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Why are Weapon Restriction Laws, such as Gun Control Laws, considered liberal, while a lack of restrictions is considered conservative?

In most cases, it appears that laws and policies which grant personal freedoms and ease restrictions are seen as liberal, while the opposing viewpoint of asserting heavier restrictions for some intended good is conservative. This is the pattern for many topics, including: abortion, gay rights, immigration, doctor-assisted suicide, etc.

Yet, gun control politics (and other related issues of weapon ownership, self-defense, etc) are the opposite of this; liberal beliefs are about lowering the amount of weapons available to the individual and in overall society, while the conservative stance is about granting more freedom of ownership. Why do these stances not follow the same pattern?

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    I always saw it more as liberals are fighting against the status quo (Obama and 'change'), whereas conservatives are trying to keep things the the way they were (Trump making America great again). People have always had the right to own guns, so conservatives like it that way, and liberals want to change it. – DaaaahWhoosh Sep 11 '17 at 14:27
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    "Liberal" and "Conservative" as applied to US politics are just labels, they don't mean anything, the same way Democrats and Republicans don't have any relation to supporting more democracy over representation or vice versa. – IllusiveBrian Sep 11 '17 at 15:22
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    Honestly going by the "historical" definitions Democrats would be socialists/collectivists and Republicans would be, ironically enough, Christian liberals/individualists – Koen vd H Sep 11 '17 at 20:20
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    Liberal has been hijacked by democrats. It used to mean that, but now you have to use the phrase classical liberal or neo liberal to refer to the original meaning of liberal before 1900. – Chloe Sep 13 '17 at 2:43
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    @Chloe Is that so? Would be interested in any reference about that. I don't really know about the history but my perception of current use is that the label “liberal” is often used to ridicule democrats or the left in general, not something they “hijacked”. – Relaxed Sep 14 '17 at 7:32

13 Answers 13

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Labels like "conservative" versus "liberal" or "left" versus "right" are often applied to larger-scale political movements, parties or ways of thinking, without every single detail being thrown into the mix. The labels mean different things in different environments anyway: what is called "right wing conservative capitalist" in some European countries might well be perceived as "left wing liberal communist" in the United states.

In the case at hand, the point of view on gun laws simply seems to roughly follow the political distinctions of "liberal" versus "conservative" in the way that "conservative" politicians tend to not want to change the existing (perceived by many, liberal) gun laws. Not wanting to change them is indeed conservative, even if the laws themselves may be considered liberal.

Of course, the distinction "liberal" versus "conservative" is a strange one. After all, a liberal idealist living in a liberal country would probably be conservative - meaning they don't want to change the status quo. It just goes to show how those labels get thrown at things, and once they stick, change their meaning.

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    Conservative positions have ZERO to do with not wanting to change laws. At least in the US. There are thousands upon thousands of laws that conservatives want to change. – Dunk Sep 11 '17 at 20:56
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    @Dunk I wouldn't say that conservative positions have absolutely nothing to do with not wanting to change laws. That may not define conservatism in the USA, but it is certainly a non-negligible part. And note that oerkelens said that "'conservative' politicians tend to not want to change the existing (perceived by many, liberal) gun laws", not laws in general. That seems to me to be more correct than incorrect. – Ben Sandeen Sep 11 '17 at 21:32
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    @Dunk: The point is that the meaning of the word conservative has to do with avoiding major societal changes, just as "liberal" has to do with lack of regulation. The fact that in the US, conservatives do want to change things, while liberals are often in favor of greater regulation, is exactly the sort of semantic shenanigans that the answer is addressing. – Nick Matteo Sep 11 '17 at 21:32
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    @kundor - You are looking at liberal and conservative as words and interpreting them as a dictionary would. It is more accurate to look at those "words" as simply being "branding" names that don't necessarily have any relationship to the definition of the word. Case in point, liberals now call themselves "progressives". What they want to do will do anything and everything except "Progress" the country. Regressives/Destructives are far more accurate words but those wouldn't brand as well. – Dunk Sep 11 '17 at 22:08
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    @BenSandeen - Conservatism has nothing to do with wanting to change laws or not. The conservative viewpoint doesn't change because a law exists or not. The conservative viewpoint is largely rooted on what does the constitution say and what was the intent. You can claim that wanting to adhere to the constitution means not wanting to change laws but I disagree because wanting to adhere to the law is different from wanting to change the law but only according to the law. Many conservatives would gladly revisit the 2nd amendment but they won't because they can't trust liberal activist judges. – Dunk Sep 11 '17 at 22:33
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This mostly had to do with (as usual, confusing) political terminology and branding.

