Gun violence is horrendous, almost inhuman, just as is violence of any kind, knife, rock, baseball bat, arson, 2-by-4. They are all continual reminders that we humans are an imperfect species and that we should never relax in the pursuit and punishment of those who commit such crimes, nor should we fail to examine the causes and find ways to attack such imperfections. Most of us would agree with all of that. The question is, why is it the responsibility of the federal government to control the legal sale of guns?
Alcohol kills far more people in America than guns do, as does cigarette smoking. And yet, the federal government does not control the sale of those substances. (The government’s approach to controling cigarette smoking is the height of hypocrisy, controling one’s ability to advertise cigarettes and extracting huge monetary payments from those who make them for killing so many people, but not just outlawing them. That’s how lobbyists put food on the table and fuel in the yacht.)
But the sale of alcohol is controled by the states, you say. Indeed, the government has left it to the states to decide how alcohol should be distributed, what age restrictions exist, etc. It simply collects a big tax and builds roads making it easier for drunks to drive faster. In fact, the Constitution does not enable Senators to pass laws outlawing the sale of alcohol. (Remember Prohibition?) Why would it be any different for guns? What is it about a gun that makes it different from a carton of cigarettes or a case of vodka? All of them can kill, some violently and in large numbers, and they all impose costs on society.
And now we come to the nub of the issue. The presidency of Frank Roosevelt opened wide avenues for new federal government interference in state governments and private lives. There was little FDR believed he could NOT do as president so long as it was done to, in his view, pull the economy out of its rut. The fact that much of what he passed was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court led him to try and actually take over the Court in 1937. So much for humility.
Roosevelt’s legacy, however, is with us still, motivating some to try and solve every problem they identify with the force of the Federales. It is so inconvenient, after all, to wait for all the states to pass laws that they know should be passed immediately, and the states won’t pass the laws exactly as they would like, so we would continue living in the darkness of an imperfect world. That is not acceptible to them; they must try and solve every societal problem now and use the force of federal government to do it. And so today, whenever a “big” issue like the illegal use of firearms to kill and maim raises its ugly head, most of us now accept the fact that the federal government will do something about it – don’t they always? – without regard to the legality or sensibility of their solutions.
The control of firearms would seem to be a uniquely local issue. People in Nebraska (forgive me for generalizing, people of Nebraska) may grow up with guns in the house, may grow up using them to hunt pheasants in the fall, and learn how to use them responsibly. It is a part of their culture. For people in Chicago, it may be different. Wouldn’t it make sense for the citizens of Nebraska and Chicago to deal with guns in a different way? In fact, wouldn’t the enactment of laws tailored to the most violent areas of the country invariably encroach on the liberty of those areas that have no need for such laws? Under what authority can the government act in this way? Not, according to the Supreme Court, under the Constitution.
Imagine for a moment a new federal department formed to oversee the police across the country, to make sure the most modern solutions to gun control are in use nationwide. We could call it the Department of Police Enforcement, or DOPE. DOPE would decide, for example, what kind of taser was best for police to use, and would write a regulation requiring that taser. Imagine the money flowing to lobbyists for taser manufacturers. Mmmmmm. DOPE might also decide how many police should be posted on each corner to reduce gun trafficking. Why, the people in Squirrel Hollow, WV, would never have felt so safe!
The press are anxious to make any problem that pops up twice a nationwide problem. It just makes better headlines. But does a nationwide problem require federal intervention into state perogatives? (We know some would LIKE that to be the case, but is it necessary to address the problem?) In the end, of course, the problem of guns is not the weapon, but those who use them, and since the Supreme Court is clear on the legality of guns, why not spend one’s limited resources working on those most horrific, but ultimately local gun events, massacres, that are at the root of the current uproar?