An Immodest Proposal: What If We Treated Gun Rights Like Abortion Rights?

constitution_gunThis is a thought experiment. The mass shooting in Las Vegas two days ago killed and wounded more Americans in 30 minutes than the battle of Fallujah. Attempts to legislate gun regulations to make it harder for criminals to obtain weapons of war have failed because of powerful gun lobbyists with deep pockets and spineless congressional representatives who value campaign contributions more than the safety of their constituents.

I see many parallels between the gun rights arguments and abortion rights arguments. For example, abortion opponents will argue that the right to an abortion isn’t specifically spelled out in the Constitution and any claim to that right is the result of judicial activism. When the Supreme Court determined in Roe v. Wade (1974) in a 7-2 decision that the right to privacy in the 14th Amendment extended to health care, decisions regarding abortion became no one’s business but the woman and her doctor.

And while the 2nd Amendment does offer some specific gun rights, until District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) the right to bear arms was considered a collective right, that is a right given to the states, not individuals. In a 5-4 decision, SCOTUS overturned more than a century of precedent to say the 2nd Amendment applied to individuals. For some reason, conservatives didn’t see that as judicial activism.

So, given that both individual abortion rights and individual gun rights are the result of split decisions by SCOTUS, we can look to how legislatures’ attempts to regulate these rights can inform each other. Perhaps, through creative thinking, we can find some common ground. Or at least lay bare the hypocrisy.

I mean, conservatives bent on curtailing abortion rights are nothing if not creative. They have come up with dozens of “TRAP laws” (Targeted Regulations at Abortion Providers). They have legislated waiting periods, scripts for doctors to read, regulations for clinic facilities, hospital affiliations, invasive ultrasounds, and affirmed the rights of protesters to line the sidewalks outside clinics to offer street-level “counseling.”

What if we applied some of that creativity to the problem of gun violence? Below are some suggestions for how this might work.

All Gun Stores Should Be Required To Build and Maintain A Below-ground Shooting Range

Think about it. It offers gun buyers access to better information about the gun they are considering. If something terrible happens, like a misfire or a stray bullet, the range is surrounded by earth and no outsider would be injured. The range can be limited to one person at a time to ensure no “lone wolf” decides to use their weapon on anyone but themselves. 

“But wait,” you say. “My local gun shop is located in a place where an underground shooting range can’t be built.” That’s unfortunate, but your safety is our main concern. This legislation undoubtedly will lead to closings of sub-standard gun shops around the state. But in the name of safety, and providing potential gun owners with necessary information with respect to their options and their rights, this is a good thing for gun owners.

“But wait,” you say. “My local gun shop can’t afford to take on such expensive renovations.” You’re not alone. Some estimate that these new regulations will close upwards of 90 percent of gun shops in your state. But those remaining 10 percent are going to be reeaaaallly successful and busy. In fact, you may have to start making appointments to purchase weapons because of the demand. 

All Gun Purchases Should Require a three-day waiting period.

Potential customers may use these three days to fire the gun in the underground firing range, read various pamphlets offered by the state, and a law enforcement officer will offer counseling about the dangers and responsibilities of gun ownership.

“But wait,” you say. “I don’t need three days to make my decision. I’ve got to drive a four and a half hours to get to a gun store. Why should I have to wait three days after I get there?” We like to think of this part of the legislation as “reflection enhancement time.” If you make a rash decision, you will regret it for the rest of your life and there are psychological implications to that of which you need to be aware.

All Gun Purchasers Should Be Required to View Images of Gunshot Victims

You may never fire your weapon at another human and we really hope you don’t. But if you decide to take that momentous step, you need to do so with your eyes open to the results of your decision. Studies show that people who use their guns to kill, even in defense of their own lives, often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. It is important that you understand the deadly nature of your decision and how it may affect you for the rest of your life. Firing your gun at someone could result in you being unable to fire your gun at anyone else. Then where will you be?

All Gun Dealers Should Be Required to Properly Dispose of Waste

This includes spent shells, casings, used targets, etc… Reusing these materials creates an environment where ammunition isn’t strictly regulated. An unsuspecting gun owner could inadvertently use substandard ammunition which can cause injury to him or herself or others. Therefore, reloading and reusing ammunition components is prohibited. Proper disposal of spent rounds, casings, targets, and shells will require proper labeling, packaging, and disposal using a commercially licensed handler of hazardous waste material, all of which must be buried or incinerated in the presence of a licensed disposal agent. 

All gun dealers should be required to have an off-duty law enforcement officer on the premises 24 hours a day.

This will facilitate the required counseling as well as create jobs and give law enforcement a better access to information about gun ownership in the state. Also, if an emergency occurs, having law enforcement on hand will better protect the gun owner and gun dealer from danger. 