  • "Liberal" in USA has several meanings, mainly, either (1) "classical liberal" (which in USA is typically branded as "libertarianism" - although it's still called plain "liberalism" in Europe where the term originated); and, wholly independently, (2) "political liberal" - which is a self-made late 20th century[1] rebrand of what used to be called "progressive" (and can be loosely branded "left wing" at times, but personally I absolutely abhore single-axis left/right positioning) position.

    This terminology confusion is the source of what you're wondering: weapon restriction is a progressive/left-wing/political-liberal position. NOT "rights based" classical liberal one.

  • Additionally, your question seems very confused about what "conservative" means. "asserting heavier restrictions for some intended good is" has pretty much nothing to do with Conservatism, aside from some rare cases where said intended good was already restricted 200 years ago and therefore conservative position is to continue that (restricted pharmacology comes to mind - which of course happens to be one of the main differences in position between libertarians and conservatives).

    You give several examples where conservative position seems to be "in favor of restriction of good", but with one notable exception (gay marriage), none of those examples are a good fit - two of the prominent ones (pro-life and anti-euthiasia positions) for conservatives are about protection of life which takes precedence over any other freedoms, and are no more about restricting goods than a position that murder should be illegal is about restricting "freedom to commit crime". Immigration isn't about restricting freedom either; but about balancing different freedoms (freedom of people wishing to enter the country as expression of their freedom of association; vs. freedom of people already citizens of the country, as expression of their freedom of association AND freedom of property).

[1] - Ironically, many true liberals in classical liberalism sense are currently trying to re-brand things back, by reclaiming "liberal" label for their left-libertarian positions (one of the most notable examples is Dave Rubin), while branding former-progressives-now-called-"liberals" as "progressive" again, on the basis that current US progressive movement is claimed by many to be against many individual rights and the basis of classical liberalism

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    I think this answer is right, and just want to comment that here in the UK (and I think elsewhere in Europe), outside of tabloids and US-influenced TV etc, 'liberal' tends to mean classically liberal rather than the newer US meaning. That's in contrast to the US usage which seems to be mainly the other meaning. So someone who comes across a usage of the word might want to look at where the author/intended audience is from to help distinguish which meaning the author has in mind. – LangeHaare Sep 12 '17 at 10:13
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    @LangeHaare - great point, I edited the answer to clarify that. thanks – user4012 Sep 12 '17 at 13:25
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    +1 for pointing out the semantic differences of "liberal" between the US and Europe. As a European, it always strikes me how Americans use "liberal" as a synonym for "progressive", and then make up the term "libertarian" to describe what is "liberal" to me. – TheWolf Sep 13 '17 at 10:17
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    (pro-life and anti-euthiasia positions) for conservatives are about protection of life which takes precedence over any other freedoms Conservatives are pro death penalty and often pro-war. Protection of life is in no way an absolute. Some are 'pro-life' even when both the mother+child will die. Conservatives were also very into lynching in the recently. They voted for a guy adamant that you should kill the wives and children of terrorists. Like everyone else, where they place 'sanctity of life' on their value chart is highly situational. – Shane Sep 13 '17 at 14:41
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    Research shows that our values and the facts we accept about the world more often than not are rationalizations for something more base, not the driver of our beliefs and actions. This answer would be improved if it reflected that, imo. – Shane Sep 13 '17 at 14:45
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At the start, your analogies don't work. You're errantly assigned the majority of the opposition to the liberal viewpoint to conservatives.

Abortion: While the liberal position is about extending the personal freedom of the woman involved, the conservative viewpoint is about protecting the freedoms of the unborn. In this argument, the liberal opinion discards the freedoms of the vulnerable in favor of the woman. Yes, the scientific question of when in gestation the lump of cells is a human. There are other viewpoints, mostly influenced by religious doctrine or individual morals, and while they may originate from the right, they don't represent a conservative opinion.

