Friday, February 3, 2017

Unconditional Nonsense

I’ve been getting a small flood of constituent emails in the past couple of days, all of which read as follows:

Dear Senator Richard Barrett:

As your constituent, I respectfully urge you to support House Bill 262 when it comes up for a vote.

This important legislation would allow any law-abiding individual who can legally possess a firearm to carry a handgun for self-defense in Montana without having to obtain a permit to do so.  This bill recognizes a law-abiding adult's unconditional Right to Keep and Bear Arms for self-defense in the manner he or she chooses.

Again, as your constituent, I urge you to support House Bill 262.

Now I’m always happy to hear from constituents, and I’m willing to consider, however briefly, whether or not it’s a good idea to let people walk around carrying a concealed handgun without a permit.  But can we please, please dispense with the absurd claim that anyone has an “unconditional Right to Keep and Bear Arms for self defense in the manner he or she chooses.”

Other than in the febrile imagination of the NRA or the Montana Shooting Sports Association, no such unconditional right exists. It’s not in the Montana Constitution, the common law, the Bible, the Quran or anywhere else. It’s not even in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which the Supreme Court has repeatedly said does not prohibit government from conditioning gun rights, by limiting who can have guns, what kind of guns they can have, and where they can take them.

Now I get the rhetoric here. When you want something but can’t make a compelling case for why you should have it, it’s always a good idea to claim it’s yours by right. After all, who wants to take anyone’s rights away? But before you make the claim, you really ought to check and make sure the “right” that’s being taken was ever there in the first place.

It’s not unusual to get a bunch of identically worded emails, but it obviously means that some organization or other has convinced its members to fire off some canned text. That’s okay, if not terribly effective. I don’t know who’s behind this particular email, although it isn’t hard to guess. To whoever it is, I’d say this: please have a little respect for your members. Don’t set them up to fail by having them express opinions that are patently – unconditionally - ludicrous.