I got nothing – but Friedersdorf does

Note: This post is part of our League Symposium on Guns In America. You can read the introductory post for the Symposium here. To see a list of all posts in the Symposium so far, click here.

I’ve spent the couple of weeks since the Guns in America symposium was announced thinking about what to say, but so far I haven’t managed to develop sufficiently coherent thoughts to build a post out of.I don’t particularly care for guns myself (I have fired a shotgun before, but I wouldn’t be particularly interested in doing it again), and find the machismo that can be found in some gun proponents utterly nauseating (the Bushmaster “Man Card” ad being a particularly stomach-turning example).

However, in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook murders I also encountered a disquieting sentiment in New Zealand and British media – a sort of smugness about violence in the US. The media outlets could hardly get through a minute of coverage before bringing up gun control in a way that amounted to saying “those barbaric Americans – they can’t even stop murdering themselves with their millions of guns”. This skeeves me out in the same way that blaming rape victims for dressing provocatively does.

Ultimately guns are a subject I have neither a personal stake in, nor any expertise on and, while I am aware there are reasonable people on both sides of the issue, I tend to find the most visible public proponents of each camp deeply unpleasant. Clearly this is a topic on which I should avoid saying much on.

Tomorrow I will put up a post that’s not really part of the symposium, but will touch on a related issue – how you go about determining empirically whether a hypothesis like “Gun ownership increases violent crime” (or the reverse) is true or not.

But for now, let me heartily endorse a recent post by Conor Friedersorf making the point, that if you are concerned about arresting the spread of tyranny, there are a lot better tools in the Constitution than the Second Amendment, and even if you consider the Second important, it’s worth supporting these other tools as well.

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78 thoughts on “I got nothing – but Friedersdorf does

  1. Yeah, I’m not sure who made the point but they did it rather more eloquently than I could have but it was to the effect that, you’d either need an arsenal roughly equivalent to what the US military has or you’d need such an overwhelming, and logistically nearly impossible, number of gun owners to band together to fight. I’m rather ambivalent when it comes to the “what do we do” aspect of this whole debate, but the argument that gun owners buy their guns as a defense against governmental tyranny seems a bit misguided.

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    • Remember, we’re talking about things getting so bad we’re in civil war territory already.

      The idea is that the Army would not be willing to fight Americans who would resist. If given an order to round up civilians’ guns or fire at civilians too often, a decent percentage of the military would say to their superiors, “Uh, sir, that’s bullshit and I can’t be a part of it,” fragmenting the military into two sides if the tyrants push things to the breaking point.

      I’m not saying I buy the idea. But there is more to the notion of an armed populace resisting a tyrannical government than guerrillas a la Red Dawn .

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    • If the examples of Iraq and Afghanistan are any indication, an insurrection against the US military, armed with assault weapons with a decent supply of IEDs, with support from helpful neighbors, can turn a country into an ungovernable shithole. I don’t really see much evidence that such an insurrection would be capable of restoring a “tyrannical” United States government to the size and scope that the American militia movement considers appropriate.

      Also… Exactly WHEN is it going to be time to revolt? If my read of some of the signs at the Obamacare protests were any indication, some folks think it’s past time to “water the tree of liberty.” Maybe when we all have to pay Clinton era tax rates? Let’s face it: if the country ever arrives at a point where a “second amendment solution” to our problems is needed, the resulting civil war is going to leave the country fucked for generations.

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    • Are you familiar with the “Oath Keepers” movement?

      If not, they’re worth looking up on the wiki. Short version: they’re a bunch of military folks who make a big deal about “what kind of orders would be considered unlawful orders” and try to educate military folks about what kind of orders they have an obligation to disobey.

      They usually get painted as crazy militia types but, to be perfectly honest, the examples of orders they give as examples do, in fact, strike me as unlawful and it’s good that there’s a group out there that has come out and said “we won’t do this sort of thing”.

      However: I’m told I’m crazy.

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        • For what it’s worth, 99% of the people with whom I’ve spoken about this movement in person have had strong opinions about it and these strong opinions fall along party lines.

          The right-leaning folks think it’s a good thing. The left-leaning folks think it’s a bad thing.

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          • I think it’s a fantastically good thing. I mean, if we don’t eventually go there, we’ll wind up sooner or later at “just following orders,” which I trust is a place no one wants to go.

            Better to have that discussion now, when we are not in state of armed insurrection or invasion. No?