Gay Rights: While the liberal position wants to increase the recognition of the individual rights of LGBT folks, the conservative position is about protecting the individual rights of everyone. Further, strong conservative position wants to know why the government is involved in the recognition of 'marriages' to begin with; leave marriages to the individual and their chosen organization, and only focus on an orderly protection of the contracting/association rights between those individuals. Once again, it is the insertion of religious and moral doctrine that poisoned the well here; first by creating tax incentives to encourage marriage, followed by attempting to legislate religious codes of conduct by barring others from the benefits of marriage. This established a violation of the individuals right to equal protection by the law. The conservative view point is concerned about the violation of rights held by others, especially when the government monopoly on force is used as a cudgel. The Baker/Florist/Photographer/etc. should not be forced, under the threat of legal persecution, to service an event they'd rather not. This follows the foul legal precedent of public accommodation, which erases the right to associate, or enter into contracts, of the individual business operator. What others do in their own lives really doesn't affect me.

Immigration: The liberal position is about the notion of allowing the American Dream to all comers, while the conservative position favors those immigrating legally. There are nationalist viewpoints from the right that want to harden the borders, favoring those already here, with more extreme bents focused on the demographics of those coming in. For the conservative how ever, it is about enforcing the rule of law.

Doctor-Assisted Suicide: The liberal position is supportive of empowering the individual to make a quality of life choice, and to die with dignity. The conservative concern is the risk empowering the government to establish a mechanism that 'grant' an assisted suicide request, and the associate threat that poses to the others who lives could be bureaucratically devalued. The extraneous moral arguments are influenced by the morals of those making them.

On Gun Rights

The liberals, as the term is applied in these United States, put forth gun control as a treatment for the impacts of other societal ills. The conservative opposition is about the protecting the individuals rights, as codified in the Constitution.

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    I do not agree with your argumentation. Gay rights: how has denying marriage rights to LGBT do with protecting individual rights? That does not affect any existing rights. The restrictions on abortion is way more religiously motivated usually and more about protecting the believes of right-wings by forcing their believes onto others. I do not discuss any of the points on a political level, but in all your points you write that conservatives usually restrict social freedoms (as for example clearly written in the suicide part). Your argumentation seems not to be convincing in any case. – Mayou36 Sep 11 '17 at 17:42
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    Or, in other words: your actual answer could be right. Conservative does not always mean restricting (for example employer protection law, mandatory health-insurance etc.) but your examples are actually the ones where conservatives are for restrictions. You just try to "twist the things around". Why don't you replace your examples with better ones ("honest ones") and draw a conclusion? – Mayou36 Sep 11 '17 at 17:46
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Sep 12 '17 at 18:20
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    This the strongest answer here. Nicely done. – closetnoc Sep 13 '17 at 4:57
  • Yeah, the conservatives believe that only insurance companies should have the right to bureaucratically devalue lives... – Shadur Sep 15 '17 at 0:30
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Not just guns

In the United States, liberals believe in higher taxes and spending on social priorities. Conservatives want lower taxes and social spending.

In campaign finance in the US, liberals want restrictions to how much campaigns can raise from individuals. Conservatives are against restrictions.

Even in areas like gay rights, the freedom/restrictions dichotomy is not as clear as you make it out to be. Take the cake baking issue. You can view this as absolute freedom for people to buy cakes saying anything they want anywhere they want. Or you can view it as a removal of religious freedom and freedom of speech from those who disagree. How you view it probably depends on which freedoms you find more important: gay rights or religious rights.

Words changing meaning

The obvious definition of liberal (from Dictionary.com) is:

5. favoring or permitting freedom of action, especially with respect to matters of personal belief or expression

But note that that is the fifth definition. Contrast with

3. of, pertaining to, based on, or advocating liberalism, especially the freedom of the individual and governmental guarantees of individual rights and liberties.

But those principles contradict each other. If the government guarantees individual rights and liberties, it has to restrict the freedom of the individual to do so.

Gun control

Gun control is an attempt by the government to guarantee the right of an individual not to be shot by a gun. But it operates by restricting individuals from owning and using guns. Where it is most successful it does so rather extremely.

For example, in Japan, just carrying a gun or a bullet is illegal without a special permit which is very difficult to get. And more importantly, in Japan, there is no exclusionary rule. Any successful search is a good search and can be used in evidence. So the police do not have to show probable cause. This makes finding illicit guns (or bullets) easier. Japan is so successful at this that not even the police carry guns.

