The first time I met Rich Lowry, editor in chief of National Review, was at a book party in a small bar in Midtown Manhattan in 2009. We shared the same literary agent at the time, and I came to meet the editor who, as only the third editor (after William F. Buckley Jr.) of the renowned magazine, had already done so much since taking the helm in 1997 to build the intellectual basis of conservatism.
When meeting even conservative media figures who work in New York City or Washington, D.C., I have often been surprised by how few have even fired a gun, so I didn’t intend to put Lowry on the spot by directly asking if he shoots.
“Where do you shoot?” he asked me right away. “I get out to a range in Connecticut when I can.”
As I had written for National Review on Second Amendment topics, he knew I was a gun owner. We were soon deep into a conversation on guns and gun politics. As the Second Amendment is a practical right we literally take in our own hands, I’ve always found even the most-devoted civil-liberties-loving individual can’t really understand this right until they’ve had some significant trigger time. For this reason alone, it was wonderful to learn that Lowry has hunted and enjoys the shooting sports. Because of this, his practicality with this issue is refreshing.
“The notion of God-given rights shouldn’t be controversial,” he said. “It is a bedrock of the American creed, written into the Declaration of Independence. The Bill of Rights puts flesh on the bones of those ‘unalienable rights’ of life and liberty, and numbers ‘the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” among them.’ Why? Because the founders believed, rightly, that everyone has an inherent right to self-defense.”
All that Lowry and his writers do for the Second Amendment made speaking to him a must. Here’s what he had to say.
A1F: Unlike so many in the media today, you have a deep appreciation of the Second Amendment. Why?
Lowry: Yes, I’m proof that you can live on one of the coasts and work in New York City and still understand how central the Second Amendment is to our constitutional system, our liberties and our national culture. For me, if you take any time to understand these issues, it’s all completely clear, but most people—especially in the media, especially in major urban centers—simply rely on the lazy clichés and errors of fact to guide them. I’m an NRA Life Member who happens to live in New York City.
A1F: National Review, the magazine you edit, has particularly strong coverage on gun rights. Has that been a deliberate effort?
Lowry: First, thank you. Second, we’re fortunate to have a bunch of people on staff who own guns—lots of guns, to be honest—and can instantly fact-check the erroneous claims made about guns in the media. They are also soaked in the history of the Second Amendment, going back to before the formal founding of the United States. I think the excavation of the true meaning of the Second Amendment is one the most notable intellectual achievements of conservative constitutionalists over the last 20 years.
A1F: You mean in the D.C. v. Heller decision saying there’s an individual right to bear arms?
Lowry: Correct. The Second Amendment was for the longest time neglected or thought to be an inkblot before scholars on the right—and also honest scholars on the left—recovered its true meaning. We still hear people saying today that the Second Amendment guarantees gun ownership only in the context of militias. This is obviously bogus. Among other things, the text of the amendment uses the word “people,” which appears in other amendments denoting individual rights, as well.
A1F: How fundamental do you think this right is?
Lowry: I think it’s a God-given right. It is part of the American creed that we get our natural rights from our Creator, and there clearly exists a natural right to self-defense. As John Adams said, quoting Justice Blackstone, self-defense is “the primary canon in the law of nature.” Gun rights are an extension of that right.
A1F: Do you ever go to the range with friends?
Lowry: Opportunities are limited where I am, but people might be surprised to learn that there’s a range in Chelsea, a little dot of Red America in the middle of Manhattan. And it offers, if you are so inclined, proximity to a bunch of art galleries and great brunch spots.
A1F: Why is it that the Left doesn’t appreciate that gun rights are especially important to women who want to live freely without a man’s protection?
Lowry: Yeah, it’s amazing that we have a roiling, high-profile debate about gun rights in this country, and defensive gun use plays almost no role in it. There are probably hundreds of thousands of instances of it every year. And, as you say, guns are especially useful to women who want to defend themselves. There was a case a few months ago of an African-American woman in Houston who was parking her car outside her home at 2:30 a.m. and was accosted by two men who tried to rob her. She grabbed her gun from her purse and fired and hit one of them, forcing the men to flee. I mentioned this on a radio show and the progressive panelist said she could have used mace. But that, obviously, is not going to stop determined attackers. The woman said her gun, which she bought for exactly this purpose, saved her. She didn’t want to be a victim, and wasn’t.
A1F: Both Al Gore and Hillary Clinton made gun control a big part of their campaigns and lost. Now the 2020 presidential election is feeling, in part, like a referendum on the Second Amendment. Do you think this is a foolish national campaign plank, even for Democrats, to take today?
Lowry: I think Beto O’Rourke with his “hell yes” appeals for gun confiscation poisoned the well for Democrats. They used to say that no one was calling for confiscation. That’s not true anymore, and even much more minimal gun-control measures now have to be seen in the light of a stated desire to move, eventually, to confiscation.
A1F: In your new book, The Case for Nationalism, you make the argument that American nationalism has been a force for good around the world. How do gun rights play into that? Clearly, Venezuela is a modern example of what happens to a disarmed people.
Lowry: One point of The Case for Nationalism is to get people to reconsider the phenomenon, which has an undeserved bad name. Nationalism is the doctrine that a people, united by their common history and culture, should govern themselves. The American Revolution was a fundamentally nationalist act, with the American nation rising up against its government and creating a new one based on consent.
As for gun rights, they increase the power of the people vis-á-vis the government, to protect against fundamental violations of popular sovereignty. This is one of the original purposes of the Second Amendment. In The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton wrote of the importance of “the original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government.” This right can be used if necessary, according to Hamilton, “against the usurpations of the national rulers.”
We see in Venezuela a case where the nation was disarmed and no longer rules itself, but is subject to the whims of a corrupt, dictatorial ruling elite. This should be a warning to all peoples, especially ours.
The Case for Nationalism is Rich Lowry’s latest book. “Nationalism” is treated like a bad word today, but shouldn’t Americans be proud of the glorious experiment in liberty that is America? Lowry thinks so. This book should be read by anyone who loves America—and, especially, by any citizen who doesn’t.