Mandatory Gun Ownership Is Small Government?

Nelson, Georgia, population 913, has just passed a law “requiring” every household to have a gun and ammunition. As Executive Vice President of the American Small Government Society, I demand that these so-called conservatives surrender their small government cards immediately.

Nelson’s not the first town to do this. Kennesaw, Georgia, about a half hour away, was the first (so far as I know) to pass such a law, in 1982. And as in Kennesaew, the law is supposed to aid in the emergency management of the city. Personally, I’d recommend mandatory chainsaw ownership as a better means to that end. The only emergency a town of that size–and I grew up in a town about that size–is likely to face is a tornado, and a Husqvarna 460 is going to be a damn sight more useful for clearing away downed trees than a Walther P99.

But of course nobody is actually required to own a gun. The law exempts people with disabilities, those with a felony conviction, those who oppose gun ownership, and folks who can’t afford a gun. So it’s only a mandate on the willing and able.

In other words, the law is purely symbolic–the triumph of ideology over policy. I don’t care how many people in Nelson own a gun, whether it’s all or none. They have a 2nd Amendment right to to so, and the Supreme Court recently affirmed this right. Nothing further is gained–except international attention as a bunch of jackasses–by passing a law that is effectively unenforceable, is toothless even if it were enforceable, and unconstitutional even if it were toothy and enforceable.

Of course in my polycentrist view of politics, this is exactly the kind of law I’d allow a small town to pass. I’d oppose it at the national and state levels, and even at the level of a bigger town. But the smaller a place is, the more homogenous, the more authority I’d allow them to make such controlling rules. That doesn’t mean most of those rules wouldn’t be blindly stupid, though.

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About James Hanley

James Hanley is Associate Professor of Political Science at Adrian College and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The views expressed here do not reflect the views of either organization.
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8 Responses to Mandatory Gun Ownership Is Small Government?

  1. pierrecorneille says:

    As someone who endorses empowering the federal government to compel people to purchase health insurance, I don’t have much of a leg to stand on when it comes to opposing the prerogative of a town like Nelson to compel people to buy guns, even if the town didn’t have all the exceptions and lax enforcement terms. I guess I’ll just have to be quiet and eat my broccoli, as long as I have the choice, that is :)

  2. Matty says:

    I do actually have a problem with unenforceable laws and with what I call “This House likes cake” resolutions. All those votes on whether legislators approve or disapprove of something that don’t actually have any effect.

    I can’t say it’s a matter of high principle but the sheer waste of time and presumably money involved in organising such things irks me. If you have nothing to do at work go home early, it’s better than pointless guff to fill time.

  3. lancifer666 says:

    pierrecorneille,

    What if the state required you to make an oath of allegiance to the leader, is that OK? If not why not? What’s the difference between forcing you to buy something and forcing you to say something?

    How about forcing you to take part in executions? Executions are legal and I see no reason that the state couldn’t compel you to pull the lever, or make the injection, if it is OK for them to make you buy stuff.

  4. pierrecorneille says:

    I guess my “joke” (if you can call it that) didn’t go as intended and tone has once again fallen prey to online commuication. I do believe in limiting principles–what they are, I’m pretty fuzzy on–but according to those principles, it would not be okay for the state to compel me to pull the lever nor would it be okay for the state to compel me to do swear an oath of allegiance to the leader (or the flag, for that matter).

    I can see a logical progression–or maybe declension?–from the idea that the state can compel one to buy health insurance on the theory that by doing so, health insurance might be more affordable for most people, to the idea that the state will make me swear an oath of allegiance, etc. etc. On the other hand, I see a lot of daylight between the health insurance mandate and the ad absurdum, with Godwinesque undertones, you mention. Not that the ad abusrdum won’t ever happen, just that there are a lot of steps from point a to point z. (Some of which, I realize, have already been taken.)

    “Sunlight” of course is not a proper answer to the “what about the rule of law?” question. And yes, it bothers me that the the enumerated powers granted by the constitution to the federal government cannot be reasonably read to permit the mandate qua regulation of commerce and can only a little bit more easily be reasonably read to permit to permit the “mandate as a tax” upon which Roberts found it constitutional.

  5. lancifer666 says:

    pierrecorneille,

    I’ll grant the slide towards ad absurdum argumentation. But there ain’t no Godwin in there pal!

    Also, if you can bend the commerce clause so badly out of shape to make compulsory purchases of anything constitutional it doesn’t take much applied torque to justify the state compelling other positive actions.

  6. lancifer666 says:

    Hell, if you can compel people to be armed combatants against their will what exactly can’t you compel them to do?

    I still find conscription to be the second most incongruous (to the values underlying the constitution) action ever allowed in the US, only exceeded by slavery.

  7. lancifer,

    I saw a bit of Godwin in there (swearing allegiance to a leader, for example), but that might just be my sensitivity flaring up, so fair enough. Maybe we could say that the state’s power (be it legitimate or no) to conscript is part of the reasoning that justifies “lesser” positive actions compelled by the state. At least I can see the relationship, and I share your concerns about conscription.

  8. But the smaller a place is, the more homogenous, the more authority I’d allow them to make such controlling rules. That doesn’t mean most of those rules wouldn’t be blindly stupid, though.

    On the contrary, they can be incredibly smart. Once you accept the “vote with your feet” principle as excusing all sorts of local objectionables, you’re waving a welcome sign for one of the hallmarks of the Spanish Inquisition: the opportunity for citizens to enrich themselves by confiscation of their neighbors’ property.

    Just pass a new local ordinance that is narrowly drawn to be unacceptable to Joe Doake and a clear “meh” to everyone else. At which point the Doake family is given the choice of getting in line or going somewhere more congenial. Choosing to take Door #2, they sell their home for what they can get, well below normal market prices because the only buyer available on short notice is Mayer Henry Potter. (And yes, this works both ways. I’m old enough to have seen blockbusting in the 60s.)

    It’s not a game that can be played forever, but it works for quite a while (see Niemöller) and certainly long enough to benefit the short list that are influential enough to work the scam.

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