            (That said, I understand many on the right believe that a state of invasion exists right now, that our president is illegitimate, and that the Mexicans and the Muslims are just figuring out how to divide up the spoils…)

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          • I find that strange for some reason, given that the common stereotypes are of the Right being, to a fault, “Deferential to Authority”, while the Left is the “Conscientious Objector” – why wouldn’t these guys be considered as more like the CO? You’d think people who consider themselves lefty would applaud this sort of thing. I read the Balko interview with Stewart Rhodes (the founder), and he seemed reasonable enough.

            If I had to guess, mislike from the left probably comes from two sources: the org’s #5 order to be disobeyed is “Orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty” which I imagine some read as “If the South does rise again and try to secede and re-enslave African-Americans, don’t assist the Fed in that matter.” That may not be a fair reading of it, but I can see that as coming across as coded that way to some, and for historical reasons it can seem unsavory.

            The other is that even the Reason article notes that some org members are “militia”/”birther”-types, presumably motivated much more by dislike of Obama or general long-standing black-helicopter paranoia than ideas of Constitutional fidelity. It’s not totally fair to judge an org by its nuttiest members; but if any org attracts enough nutters, it’s fair to squint at it and ask, “why?”

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            • They’re upset that the executive branch has claimed the power to classify American citizens as enemy combatants, detain them indefinitely, and try them before military tribunals.

              Oath Keepers was founded in 2009

              Uh-huh.

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              • Again, from the Reason interview with the founder (really, it’s a good read):

                reason: There’s one criticism of your group that’s similar to those directed at the Tea Parties. You’ve said that Bush was just as hostile to the Constitution as Obama has been, indeed that most of the worst executive power grabs began under Bush. So why did Oath Keepers spring up only after Obama took office?

                Rhodes: I just hadn’t gotten the idea yet. I got the idea during the 2008 election campaign. I worked for Ron Paul during the primary, and when it became clear that he wasn’t going to get the nomination, I started to think about what I wanted to do next. And that’s when the idea came to me that I wanted to do something involving the military and the police. And that was no matter who became president. At the time we didn’t know if it would be McCain, Obama, or Hillary Clinton.

                But it’s true. All of this began or really started to get worse under Bush. That’s when you had this wave of unconstitutional federal power. In particular, I was worried about this claim that the president could detain American citizens as unlawful enemy combatants. A president who would make that claim assumes powers that could be used in so many other ways too. I wrote a paper on that issue while I was at Yale Law School, during the Bush administration, which actually won the Yale Prize for best paper on the Bill of Rights. I was an outspoken critic of Bush then. I had a blog at the time that was very critical of Bush and his assumption of unconstitutional powers. I called the neocons in the Bush administration “national security New Dealers.” They expanded the power of the federal government at least as much as the New Deal did, but they did it through the lens of national security. The warrantless spying was unconstitutional. The detention of José Padilla was unconstitutional. The detentions without trial were unconstitutional. Most of the new powers Bush claimed were unconstitutional.

                But now you have Obama, who has not only not renounced those powers but has expanded them. He also now claims the power to assassinate American citizens his administration deems enemy combatants with no oversight. That’s just frightening.

                At this point I do really wish I had started Oath Keepers during the Bush administration. It would have been a good test. My guess is that I’d have started with a lot of liberals joining up, and you’d have seen conservatives and neocons howling that I’m a traitor. I think it’s just human nature and the cycle of politics. When the left is in power, they forget about the Constitution because it limits what they can do. So they characterize people who stand by the Constitution as reactionary or dangerous. But when they were out of power, they were citing the Constitution all of the time. They were quoting Ben Franklin about sacrificing liberty for security.

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      • Couple things:

        It’s not clear to me that an Oath Keepers or similar movement that serves as a useful bulwark against tyranny requires or is helped by the presence of the 2nd Amendment. Does an OK “defection” require a Randy Weaver or would Mahatma Gandhi be good enough?

        The timing of the creation of the Oath Keepers is certainly… curious. And it is probably as good an explanation as any for the partisan breakdown. Having said that, many of the orders they would refuse to carry out are certainly ones I would hope they wouldn’t follow. It’s a shame that we haven’t heard about any OKs managing to gum up the works in Guantanamo Bay or in the Nellis AFB drone cockpits.

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        • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oath_Keepers#List_of_refused_orders

          Orders to disarm the American people.

          So broad as to be meaningless pablum.

          Orders to conduct warrantless searches of the American people.

          Funny, cops can do it now as long as they have this thing called probable cause. There’s also the border/customs thing.

