no sense. But it’s what he said, very clearly, before he offered any other details at all. Go back and see!

            I could understand if he offered some explanation of why he so clearly used this argument (as clarified by his response to Nathan) against the original post–like if he said he misspoke, or was confused, or something. Then I could accept your reading–that he views immigration controls as more suspect despite the fact that he believes they affect a strictly broader group of people. But he hasn’t said anything of the kind.

          • Theresa Klein

            What this whole conversation is missing is that many libertarians do not accept a priori the legitimacy of the state itself, or at least regard it as suspect, such that ANY action the state takes much be subject to scrutiny. You can’t simply assume the idea that the state “ensures human flourishing” or whatnot. Many states emphatically DO NOT ensure human flourishing, a fact which should be obvious. And we definitely don’t live in a utopian ideal state which only performs actions that legitimately ensure human flourishing. There are all sorts of things the state we live in right now actively does that inhibit human flourishing. So from whence does any obligation of mine towards the state arise? If the state wishes to impose a restriction on me, it must justify that restriction by reference to the human rights of others and not merely say “without me you would not exist”. That is certainly not a proven fact and even more certainly not a fact that *this particular* state with all it’s rules and obligations is the only one that I could exist in. Further, it cannot then say that the rights of others depend upon the states determination of what those rights are because that would be circular reasoning – non-citizens don’t have the right to immigrate because we say they don’t have the right to immigrate, because they aren’t citizens. To determine what rights the state must respect in either citizens or non-citizens we must reference universal rights. That’s the only way to determine what sort of state is legitimate. It exists to protect the universal rights of people under its jurisdiction, and only once that is established can it justify restrictions on citizens or non-citizens liberty based on it’s obligations to protect the rights of people within it’s jurisdiction.
            In other words, IF the state can establish a reason why the immigration of certain classes of people into it’s jurisdiction threatens the universal rights of people within it’s jurisdiction, THEN it might be able to justify such a restriction. The state’s legitimacy depends entirely upon it’s ability to serve the purpose of protecting universal rights. If it isn’t doing that, or if it starts exceeding those boundaries it loses legitimacy.

    • King Goat

      I can see why this would be an excellent point for a group that called itself citizentarians, but not so much for ones called libertarians.

      • I read some bits and pieces of communitarian writing some years ago. But I thought it was appalling crap. Now, maybe I did not read the good bits of it; but I have avoided communitarianism ever since. The stuff I read was collectivist and authoritarian. My view is individualist but relational, and it emphasises that freedom, including freedom of expression, is essential for human flourishing. If you know of a communitarian who says something like that, I will be pleased to hear of it.

        • King Goat

          “it emphasises that freedom…is essential for human flourishing”

          But apparently not freedom of movement or association. We all have problems with some freedoms it seems.

          • Yeah, like the freedom punch a bystander in the mouth…

          • King Goat

            Please. The ‘freedom’ to punch someone in the mouth and the freedom to peacefully move and associate are of course easily differentiated in traditional libertarian thought.

          • I have been pointing out what I take to be a shortcoming in traditional libertarian thought.

          • King Goat

            Indeed. I get it Danny. I’m a psychologist by training, and I think some of the most important work in that field lately, especially in the area of moral or political psychology, is that of Jon Haidt. To simplify, Haidt, following Hume, thinks that as an empirical matter reason is a servant to the passions, that is, people have arational predilections in political philosophy and *then* they conjure up political philosophies to support the predilections.

            When a person styles themselves as a ‘libertarian’ but then, on only certain implications of that tradition, invokes what has traditionally been the opposite, indeed, communitarian ideas, to break with that tradition, eyebrows should go up. Placing yourself in the midst of a tradition which is sometimes rabidly anti-state, you then refer to state citizenship to argue for a bar a traditionally recognized freedom. That’s odd, and given your past statements about certain immigrant populations I think it makes more sense in Haidt’s framework than anything else.

          • I like Haidt, but I often think he is wrong. Somewhat similarly, Hume was one of the greatest philosophers, but I think him often hopelessly mistaken.

            I have denied that my ideas are communitarian. The latter talk about the relationship of the individual to the community. That sucks. I insist that individuals are related to other individuals. Even Robinson Crusoe (before Friday) is a person only because he previously had relationships with other persons.

            There are different traditions of libertarians. I was at one time a kind of Rothbardian, though I always had some reservations about that approach. Nowadays I am a rule-consequentialist. People who come at libertarianism through economics are often rule-consequentialists. David Schmidtz, in at least one place, characterised himself as a rule-consequentialist and, in another place, as a kind of libertarian. But I disagree with him too (largely because I think contemporary economics, particularly decision-theory, is screwed up). Perhaps ‘classical liberal’ describes me better than ‘libertarian’ nowadays; though I am not sure what a classical liberal is…

          • King Goat

            “The latter talk about the relationship of the individual to the community. That sucks. I insist that individuals are related to other individuals. ”

            And yet you say “The existence of individual persons presupposes an institutional structure in which they came to be. Any institutional structure in which persons can flourish includes a state.”