Is Japan a police state? Many thinks so. Does that make it liberal or conservative in your book?

Party divisions

Democrats are liberal and left-wing. Republicans are conservative and right-wing. So we make the words match the actual ideologies as practiced rather than intellectual definitions.

In the US, Democrats are primarily an urban party while Republicans are a rural and suburban party. Republicans have next to no representation in urban areas. Democrats have better representation in rural and especially suburban areas.

In urban areas, there are large police forces and active police who are not far away. Firing a gun tends to be illegal because bullets can travel through walls and hit others. People are more worried about bullets that miss their target and hit someone uninvolved. Such people value gun free zones.

Rural areas tend to include hunters and people who are less worried about being attacked by guns and more worried about invasion of their home. Such people value easy access to guns.

Suburban areas are something of a compromise. They have fewer problems with crime in general. But they have higher density and more risk to firing guns. Many suburbs were formerly rural areas. Long time residents may think more rurally. Newer residents may have moved from urban areas to get more room and raise a family. For that matter, some suburbs are actually quite urban, only separated from adjacent cities by arbitrary borders.

Gun freedoms are more of a rural issue than an urban issue. Gun control is more of an urban concern than a rural concern. So the group that finds gun control important is the urban, liberal group. While the group that finds gun freedoms important is the rural, conservative group.

You can see the same pattern in gay rights. The urban, liberal group values the rights of gay people to do things more than they value the rights of religious people to not do things. Thus, they favor positively forcing people to write messages with which they disagree on cakes. The rural conservatives value their religious rights and freedoms more.

Ideology

The truth is that most people are not that ideological. Instead of constructing intellectual justifications, most people make political decisions emotionally. Urban people are more worried about being shot by criminals than losing the guns they mostly don't own. Rural people are more concerned about losing guns they do own than rare instances of crime committed with them.

Any ideological explanation tends to come after those decisions are made. First there is an emotional reaction. Then there is a rationalization.

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    Of note is that the US government already favors secular rights over religious rights for certain things; for example, members of a religion that consider people with dark skin to be evil would still not be allowed to discriminate against such people under current US law. The general liberal position is that such protection should naturally be extended to other characteristics that a person cannot easily choose about themselves, such as their sexual orientation. – JAB Sep 11 '17 at 16:36
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    It should also be noted that for the rural, it goes more than just fear of crime. Depending on where you live, coyotes, bears, wolves, and other predators can come and kill your livestock/crops aka your source of income. The farmer can't wait the 2 hours a cop will take to come out. Their whole farm will be demolished. This also applies to neighborhood dogs. There has been several shooting cases where neighbor farmers let their dogs run on other farms – ggiaquin16 Sep 11 '17 at 16:36
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    In your cake analogy, I'd recommend you review the differences between positive and negative rights. – Drunk Cynic Sep 11 '17 at 16:54
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    -1. It isn't that the act of firing a gun is illegal; while there are laws, the focus is on the context in which the gun is fired. There are allowances for individuals firing a firearm in self defense. Further, 29/100 of the largest cities have a Republican mayor, disputing your "next to nothing" claim. – Drunk Cynic Sep 11 '17 at 17:05
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    At the state level, republicans control 32 of them, where-in 17 are veto proof. dailykos.com/stories/2016/11/14/1598918/… – Drunk Cynic Sep 11 '17 at 18:13
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For a whole host of reasons (reasons that are best suited being listed in an answer to a different question), conservatives congregate in suburban and rural settings. Liberals are in urban and metropolitan areas.

Princeton Historian Kevin Kruse, made this point succinctly:

"There are certain things in which the physical nature of a city, the fact the people are piled on top of each other, requires some notion of the public good," he said. “Conservative ideology works beautifully in the suburbs, because it makes sense spatially".

Now guns in cities and guns in the countryside represent very different things.

In the country if you have a gun you probably use it to feed your family, fill up your friends' second freezers with venison, and you might need it to deal with foxes invading your chicken coop. It may be quiet living, but dangers still exist. Having a gun in the house is the rural equivalent of 911. Sure you can go ahead and dial 911, but no one is going to get there in time to save you from the serial killer in clown face trying to break in your bathroom window.

On the other hand, in the city, guns are totally for blowing someone's head off. The first time you hear gunshots you'll think it's firecrackers until you realize, hey, I don't think those drug dealers are celebrating a successful sale with a fireworks display. Depending on the city, you might even get to watch a shootout between a nut job in body armor and a bunch of cops.

