I, for one, am sorry and disappointed that Philip Baruth has withdrawn his gun control bill. I don't know if I would have supported every provision, but shouting him down because a small segment of society doesn't like what he has to say doesn't seem like a good way to do things. (Technically I don't know if it's even possible to “withdraw” a bill, but if the only sponsor withdraws his support and says he doesn't want the Senate to take it up that's pretty much the same thing.)
Still, some substantive debate is called for right now, and I don't think it's going to happen. Knowing that it's not going anywhere in the Legislature doesn't stop me from throwing out a couple of ideas and questions that have been rolling around in my brain for the last month or so.
First off, I don't take it as a fixed, settled principle that the Second Amendment creates or was intended to create an individual right to own firearms. Nobody, almost literally nobody, thought that until the Supremes decided that it does a few years ago. That doesn't necessarily mean they're wrong, but you have to be suspicious when it's thugs like Scalia, Alito, and Thomas who decide they've discovered a new individual right in the Constitution. As far as I know, it's the only individual right they think the Constitution actually protects.
Like I say, suspicious. After all, these are some of the same guys who decided Bush v. Gore on a one-time-only, never mention this again application of the Equal Protection Clause that applies only when necessary to keep a Democrat out of the White House. Suspicious.
Second, we have the fact that even the most extreme of gun rights people seem to accept the principle that some level of restriction on gun ownership is permissible under the Second Amendment, but I have never seen a single principled basis by which they think the Second Amendment would allow for any lines to be drawn.
Lawyers and courts like to look for limiting principles and you just can't find them in this debate. Once they say that “shall not be infringed” means what they think it says you can wait all day for them to say why the Constitution allows them to have an AR-15 with a thirty-round magazine but not a .50 caliber machine gun, a bazooka, a Stinger missile, or a rocket-propelled grenade launcer. Forget tanks and thermonuclear devices, how do they know that the Framers intended the line to be drawn precisely where they want it and nowhere else?
Isn't that worth discussing?
And beyond that, if the Constitution does allow for lines to be drawn, isn't it legitimate to have a discussion not just about what is permissible but what makes good sense, and what is needed to protect the public?
Or how about this one: we hear over and over that there are only a few hundred murders committed each year with rifles and shotguns, and the thousands more are committed with handguns. Why does this lead to the conclusion, “Therefore, do nothing”? Doesn't that raise the obvious question that handguns are what we should really be looking at and regulating? If not, why not, especially since, except in few circumstances, the idea that your handgun is going to protect you from the scary stranger or the scarier jack-booted thug is mostly a pipe dream?
And if we have the discussion, could we get the people on both sides to focus on the substance? For instance, if you are in favor of gun rights, saying, “It's not a clip, it's a magazine” is not an actual response to a question about how many bullets a person should be allowed to load into a gun at one time. Mocking the term “assault weapon” as an aesthetic concept is not a substantive response to the question of whether there are some weapons that by their design, concealability, portability, or ability to be modified to be full-auto that are too dangerous to be out in public.
And if your response to magazine limits is that it means that your hobby of shooting at targets isn't as much fun if you have to change magazines more often, explain to me how having fun while you engage in your hobby is an important constitutional principle.
This is an area where I would like to see some more law enforcement. Isn't it obvious that every time someone who is prohibited by law from purchasing a firearm tries to do that he or she has committed the crime of attempted illegal possession of a firearm? Why aren't they prosecuted?
And can't we at least eliminate the gun show loophole? You know, the one that 92% of your fellow Americans support? Would it be okay to do that in Vermont even if Congress won't do it?
I think all of these questions and a whole lot more are legitimate questions for debate, but now we're not going to have that debate, at least not here.
Maybe my title is all wrong. Maybe we were never going to have a good discussion, no matter what else happened.