“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
If it wasn’t for the fact that he’s a committed gun control guy, I might have mistaken Nicholas Kristof’s NYTs column today for a perfectly realized, Iowahawk-esque gun control parody. He opens, of course, with the “How did Jared Loughner get a gun” question. He does not answer that question by pointing to the fact that local law enforcement, led by that colorful liberal Sheriff Dubnik, had let Loughner run wild for years. That would have been a good answer. Instead, he goes directly for the gun kill (pardon my metaphoric language):
To protect the public, we regulate cars and toys, medicines and mutual funds. So, simply as a public health matter, shouldn’t we take steps to reduce the toll from our domestic arms industry?
To prove his bona fides to ask this insanely (and inanely) silly question, Kristof waffles on for a couple of paragraphs about his youth with a gun in his hand. He also acknowledges that guns are less of a risk than swimming pools (and, one might add, bathtubs and cars), but that doesn’t stop him. Having cleared the decks, he takes the momentous leap to compares America’s gun situation to Yemen’s:
(The only country I’ve seen that is more armed than America is Yemen. Near the town of Sadah, I dropped by a gun market where I was offered grenade launchers, machine guns, antitank mines, and even an anti-aircraft weapon. Yep, an N.R.A. dream! No pesky regulators. Just terrorism and a minor civil war.)
How to solve this crisis: Treat guns like toys. Kristof doesn’t mean, of course, that every kid should find one in his Christmas stocking. He means that the government should regulate guns like crazy:
• Limit gun purchases to one per month per person, to reduce gun trafficking. And just as the government has cracked down on retailers who sell cigarettes to minors, get tough on gun dealers who sell to traffickers.
• Push for more gun safes, and make serial numbers harder to erase.
• Improve background checks and follow Canada in requiring a 28-day waiting period to buy a handgun. And ban oversize magazines, such as the 33-bullet magazine allegedly used in Tucson. If the shooter had had to reload after firing 10 bullets, he might have been tackled earlier. And invest in new technologies such as “smart guns,” which can be fired only when near a separate wristband or after a fingerprint scan.
Not content with roping Canada into the discussion, Kristof also cites to Australia’s gun control efforts to make his case.
In Kristof’s column, however, one word is conspicuously absent: Constitution. Perhaps Kristof figures that, if he just ignores it, no one will notice that he doesn’t deal with an explicit Constitutional limitation on government power. He’s probably right, too, insofar as his column is read almost entirely by people who share his sentiments about guns. Heck, 20 years ago, I would have agreed with him. If asked, at that time I would have said that the Second Amendment is so narrowly written that it requires people to train with a militia as a prerequisite for them to have guns. If they’re not going to train (a la the Swiss model), the government gets to take their guns away. It didn’t occur to me that a militia is a citizen military regardless of training or, more importantly, that the whole point of the Second Amendment is to protect the people from their government, not to allow the government to decide which of its citizens gets guns or to take those guns back at will.
As far as I know, there is nothing in the Bill of Rights that mentions toys. Or maybe I just missed the Second and a Half Amendment, the one saying that “A well-adjusted, exhausted, entertained child population being necessary to the happiness and security of a free State, the right of America’s children to play with any damn toy they so desire shall not be infringed.” Nah. I don’t think I missed it. It doesn’t exist. That’s why citizens are fairly sanguine about federal safety rules when it comes to toys — toys aren’t an explicitly protected product under the Constitution, one that cannot be the subject of government meddling and restrictions.
The Founding Fathers, however, did see fit to exempt guns from government control — not just federal control, but any government control. One could make a very good argument that even the gun laws we currently have (registration, waiting periods, etc.) violate the Constitution.
It’s true that the Founding Fathers did not envision the gun world we have today, one that makes guns easy to manufacture or that produces an astonishing variety of guns, some of them with more lethal efficiency than others. Their inability to predict the future, though, does not give Progressives the right simply to ignore them. The Constitution is the contract between government and people. This marvelous contract has within it mechanisms for amending it if it no longer serves the people.
Simply ignoring the Constitution is not one of the contractual options. If Kristof is interested in having guns regulated in precisely the same way toys are, perhaps he should spearhead a Constitutional amendment that repeals the Second Amendment. Should he do so, I don’t wish him success, and I don’t see him having much luck, but that’s still what he should do. To write an entire column comparing a Constitutionally protected instrument to a toy is just fatuous and stupid.
UPDATE: Thanks, pst314, for bringing my attention to my horrible Kristol/Kristof mixups. I’ve corrected them all, but I’m really embarrassed. Sometimes my brain and my fingers live lives independent of each other, but that’s no excuse for making such a heinous error.