            Is your objectioned to sin really referring to the ‘institutional structure in which [individual persons came to be]’ as community instead of ‘other individuals?’

            Come on, Danny. You’ve got to know this is idiosyncratic, at best.

          • There is a difference. On my view, individuals and relations between them are all that there is: there is no community over and above, or behind and before, them. All moral good concerns the fulfilment of individuals; the state exists only for the benefit of individuals. Any talk of ‘community’ that cannot be ‘cashed out’ in terms of individuals and the relations between them is bunkum. That kind of thing.

          • King Goat

            If “the institutional presuppositions of personhood” can be cashed out in terms of individuals and the relations between them then I really think any communitarianism can. Likewise for any theory which says ‘well, I don’t know, is he claimed by this pre-and post-existing government as a club member’ as the answer to ‘can this guy do this non-aggressive act?’

          • Sean II

            “I like Haidt, but I often think he is wrong.”

            Like the hilarious idea that liberals are low in AUTHORITY and PURITY?

          • You could add IN-GROUP to that list.

        • Theresa Klein

          Why is freedom of expression essential for human flourishing but not freedom of movement?

          • Freedom of expression is essential because for people generally (there are some exceptions) it is a prerequisite for discovering what sort of life will be fulfilling for them. Freedom of movement is also important, but unlimited freedom of movement would be rarely so, and it is also more subject to trade-offs. Immigration controls only impair freedom of movement and not for everyone. At least, that’s how things appear to me abstractly; a detailed investigation might turn up something surprising.

    • Sergio Méndez

      Nonsense. Libertarian theory of rights do not apply to citizens, but to people (regardless of nationality).

  • I’m wondering if this isn’t just another example (or more precisely, two examples) of how “we” argue about issues these days.

    I would add: in both cases, opponents contend that the proposals are merely foot-in-the-door, nose-in-the-tent, frog-in-hot-water, slippery-slopes bound to lead to something drastically worse eventually. (Government gun-grabbers, internment camps,…)

    To steal the title of a Jason Brennan post from a few weeks back: Politics Makes Us Mean and Dumb.

  • jhertzli

    Gun control means hitting the target.

    Border control means no traffic jams at the border.

  • Jeff R.

    Devil’s Avacado: they’re not quite the same because if you need, say, low-skilled labor, a non-Muslim immigrant is a fine substitute for a Muslim one. If you need a weapon for self defense, there are few comparable options to fire arms.

    • Theresa Klein

      A Muslim immigrant is a person and a fire arm is an object. Presumably persons have rights and objects don’t.

      • Jeff R.

        That’s true, but immigrating or even visiting the US is not one of those rights.

        • Theresa Klein

          So non-Americans should be treated like objects? Their right to immigrate being totally dependent on whether Americans find them useful?

          • Jeff R.

            Eh, not totally. Just mostly.

        • Sergio Méndez

          Yes, it is (it is called freedom of movement and freedom of asociation).

  • gliberty

    except that in one case the ban is on people – on their movement and ability to join their families, live their lives – and the other just prevents people from owning a particular material item (whatever you might call guns: weapons, tools, sporting goods). The affect on lives is vastly different between the two, no matter how much people love their guns.

  • Farstrider

    “The rights and wrongs of such a case can’t magically reverse themselves depending on whether it’s gun owners or Muslim immigrants who are being targeted.”

    If you ignore the obvious, which is that one is a policy targeted at a religious group and one is not. You might as well say Japanese internment must be ok if you also support stop signs. Or maybe you would say that. In which case, this is just naked trolling, and you got me.

  • Theresa Klein

    I’m not in favor of banning guns, but it’s worth pointing out the preventing someone from travelling is a significantly greater restriction on freedom than preventing someone from owning an object. Not being allowed to immigrate impacts the rest of a person’s life. Not being able to seek refugee status can mean death.

    I suppose in theory not being able to own a gun can impact someone’s safety too, but the probability is much lower. (And of course the empirical research says gun ownership increases risk.) A refugee is actively fleeing life threatening situations. For the most part, not owning a gun means not being able to engage in a hobby.

  • aristotlem

    I think there is also a utilitarian angle to point out the hypocrisy on the conservative side. The right way to prevent gun violence, according to them, is to deter it by punishment after the fact. Similarly, command and control regulation in the environmental area is looked down upon and they say courts should sort it out in suits after the fact. That is also meant to deter violations. But then on the immigration issue, ex ante restrictions become great and ex post punishment to deter the violations seems to go out of the window. Now, if you look at the optimal regulation literature in economics, you can come up with models where ex ante restrictions are in fact desirable in equilibrium (avoiding that–as a libertarian–means either denying the particular assumptions in those models, importing new assumptions about the efficacy of the regulatory process/public choice–and there are papers that do that and still get the ex ante restriction results–, or making a right-based/liberty argument). But the point is that the political tribes seem to align on the ex ante restriction/ex post punishment axis in a particular, biased way.