“But wait,” you say. “However many guns I own or want to own or plan to own isn’t anyone’s business but mine.”  Sure, sure. You’re fine. You’ve got nothing to worry about. It’s the shady, back-alley gun shops that we’re going after. “But I can’t afford to pay an armed guard/counselor to be on site 24 hours a day.” Again, this may cause the closure of some substandard gun shops, but that’s the price you pay for safety and access to good information about your decision to buy and own a gun.

All gun purchases must be done in person with a licensed gun dealer and law enforcement officer present.

If something does go wrong during the purchase, to protect the health and safety of everyone involved, we’d feel better about having some professionals present. This isn’t the sort of decision one should make via computer or through the mail. There may be questions to be answered. Plus, this way, we can ensure that you’re in compliance with the other regulations we’re creating. So, no gun purchases online or over-the-counter. You need to see a licensed professional and have someone present with jail-admitting privileges should an emergency happen.

All Gun Store owners and employees should be screened for lead poisoning every six months.

The health and safety of everyone involved in the totally legal and constitutionally guaranteed right to own a firearm dictate that steps be taken to head off any potential risks to the wellbeing of gun shop owners and employees. So regular inspections of the facilities including sweeps for carcinogens, the presence of lead, and other environmental contaminants will help ensure the safety of all involved.

Gun Purchase Counsellors Shall Remain Outside the Fixed Buffer Zone of the Gun Store and Outside the Floating Buffer Zone of Individual Gun Purchasers.

In the interest of ensuring you have all the information you need to make your gun purchasing decision, some gun stores may attract the attention of street-level counselors who may shout helpful information at you while you walk toward the store. They may also show you giant images of gun-shot wounds or dead people who suffered from gunshot wounds. They may use bullhorns or PA systems to yell their advice at you. They may take your photo or write down your license plate number. This is all for your benefit and depending on the state, they may be required to stay back a few feet from the door and a few feet from you. Your gun store may provide an escort to help you navigate these well-wishers.

All Gun Purchases Will Be Recorded and Filed with the  State Government Health Departments.

We need to study the effects of gun ownership on a variety of public health issues. To do this, we need the best information available. So the Department of Health will keep a file on every person who buys a gun and every gun bought. This way, we can know and others can find out.

Do these regulations sound unreasonable? Do they sound like attempts to stop you from exercising your rights to purchase and own guns? Do they sound like excuses and pretenses? They are. But so are TRAP laws.

Now imagine the government enacting some or all of these regulations, resulting in the closure of all but one or two gun shops in your state. Now, to purchase a gun, you have to take off from work, drive several hours, get a hotel room, navigate a gamut of protesters screaming at you, begin the process (which includes your gun dealer and law enforcement officer reading a state-mandated script about the evils of gun ownership), wait two or three (or five) days (and in some states weekends and holidays don’t count toward this waiting period); and then have an unnecessary and invasive medical procedure (such as a prostate exam) before you’re allowed to make your purchase, which the Constitution and the courts say is legal. Oh, and the government may spend your tax dollars funding stores that look like gun shops but don’t actually sell guns, just advice on why you don’t really want to own a gun anyway. The government might also pass legislation saying your liability insurance doesn’t cover shooting anyone, so you’ll have to get a special mass shooting rider which they will make illegal to sell to you.

Every one of these regulations, which seem silly and unnecessary are based on actual legislation proposed or enacted by states to limit a woman’s right to abortions. All the justifications which seem egregious are based on the justifications for various TRAP laws. If you can recognize it when applied to gun rights, then you should be able to see it with respect to abortion and understand why so many fight against them.

The truth is that we need gun control regulation. Not to prevent law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves. But to prevent someone accumulating an arsenal and murdering 50 people and injuring 500 in a matter of 30 minutes. Currently, Congress wants to make it easier to purchase suppressors for weapons under the guise of “hearing protection” and armor-piercing bullets under the guise of . . . well, I’m not sure why civilians need armor-piercing rounds. But it seems like we’re moving in the wrong direction here.

Contact your members of Congress. Tell them to return the blood money the NRA has given them. Tell them to take action to protect your right to be safe in public. Because the answer to the shooting in Las Vegas isn’t hotel security screenings or limits on outdoor events. It’s regulations on ammunition and weapons. We can do better than what we’re doing.

Advertisements

You’re poor? Well, pee in this cup, you drug-crazed criminal . . .

While on Facebook the other day, I ran across a message posted by one  of my relatives. It said “Shouldn’t you have to pass a urine test to collect a welfare check since I have to pass one to earn it for you?”

This argument makes a lot of sense to people who don’t think things through very well and goodness knows, there are a lot of people on Facebook who don’t think things through.

