Though I still describe myself as a political liberal (I was a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party when it existed), it is becoming increasingly difficult to know what "liberal" means in conversation, whether written or oral.
As an ordinary adjective, "liberal" can mean free, generous, or unrestricted.
- "Liberal abortion laws" are laws that allow unrestricted abortion.
- "Liberal drug laws" are laws that allow unrestricted drug use.
- "Liberal gun laws" are laws that allow unrestricted gun ownership.
Well, not quite, because the way many people speak and write, "liberals" are in favour of "gun control" (whatever that means).
At some point there is a cross-over from "liberal" in a general sense, meaning having few or no restrictions, and "liberal" as a political philosophy. And sometimes there is another inversion there too.
People often speak of "liberal" in the sense of a political philosophy as if it were the opposite of "conservative".
Perhaps that is a hangover from 19th century British politics, when, from 1850 to 1920, the Liberal and Conservative parties were the main players on the political stage.
In fact the opposite of "liberal" (in the political philosophy sense) is not "conservative", but "authoritarian", and the opposite of "conservative" (again in the political philosophy sense) is not "liberal" but "radical".
The result of all this is that when people use the word "liberal" it is often difficult to know what they are talking about without asking for more information.
And then there is the "gun control" that "liberals" are alleged to be in favour of.
It is rarely defined by those who use the term, so it is difficult to know what it means, other than that, whatever it is, those who use the term are against it.
But I assume that it means that people who are against it believe that owning a gun should be like owning a camera rather than like owning a motor vehicle.
When one buys a motor vehicle, it is registered, and has a distinctive number plate so that it can be identified, and one needs a licence to drive it on a public road, and in order to get a licence one needs to pass a test to show that one is competent to drive it without endangering other road users.
When one buys a camera, one does not need to register it, and though it has a distinctive serial number from the manufacturer, there is no central registry keeping track of who owns which camera.
The difference is, of course, that when used incompetently, carelessly or recklessly both guns and motor vehicles can cause damage to property and injury or death to other people.
So I wonder if those who are against gun control are also against motor vehicle control and testing the competence of drivers. Do those who say that gun control means that only criminals will own guns also believe that only criminals own motor vehicles?