In other words, if you see a gun in the city, it means something bad is about to happen. [paraphrased]

Guns fit into the conservative lifestyle, so they have them and like them. Guns don't fit into the liberal lifestyle, so they dislike them and want to keep them far away. Ideology -- believing in restricting or creating more freedom -- doesn't create this divide. Simple practicality does.

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    This answer seems logically consistent but greatly confuses correllation with causation. Progressives dislike guns ANYWHERE, in rural or urban settings. Most conservatives are pro-2-Amendment even when they personally live in big cities and aren't even likely to own a bear to arm. – user4012 Sep 11 '17 at 19:24
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    @user4012 Can you provide a citation for your claim that "Progressives dislike guns everywhere?" – Adam Sep 11 '17 at 20:37
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    @Shane - Can you provide citations for your claim "Guns don't fit into the liberal lifestyle" and the follow on: "so they dislike them and want to keep them far away." – Adam Sep 11 '17 at 20:41
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    "no one is going to get there in time to save you from the serial killer in clown face trying to break in your bathroom window" Probably true so far as it goes - but how many people per year in rural areas are killed by serial killer clowns, and how many in gun-related accidents? (Exclude statistics on deaths from "gun-related suicide" etc, from your answer, for better objectivity). My guess: the accidents outnumber the clowns from somewhere between 100:1 and 1000:1 – alephzero Sep 12 '17 at 0:24
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    @Adam Are you seriously asking for citations that prove gun use in cities is more likely crime related than livestock protection related and that in rural areas that relation is reversed? – Shane Sep 12 '17 at 14:26
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I think the important factor here is self-reliance. Basically - and I admit this is simplistic, but I'm not into writing a political text this morning - liberals (in the contemporary US sense) are about communalism and having the government take care of everyone, while conservatives think the government should protect the country, and let individuals take care of themselves.

So liberals think that if someone is the victim of a crime, they should wait around for the police to show up. If they want to eat meat, they should buy it at the store instead of hunting. (That's of course excluding the fringe who think everyone should be vegetarian.) The attitude goes beyond guns: you'd get basically the same attitude if you defend yourself with improvised weapons or bare hands, or if you bow hunt.

It goes into other areas, too, for instance the liberal desire for government-funded health care, or other social programs, versus the conservative belief that the primary responsibility should rest with the individual.

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In the US, the democrat party has lobbied for restrictions. The republican party tends to lobby for removal of restrictions. Right or wrong, the term 'liberal' is often used generically to refer to the democrats (just as 'conservative' is often used generically to refer to the republicans).

It's just a wedge issue that both parties have taken stances on.

It should be noted that not all democrats are for restrictions and, in fact, most southern democrats have to be against it given the NRA is a very strong lobbying group and does have sway with voters in certain regions.

And it should also be noted that not all republicans are against restrictions.

It's just, in general, the two parties have taken a particular side on this issue.

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First thing to realize is that in the United States the term "liberal" is applied differently than in other countries. In most countries, specifically, in Europe, "liberal" means a right-wing politician that stands for small government, low taxes and privatization, while in the US "liberal" usually means a left-wing politician that stands for bigger government.

That said, increased gun control is a left-wing measure that calls for greater government control and less private property rights.

So, in the US those who are advocating it, being more left-wing, would be called "liberals" while in Europe and the rest of the world, liberals would be those who calls for free civil gun possession.

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First off, political labels like "conservative" and "liberal" are generalizations - not every person or every policy promoted by a "conservative"/"liberal" will necessarily fall neatly into a given box.

However, you can make broad generalizations about the labels, and their general philosophy. You've just misinterpreted what the key distinction between conservatives and liberals is. The main difference between the two isn't their approach to regulation and freedom (which is more the libertarian/authoritarian spectrum) - the core difference between conservative and liberal is their view of the status quo and their philosophy toward change.

Conservatives, like their name suggests, tend to favor the status quo. They like things how they are, and generally support measures which they believe will either preserve the status quo or will return society to a (real or imagined) "better time". Sweeping generalization, but conservatives view the past through rose colored glasses.

