Sleight Of Arms: Liberals’ anti-gun pincer movement
By: Daniel Clark
In the aftermath of the mass murder (not “the tragedy”) in Newtown, Connecticut, we’re hearing the predictable calls for “commonsense” gun legislation. President Obama is pushing for a reinstatement of the “assault weapons ban” that expired in 2004, in contradiction of the “I believe in the Second Amendment” sweet nothings he’d been whispering through much of his first term.
The argument behind such a ban is that there’s no reason for a private citizen to own military-style weapons, or in the president’s words, “AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not on the streets of our cities.” Under the Clinton-era prohibition, “assault weapons” were defined arbitrarily, in such a way that one could easily obtain comparable guns without violating the law. The same would likely be true of whatever similar ban the Democrats hope to pass in reaction to Newtown.
For that reason, the NRA and likeminded groups may seem unreasonable to the passive observer, but they’re only trying to head off the liberals’ anti-gun pincer movement before it’s too late. If the “assault weapons” ban is reenacted, and made permanent this time, it will codify into law the premise that military-style weapons should not be owned by civilians. The fact that there would remain similar guns that were still legal would come to be seen as a loophole in need of closing.
Meanwhile, there’s the United States v. Miller Supreme Court precedent to contend with. The Court ruled in that 1939 case that appellant Jack Miller was not within his Second Amendment rights to transport a sawed-off shotgun across state lines, on the basis that the weapon, being inconsistent with use in a militia, did not fall within the constitutional definition of “arms.”
What the judiciary calls “arms,” Obama and his congressional allies call “assault weapons.” That’s not by accident. It’s a conscious, incremental step toward outlawing the ownership of firearms altogether. If that sounds paranoid, then ask yourself what else the president might have had in mind when he said on Meet the Press that “something fundamental in America has to change” where gun ownership is concerned.
This is how politicians proscribe an object or activity without having popular support for doing so. They don’t attempt to pass an outright prohibition, but instead indirectly regulate it out of existence. The American people would never have supported a ban on incandescent light bulbs, for instance, so no such thing was proposed. The way Congress did it was to pass new efficiency standards that were not realistically attainable. Likewise, Obama’s mandate to double fuel efficiency standards by 2025 is a means of preventing the manufacture of certain larger, heavier vehicles, without having to face the controversy that would arise from explicitly forbidding it.
So-called “commonsense gun restrictions” would operate in a similar but more stealthy manner, in that they’d rely on the Miller precedent, and the knowledge that the liberal media won’t bother to explain its relevance. Obama and his party seek to trap law-abiding gun owners between that ruling and the contrary assumptions underlying their legislative efforts. They still respect the people’s right to own firearms, they’ll say, just as long as those firearms are neither consistent nor inconsistent with military use.
You might wonder how this is possible, since an individual’s right to keep and bear arms was reaffirmed in the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision. The Heller ruling steered clear of overturning Miller, however, and also left the door open to future legislative restrictions.
Not that liberals feel bound by that decision anyway. By the time a challenge to any new law works its way through to the Supreme Court, there will likely be a third and possibly a fourth Obama appointee on the bench. Even as the Court is presently configured, Chief Justice John Roberts could always reverse himself. If he can flip-flop in the middle of writing his own opinion in the Obamacare case, disavowing a five-year-old decision ought to be a snap. All he has to do is cite some “compelling interest” or “evolving standard,” or whatever legal weasel words come to mind.
Besides, Obama might not directly propose a ban on the ownership of firearms. He might instead try to prohibit their manufacture and sale, and mandate the registration of those that are already privately owned. So, you see, your Second Amendment rights wouldn’t really be threatened at all. Neither will your right to purchase a new Hummer, just as long as it gets at least 54.5 miles to the gallon.
Daniel Clark is a writer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is the author and editor of a web publication called The Shinbone: The Frontier of the Free Press, where he also publishes a seasonal sports digest as The College Football Czar.