          Orders to detain American citizens as “unlawful enemy combatants” or to subject them to military tribunal.

          Being uneducated doesn’t help their case.

          Orders to impose martial law or a “state of emergency” on a state.

          So vague as to be pointless and leading into…

          Orders to invade and subjugate any state that asserts its sovereignty.

          Da South shall rayuz agayun!

          Any order to blockade American cities, thus turning them into giant concentration camps.Any order to force American citizens into any form of detention camps under any pretext.

          I dislike these in general, save for the idea of a natural disaster requiring checks on passage to keep people from going INTO danger areas (wildfire areas and hurricane-flooded cities come to mind).

          Orders to assist or support the use of any foreign troops on U.S. soil against the American people to “keep the peace” or to “maintain control.”

          Ah, the good old “Obama and the liberals are going to use UN troops to take over the US” insanity that plagues the mental patients of the right wing.

          Any orders to confiscate the property of the American people, including food and other essential supplies.

          Eminent domain, disaster management, sensible reason need not apply here – this is cuckoo land thinking.

          Any orders which infringe on the right of the people to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances.

          Which these dishonest, duplicitous assholes were nowhere standing against when the FBI was acting as a political tool of the banks, on account of the “Oath Keepers” really being a racist Tea Party front.

          Let me put it as mildly as I can: when even Patrick J. Buchanan says that the organization’s rhetoric is based on white racial paranoia, I’m going to consider that issue pretty much settled.

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                • It’s a matter of settled law.

                  Spies and saboteurs, per the UCMJ, are fully prosecutable in military court. UCMJ article 104 covers “Any person who aids, or attempts to aid, the enemy with arms, ammunition, supplies, money, or other things; or without proper authority, knowingly harbors or protects or gives intelligence to, or communicates or corresponds with or holds any intercourse with the enemy, either directly or indirectly.”

                  So far as has been handled in court, the UCMJ is valid law under the constitution. This includes several Supreme Court decisions as in the article I linked for you.

                  As for your cheap shot about “just as if they were good little neocons”: I have respect for the law. There are laws I think should be changed: they should be changed within the system. And no, they shouldn’t be ignored on a whim or ignored based on the uneducated ravings of people who are far off the end of the political scale to either the left or the right.

                  If you think military tribunals are unconstitutional, you have two choices: first, bring a case and get it to the Supreme Court to get existing precedent overturned or second, get Congress to amend the UCMJ. The idea of troops deciding they wanted to disobey an order based on “state sovereignty”? Thank goodness the 101st Airborne had not been so morally bankrupt in 1957.

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          • So you seem to have four problems:

            1) That they said that they wouldn’t follow these orders
            2) That when they got orders that fit the template of illegal orders, they followed them
            3) They didn’t show initiative and prevent other agencies from following orders that fit this template
            4) They’re racist

            Does that sum up your problems with this group?

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            • 1) that they’re uneducated and don’t understand what they are talking about.

              2) that the categories they bring up are in a number of cases so overly broad as to be meaningless for rational discussion.

              3) that they in a number of cases ignore settled law on the constitutionality of orders.

              4) that they only believe abrogations of these orders are valid for their political side, yes.

              5) that much of their rhetoric is at best thinly veiled, and at worst not veiled at all. I shall refer you to the Southern Poverty Law Center report as well as to Patrick J. Buchanan’t official words on the Oath Keepers are that they are due to, and I quote, “the alienation and radicalization of white America” who believe “America was once their country. They sense they are losing it. And they are right.

              Even Pat Buchanan says their group’s rhetoric is based on racial animosity. I don’t think I need to add any more to the statement than that.

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              • I’d answer in order:

                1) that they’re uneducated and don’t understand what they are talking about.

                Agreed, though uneducated people can still do what’s right. (Are they doing it here? So far, they haven’t done much of anything…)

                2) that the categories they bring up are in a number of cases so overly broad as to be meaningless for rational discussion.

                Agreed.

                3) that they in a number of cases ignore settled law on the constitutionality of orders.

                You’re not going to make an impression by arguing the law to these folks. Not when in their view the law commands them to do something unconscionable. In cases like that, they assert that the law should not bind them. I’m sympathetic to that type of claim, as I think most Americans should be.

                4) that they only believe abrogations of these orders are valid for their political side, yes.

                The most telling charge. In my view, if they meant many of the things they said, they would have done much more by now.