Liberals, on the other hand, along with the closely related "progressives", tend not to be so enamored of the past. They put their faith in the future (in progress). Historically this has been associated with liberalization of laws (granting people more freedom), but liberals aren't necessarily against introducing more restrictions, if they help in the goal of progress and making a (real or imagined) "better time" in the future. Sweeping generalization, but liberals view the future through rose colored glasses.


It's in that light you can view the various issues you bring up. Gun control is a liberal cause because liberals (in the US) imagine a better future where gun control will reduce gun deaths. Conservatives (in the US) oppose gun control because they favor the semi-historical viewpoint of rugged individualism of the Wild West, and they respect the traditions of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees the right to bear arms, and they want to maintain the status quo of not prohibiting/controlling gun ownership.

For abortion and doctor-assisted suicide, it's the same dichotomy. Conservatives oppose them because they're traditionally been illegal, and also go against "traditional values". Liberals imagine a better future where safe, legal, effective abortion/assisted suicide will alleviate suffering and reduce some of the horrors of the past associated with these practices when they were illegal. Similarly with gay rights. Liberals imagine a bright future where gays are no longer stigmatized, whereas conservatives fear that increasing gay rights will change things and erode "traditional family values".

If you look beneath the surface of a lot of these liberal/conservative differences, you'll often (but not always) see the conservative position rooted in fear of the future and longing for a return to a (real or imagined) better past, whereas the liberal position is rooted in a distain at an unjust past and a longing for a (real or imagined) better future.

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    -1. In referencing traditionally family values, you've joined political conservatism with social conservatism, and the influences of judeo-christian values. – Drunk Cynic Sep 11 '17 at 16:52
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    @DrunkCynic I took it as given that we're talking about the United States, where common usage of "conservative" lumps together political and social conservatism. Judeo-Christian values are also tied up with (social) conservatism in the US, due to the US being (perceived as) a traditionally Christian nation. -- As mentioned, this is a rather broad-brushstrokes perspective. But I believe my main point stands: conservatives stand with tradition, whether that be political tradition (for political conservatives) or social tradition (or social conservatives) or both (typical US "conservatives"). – R.M. Sep 11 '17 at 17:56
  • This answer would be significantly improved if it were backed up. As it stands, this way of defining 'liberal' and 'conservative' sounds like your own opinion. However, I think you can find credible sources out there that make the same argument. – indigochild Sep 17 '17 at 19:36
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The premise of the question is not entirely accurate. I have read the other answers as they try to explain that liberal and conservative have to do with the amount of freedoms or control. They do not. The spectrum, in America, has to do with how far away control is from a the perspective of the person. That is: Should governing of a certain aspect of a population lay in local or federal level of politics.

That is different from the ideologies of Liberal or Conservative. The confusion come from trying to fit those ideologies into the spectrum. Further confusion comes from the center of the spectrum changing depending on point of view and time.

Back to the question about why it seems Liberalism is in favor of gun control. It is because the ideology of Liberalism posits that the individual should be free to pursue their own happiness without undue burdens. This is the ideal behind single payer health care (No worries about which plan to buy and how to fund it), abortion right (no worries about making a mistake in procreation), free immigration (no worries about being excluded), etc. Lack of gun control oppresses this freedom because if some people can get guns, a person has to either also get a gun or will fear that he will be at a disavantage when confronted by another individual with a gun.

The common denominator of Liberalism is that all these ideals actually require giving more power to the government in order to ensure those ideals. The extra power is needed because most liberal ideals are not easy to implement. Take "fairness" in wages: the natural state is to pay wages based on a person's production and supply of skills. In other words, the lowest skill people are very common and produce the least. Therefore, laws need to be enacted that will guaranteed a living wage to anyone of that low skill. When laws are created then there needs to be a mechanism of enforcement and therefore penalties if the law is not carried out.

Gun control laws are very similar. There is a government agency that will enforce gun control, various regulations such as background checks and waiting periods require even more government to do the checks and enforce the regulations. The freedom from dealing with gun owners require a lot of government.

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It is a mistake to believe "liberal" and "conservative" have a meaning in relation to how they're used to designate individuals as members of a particular political party.

The modern day Republican party is an amalgam of several groups - at least, today - with pretty different views on many things. Fiscal conservatives (who want lower taxes and lower government spending) are the face of the party, to some extent, but the Christian Conservatives are a significant block (the former Southern Democrats); they were added in the late 1960s through the 1980s slowly over time as the Democratic Party shed some of its ties to the area in favor of stronger ties to the urban centers. The semirural and rural industrial workers and farmers also make up a significant part of the coalition, with some overlap but really a very different set of core interests.

