Thursday, September 14, 2023

What Good is "[Anti-]Zionism"?

For the Third Narrative blog, I was asked to answer the question "is anti-Zionism antisemitic?" But, not having a death wish, I kind of traversed the issue. The better question, I think, is "what good does the word '[Anti-]Zionism' do in most contemporary practical debates about Israel?" And the answer, I think, is "not much".

From the conclusion:

For the “Zionists,” framing contemporary controversy as questions of Zionism vs. anti-Zionism dramatically raises the stakes of basic political disputes, making anything and everything a matter of existential survival. For the “anti-Zionists,” the ambiguity behind the term “Zionism” is regularly exploited as a mechanism of exclusion; they smuggle in broad-based attacks on the Jewish community as a whole while pretending to target only a narrower band of reactionary conservatism. Neither maneuver has lent itself to salutary debate over justice in Israel and Palestine. So perhaps it’s best we find a way to move past it.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

The Right Not To Keep and Bear Arms

Earlier this month, a district court judge upheld a West Virginia statute which required private property owners to allow guns to be locked in employee or customer cars while in a parking lot (h/t: Volokh). The court rejected general property-rights and expressive association challenges to the statute. One argument it did not consider, however, is that West Virginia's law might violate the Second Amendment as interpreted by Bruen.

At first blush, this may seem to be a strange argument (which is probably why it wasn't made): this is a law expanding gun rights protections; and Bruen concerns attempts to restrict gun rights. But on closer inspection, I think it is quite likely (contingent on the historical record) that laws like West Virginia's violate the Second Amendment as that provision was interpreted in Bruen.

Start with first principles. Bruen, along with the other members of the "Roberts Trilogy" on guns, was emphatic that the Second Amendment is not a "second-class" constitutional right. And a critical component of other constitutional rights is that they all contain a robust negative component. The right to free speech includes the right not to speak (this is the locus of the "compelled speech" doctrine). The right to free association includes the right not to associate. The right to freedom of religion includes the right not to profess religious belief. And so, by extension, it seems evident that the right to keep and bear and arms includes a right not to keep or bear arms on one's own property.

Once that observation is made, then West Virginia's law plainly implicates property owners' Second Amendment right not to "keep" arms on their property. At that point, Bruen insists, the only question courts are permitted to ask is whether or not the law in question has historical analogues dating from the enactment of the Second and/or Fourteenth Amendment. I won't claim to have canvassed the history exhaustively, but my sense is that there aren't such laws (there certainly were plenty of laws protecting an individual's right to keep arms on his or her own property, but it doesn't seem like there were many laws which expressly forbade property owners from prohibiting arms on their own property). This is especially noteworthy because this is not a "novel" Second Amendment situation -- the issue of allowing property owners to forbid guns on their property was perfectly cognizable at the time of the framing, it is not an issue that only later sprang into existence based on some social or technological development. So if the historical record doesn't turn up a pattern of state laws akin to West Virginia's, then West Virginia's law must be struck down.

To be sure, West Virginia could argue that its law strikes a reasonable balance between the interest of gun owners being able to keep and carry their own arms for self-defense, and the desire of property owners to keep guns out. After all, the gun owner who wishes traveling in the public with his weapon will be significantly deterred from doing so if they're not even permitted to keep their gun locked in their car the moment they enter the parking lot of the "wrong" business or enterprise. In practice, a world in which gun owners can't enter even a parking lot with their guns locked in their car is one where they are significantly limited in their ability to travel anywhere with guns. 

But while this argument might have considerable purchase under traditional "balancing" review, Bruen expressly forecloses that sort of inquiry. As the Court emphasized, the Second Amendment's historical test is "the very product of an interest balancing by the people." History is what sets the "balance"; any additional weighing of policy considerations is impermissible. Ultimately, West Virginia's concerns that private limitations on gun possession may spillover to lessen the prevalence of guns is no different than New York's worries that striking down its gun control measures will result in too many guns on the streets. At root, West Virginia seeks to intrude on the Second Amendment in order to effectuate its policy judgment favoring more guns. A state like New York seeks to intrude on the Second Amendment to have fewer guns. Either state may or may not be correct as a matter of policy; but under Bruen both states' arguments must fall on deaf ears.

Nor can West Virginia's statute be defended as a means of securing the Second Amendment from infringement. Just as the First Amendment does not create an interest in forcing a newspaper to publish your op-ed, the Second Amendment protects against government infringements, not acts of private individuals. The only germane Second Amendment interest here -- the only actor threatened by government impingements -- is the negative interest of property owners who wish not to keep and bear arms on their property. Admittedly, cases like PruneYard do suggest that in the First Amendment context some government regulations protecting speakers on private property may be permissible, notwithstanding the property owners' own interest in declining to speak. But leaving aside whether that extension should carry to a law like this (West Virginia's attorney general made this argument; the court did not end up addressing it) under First Amendment balancing tests, it does not carry any weight under the Bruen regime, which again boils the question down solely to an inquiry into history. If West Virginia's law has proper historical analogues, it survives. If it doesn't, it doesn't, no matter how strong the policy argument in its favor may be.

Of course, we've already seen courts bend the "no policy" principle of Bruen when policy arguments seem to favor increased gun access, and it's entirely possible we'd see a similar move here as well. This is especially so since the "negative Second Amendment" idea the argument hangs on -- while I think one that has to be correct as a matter of constitutional interpretation -- is a bit novel and certainly cuts against the grain of what we expect the Second Amendment to do in cases like this. Nonetheless, in theory Bruen both gives and taketh away -- there will be times when Bruen strikes down even well-warranted laws and times when it upholds repellent ones. West Virginia's law strikes me as a good example of an enactment that is absolutely defensible as a matter of policy, but which probably cannot withstand Bruen's harsh review. The only question, as always, is whether Bruen's goose will ever apply to its gander.

One other thought: If you're looking for a viable progressive "bounty" program to counter the shenanigans anti-abortion activists are pulling in Texas, this seems like it could set one up.

  1. Write an ordinance that says guns are forbidden on private property unless consent is granted by the owner (an "opt-in" rule). These laws are being challenged, but I genuinely think they should survive constitutional scrutiny because all they do is establish a default rule, and for the reasons stated above the Second Amendment doesn't protect the right to bear arms on others' property.
  2. Create a civil cause of action for violating the ordinance.
  3. Add in all the abusive nonsense that Texas pioneered (no governmental enforcer, anyone can sue anyone, imbalanced attorneys fees, and so on).
  4. Lie in wait for anyone who pulls into a Wal-Mart parking lot with a gun in their trunk, and have at them.
To be clear: I think a law like this would be terrible and destructive, notwithstanding my own views on guns. These "bounty" laws are recipes for chaos. But to the extent that the only way we'll see them curbed is by showing that they'll exact costs on both political camps, I offer it as a way of establishing deterrence: mutually assured destruction.

Update: Turns out this article has already been written. Oh well -- at least I wasn't the only one with the thought!