                5) that much of their rhetoric is at best thinly veiled, and at worst not veiled at all. I shall refer you to the Southern Poverty Law Center report as well as to Patrick J. Buchanan’t official words on the Oath Keepers are that they are due to, and I quote, “the alienation and radicalization of white America” who believe “America was once their country. They sense they are losing it. And they are right.”

                The Southern Poverty Law Center generates way, way too many false positives for my taste. I don’t consider it a reliable indicator. With Buchanan, though, you might be onto something.

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                • When the SPLC and Pat Buchanan are in agreement, what more need be said?

                  As for the right wing bullshit about SPLC “false positives”, spoken like someone who’s never actually read their reports and looked into what it takes to get onto their list. They’ve erred on the side of caution, not putting hate groups on the list even when people were clamoring to see it done, far more often than anyone can honestly claim they have made “false positives.”

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          • It appears you left out the part from your wiki link that says “Rhodes, the founder has countered the SPLC claim of racism by pointing out that he’s one quarter Mexican and part Native American.[11]” It must have been his 1/2 and a bit more white racist part that started the organization.

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            • Yeah, he gets into that in the Reason interview I linked above:

              Rhodes: To be honest, I don’t think it would make a difference what I did or said. The attack from the leftist media and leftist groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center—I mean right out of the gate, before we had really even done anything, they tried to associate us with racists. I’m a quarter Mexican. I’m part Apache Indian. I’m hardly a poster child for white supremacy. I’d probably be killed if this country were run by white supremacists.

              reason: I think I read on one critical site that you’re also part Jewish.

              Rhodes: No, I’m not Jewish. But that’s funny too. Because we don’t tolerate anti-Semitism, there are some neo-Nazis who are certain that must mean I’m Jewish. You know, clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right.

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                  • Yup, I thought that was clear too, not that he was making a false equivalence. The guy criticizes – in addition to Obama – Bush and Arpaio and racists; he says that if local governments are violating citizens’ constitutional rights, the Fed is not just “allowed” but “compelled” to come in and set that right.

                    I just don’t see what’s so objectionable here, assuming he is telling the truth about his aims and views.

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                    • They expanded the power of the federal government at least as much as the New Deal did, but they did it through the lens of national security

                      The subject is “expansion of federal powers”. I don’t know anyone, right or left, who wouldn’t say that both the New Deal and the WOT represented significant expansions of those powers. People only disagree on the degree to which they were good and necessary expansions.

                      And he takes care, by saying “at least as much as” to not really even make them A-B equivalent (since the clear implication of that phrase, at least to me, is that the WOT likely represents an even greater expansion of federal powers).

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                    • I repeat: the man criticizes Bush and Arpaio, and has a stated aim of trying to create conscientious objector cops and soldiers that won’t go Mai Lai or Japanese internment on immigrants, even if ordered to do so.

                      What EXACTLY will it take, to make you lefties happy? ;-)

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      • The stuff listed on wikipedia does seem sane and reasonable. However, wikipedia is not without bias and editing wars.

        The Southern Poverty Law Center does link the Oath Keepers to the far right militia movement and I would not be surprised if there were also elements of the troubling “sovereign citizen” movement. Sovereign Citizenship is a concept that many neo-Nazis and interestingly African-American gang members use to justify their actions and make court and government action illegitimate to them.

        Again there’s is not a world I want to live in. We simply have fundamentally different notions of what makes a government tyrannical or not. There is possibly some overlap on really easy things but I am no fan of a yeoman paradise and do not see a modern welfare state as being antithetical to freedom.

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        • It’s possible that the “sovereign citizenship” movement is associated with neo-nazis and gangs, among other things. But the experience I’ve had of “sovereign citizens” is more weirdos using it to claim that traffic laws (and similar everyday regulations) don’t apply to them. Perhaps still dangerous (for a different reason) and certainly not shining examples of citizenship, but not hate groups.

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  2. James, let me follow up on this:

    … a sort of smugness about violence in the US. The media outlets could hardly get through a minute of coverage before bringing up gun control in a way that amounted to saying “those barbaric Americans – they can’t even stop murdering themselves with their millions of guns”.

    I think that’s an apt analogy and it’s hardly limited to NZ or even the balance of the Anglosphere. And that sort of derision isn’t exactly the most persuasive argumentative tactic, although one suspects that “argument” is a bit sophisticated for what you’re describing.

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  3. Agreed.

    What made the NRA’s press conference in response so appalling to me was the way in which they fearfully sold out just about every other liberty in the name of getting more guns into more people’s hands.