I want to point out a few things that everyone who pressed that little “like” button might not have considered. Let’s start with the Constitution, specifically the Fourth Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Put in plain language: you cannot search me or take my property without probable cause and a warrant. My presumption of innocence, trumps your prejudice against my socioeconomic standing. Put in even plainer language: just because I’m poor, doesn’t mean I’m a criminal.

I’m willing to bet that the people who  “liked” that post are just two or three missed paychecks away from needing public assistance themselves. In our fragile economic state, we can go from gainfully employed and self righteous to needing help feeding our families within a single month.

In Florida, which is an epicenter of this movement, Gov. Rick Scott signed a law requiring drug testing for welfare recipients in May of 2011 saying he didn’t want government money “wasted” on people who use illegal drugs. The ACLU sued and a federal court has halted the practice based on 4th Amendment grounds. The named client was Luis Lebron, a 35-year old single father and Navy veteran who applied for temporary assistance while he was finishing his college degree. Lebron met all the requirements for welfare assistance, but refused to take the drug test, saying there was no reason to believe he was on drugs, so making him pay for and take a drug test was unreasonable. A federal judge agreed, writing:

“If invoking an interest in preventing public funds from potentially being used to fund drug use were the only requirement to establish a special need, the state could impose drug testing as an eligibility requirement for every beneficiary of every government program. Such blanket intrusions cannot be countenanced under the Fourth Amendment.”

The Constitution trumps your bigotry. But that hasn’t stopped other states (mine included) from trying to pass laws requiring poor people to be drug tested. Currently, 30 states have either enacted or are considering proposals to drug test welfare recipients as a condition for receiving government aid.

It’s one of those ideas that seems really good on paper.  It goes like this: I work hard and manage to stay off welfare. Since you’re on welfare, you must be a lazy moocher. So, anything I can do to make your life more difficult will make me feel a little bit better. And if it gives you the kick in the ass you need to get up off of your rented-by-the-week sofa and find a job digging ditches somewhere, then good.

There is so much hate out there for welfare recipients. I can only assume it is based on ignorance and a lack of experience as to what it’s like to be in dire need of help.

In Florida, Gov. Scott sold this legislation as a way to help with Florida’s budget problem. In practice, it has cost the state more money than it saved.

This is what I don’t understand about state legislators. They don’t seem to learn from their (and other states’) mistakes. In 1997, the Supreme Court heard Chandler v. Miller which was about the constitutionality of a Georgia law requiring candidates for state office to pass a drug test. The court said drug testing was an unreasonable search and while there are instances where the government can require a drug test, such as public safety issues (you don’t want your kids’ school bus driver to be on drugs), you can’t diminish one’s personal privacy for the sake of a symbolic gesture.

In other words: just because you don’t like a group of people, doesn’t mean you get to take their rights away. Singling out the poor for drug testing when government largess reaches every strata of the socioeconomic ladder, is mean-spirited. Making them spend what little resources they have to pay for their own drug testing is cruel.

Getting help to feed your family is not supposed to be a punitive experience. We are supposedly a compassionate nation that cares for the least among us. But people on welfare are treated with suspicion and out right hostility. Now we want to treat them like criminals, too? Needing help to survive doesn’t make you a bad person. What makes you a bad person (in my opinion) is treating someone who cannot afford to feed his family as some sort of pariah. Reading through the comments on some of these stories, you’d think that cashing a welfare check was akin to picking pockets or stomping on baby ducks in the park.

It doesn’t stop with welfare. I’ve seen proposals to drug test people who apply for unemployment benefits. In Tennessee, the legislature wants to drug test everybody who receives government money. Tennessee cannot afford the cost of appeasing the legislative lust to show the voters just how hard you can be on the downtrodden. Where are all the small-government conservatives?

The poor are an easy target. They don’t have lobbyists knocking on legislative doors or handing out campaign contributions. Singling them out for drug testing scratches a conservative itch to punish people for being poor. In Florida, if you fail a drug test, you cannot reapply for benefits for a year.

Before the courts halted the practice, Florida was finding that about two percent of welfare recipients were testing positive for drugs. This is in direct opposition to Gov. Scott’s claim that drug use is higher among welfare recipients than the general population. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that among people over the age of 12, illicit drug use happens at a rate of 8.3 percent.

My final point is that we all participate in the welfare system. We pay into it when we’re earning and we draw from it when we’re not. It is there to help people who need it and unless you have Romney money, you might be one catastrophic illness or corporate layoff away from needing it yourself. Those who never have to draw a welfare check are lucky and should take some pride in that fact. But that pride shouldn’t extend to a feeling of superiority over those who require help. It should instill in you a desire to elevate your fellow man, not put a boot on his neck and demand he pee in a cup.