Gun control, abortion, and gay marriage are three areas that the latter two groups agree on. The fiscal conservatives - who largely make up the party leadership, but probably would prefer not to support those positions - are aware that this is the price they pay for the coalition, and don't mind too terribly much giving in on these positions. Were they to give up gun control, you'd likely see some of the rural and semirural industrial workers and farmers leave the party for third parties and/or simply stop being involved in the political system.

They're also very easy to defend; positions against abortion and gay marriage have largely been found to be unconstitutional, at least so far, but gun control is a topic that is very clearly defensible in the constitution (regardless of your opinion on the specific meaning of the amendment, it's far more defensible than the other two positions). Thus it's an easy "win" to show their constituencies. That makes it a very effective "glue" for the coalition - a winnable topic that many voters in the coalition consider their single most important issue.

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I tend to think that gun control advocates tend to be more left wing than liberal, but this is quibbling over semantics.

One possibility is that the left wing tends to be stronger in heavily urban areas, whereas the right wing tends to be stronger in rural areas. This likely results from the living conditions - in urban areas, cooperative living is the rule due to population density. Both governments and other people play a major role in an urban dweller's life.

Rural areas have a more solitary lifestyle, less affected by or dependent upon governments or other people, because neither the government nor other people tend to play as large a role in a rural resident's life. Fewer people means fewer rules for behavior.

In heavily urban areas, owning a firearm is not really practical - no place to shoot it, no hunting, no farm varmits to keep under control. Certainly in the US, the restrictions on firearm ownership in major cities tend to discourage ownership, if not preventing it outright.

In rural areas, firearms are considered a tool for farms, a sport, or a source of food, and restrictions above what the federal government requires are usually nonexistent.

So it may well be that the living conditions of the various political groups define their agenda on this subject.

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Your comparison examples are all quite dissimilar to your main example.

Liberals tend to believe that people have the right to do what they want, where the impact is only on the person taking the action, and consenting adults.

Marriage Equality is an example of something Liberals support. It is a thing that two people can do, which has a very large impact on themselves, a more modest impact on everyone else at the wedding, and no impact on anyone else. Everyone involved is either consenting (people getting married and adult guests), or there is no harm more significant than mild boredom (child guests).

Doctor assisted suicide is in a similar vein. The person making the decision is the one directly impacted. (Virtually) all supporters endorse safeguards, to allow this option only to adults of sound mind, who are capable of consenting.

Liberals do not consider gun ownership to be something that only impacts consenting adults. I could refer to any number of incidents of; children acquiring guns and shooting themselves or another child, a parent shooting their child, or gun massacres where the gun is used outside the home, amongst people who had no choice to consent or not to the gun's existence.

It's not unique to guns. For example, you see a similar thing with free speech. In Australia recently, the conservative side of politics attempted to remove protections against people insulting, offending or humiliating people based on race, colour or national or ethnic origin. Liberals tend to believe in limitations on free speech, because they believe people's right not to be abused takes precedence over people's right to free speech.

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    The abortion argument you mention doesn't seem to be used very often as far as I've seen. The argument is usually that people are allowed to decide what to do with their body, even if their choices DO hurt another who relies on their body, directly or indirectly. This isn't much of a liberal topic either, I think. Most people agree bodily autonomy is very important. – Erik Sep 12 '17 at 9:50
  • @Erik can you please explain how you reconcile your theory that that is people's reason, with the fact that abortions are only legal up to a certain number of weeks past conception in virtually all jurisdictions where it is legal. – Scott Sep 12 '17 at 10:43
  • No, because what is written into law generally doesn't exactly reflect the reasoning people have; a lot more goes into it. And it usually lags a few years to decades behind people's current reasoning anyway. – Erik Sep 12 '17 at 10:46
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    This argument would improve from taking abortion out - it's simply a case where Rule 0 of liberalism doesn't work (Your freedom ends where mine begins). The liberal abortion debate is about the point a fetus gains freedoms, not about the ground rule. – MSalters Sep 12 '17 at 14:05
  • @MSalters - taken out, as it appears to be confusing more than clarifying. – Scott Sep 13 '17 at 3:36

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