    Even the Third Amendment? Almost! Because if the British had often quartered troops in our children’s schools, you can be sure that we’d have made mention of it.

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    • “What made the NRA’s press conference in response so appalling to me was the way in which they fearfully sold out just about every other liberty in the name of getting more guns into more people’s hands. ”

      I would probably agree with you if the NRA had ever (to my knowledge at least) taken a formal position on those rights. I see then as what they are, a single issue lobbying group. In the same vein, I am not expecting the EFF to release a statement to the effect that they support the 2nd amendment (would love it if they did), in fact I would not be surprised if they stated the opposite. If the ACLU, which claims to support all basic rights, came out saying that they only support one right, and then trampled on all other rights, I would be appalled. That the ACLU hasn’t said anything yet (again, to my knowledge) is appalling.

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      • It’s not that they didn’t take a position on those things. It’s that the speech actively, if implicitly, suggested a curtailment of other civil liberties as a solution to the violence. It’s not the guns, it’s the criminals that we’re “not willing to prosecute”, it’s the violent videogames.

        It would be like the EFF holding a press conference saying that violent videogames wouldn’t be a problem if we had better gun control.

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        • What I mean by not taking a position on those things, is that as far as I am aware, the NRA has never taken a position different that that. They have always maintained “It’s not the guns, it’s the criminals that we’re “not willing to prosecute”, it’s the violent video games.” Expecting a change in those positions is fairly ludicrous, which is not something that I expect from Jason.

          I don’t expect any single issue group -The NRA, VPC, NORMAL etc- to deviate from the message that they have been espousing. And I fully expect the EFF to say violent video games would not be a problem with better gun control if they were being pressed.

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          • There are plenty of ways to stand up for a robust Second Amendment that don’t involve curtailing a wide array of other rights.

            It might have been nice if they’d picked any one of those other ways. It might also have been nice if they’d stayed consistent with what they themselves had always argued — that armed government officials are dangerous, and armed citizens are a better idea all around.

            That’s a controversial claim, and I’m not going to get into it here one way or the other. But let’s just look at what exactly happened in that press conference: The NRA saw that there might be tough new gun laws coming down the road, and what did they do? They argued that the government — not the people — need more guns.

            That’s the sound of an industry lobby there, not a citizen lobby. Quite a difference.

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  4. When I first moved to Toronto from Virginia I was asked with surprising regularity and generally good intentions what it was like to live in a place where I saw people get shot on the streets. I never really knew how to respond to that but I still bring it up when Canadians tell me about how many misconceptions Americans have about this country.

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  5. I agree with CF that a “second amendment solution” is somewhat incoherent at the political level: if invoking that solution is justified it means our political institutions are so broken that a political justification for the option is undermined. I’ve made that argument before, actually: the constitution cannot include a provision which would permit people to undermine the legitimacy of the constitution. So, it’s only when the constitution is no longer a legitimate document that invoking the constitutionally accorded right to defense against tyranny is justified.

    But ultimately, I don’t think that’s the argument conservatives are making when they talk about “second amendment solutions”. They’re more concerned about a pre-political conception of individual liberty. So it exists independently of the Constitution, it seems to me.

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      • Oh sure. He conceded the argument to focus on other issues.

        And I should say I didn’t find his other criticisms to be all that compelling. I mean, he criticized SecondEnder conservatives for an inconsistency in supporting “big gummint tyranny” like No Child Left Behind and Drone Wars. But the only way there’s an inconsistency there is if conservatives are justifying their beliefs regarding the second amendment by the principle he attributes to them. And as I wrote upthread, I think he’s attributing to them a view that they don’t hold.

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        • I read his argument as a version of the “Hanson Manoeuvre”, a form of srgument most commonly used by Overcoming Bias blogger Robin Hanson.

          The basic form of the argument is this – “This group claims to support X because they value A. But if they really valued A they’d also support Y and Z, and they don’t. Therefore they don’t really value X.”

          Friedersdorf’s argument is a softer version, more like this: “I know you guys care about A, but all you do is go on about X, when Y and Z are really important to A as well. Shouldn’t you be spending some time supporting Y and Z too?”

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          • Yes, that’s what he’s doing. But conservative secondenders aren’t libertarians so it makes no sense to criticize them for not being libertarian.

            There is no contradiction in believing that the second amendment accords people the right to resist governmental tyranny and believing that government ought to kill Muslin terrorists with drones. Both beliefs can be justified as protecting that specific person’s individual liberty.

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