My last post was a plea to those on the political Right who are still open to being sensible: stop saying that President Obama is coming for everyone’s guns. That’s nutty stuff. Now, a plea to the news media. Whenever you hear a Republican candidate say that the President is undermining or infringing the Second Amendment through his proposed executive action or other legislative proposals, please ask them: how?
I realize the news media doesn’t like to get into the weeds on constitutional matters – in part because of the perceived short attention span of news viewers who just want the McNuggets and then to move on, and in part because many reporters are not sufficiently knowledgeable about many constitutional issues – but this is important stuff. Study it. If Republicans are to accuse the President of willfully violating the Second Amendment, please ask them how he is doing so and what they believe the proper scope of the Second Amendment is. In other words, if they want to make the Second Amendment a campaign issue – which is a perfectly legitimate issue to raise – then they should actually be prepared to discuss it substantively, not just to say the words “Second Amendment” so that everyone can cheer.
Ask them: do you agree with the Supreme Court’s decision in Heller, and if so, how do any of the President’s proposals violate the Second Amendment as understood in Heller? Ask them: if you oppose expanded background checks because such a policy violates the Second Amendment, then how can you support any background checks? Why would existing background checks be lawful, but new ones unlawful? Ask them: if you oppose expanding the categories of people who are legally prohibited from possessing a firearm, do you also oppose existing criminal law that creates multiple categories of prohibited possessors? Many candidates love to say that “we should enforce existing laws” but not create new ones. Fine. But this assumes the existing law is constitutionally valid. So, then, I think they should have to explain why the existing law is also constitutionally valid but a new law would not be.
Maybe they will have answers to these questions, maybe they will not. I hope they will. But once a person accuses the President of something as outrageous as wanting to “take away your guns,” then I think the burden falls on the accuser to defend that accusation. Until they either stop making the accusation, or speak more substantively about their understanding of the Constitution on this subject, don’t let them off the hook. Of course, if their position is not based on the Second Amendment or on the (to be charitable) “confiscation” theory, but rather on their view that a particular proposal will not be effective, that is a different argument. I know that many Republicans support things like a straw purchaser prohibition, felon-in-possession prohibitions, restrictions on guns for those with mental health problems, and other gun regulations. In fact, rather than the goofy “he’s coming for your guns” line, why not just say that the President is wrong on the merits and that proposal X will not effectively address the gun crime problem and that we need to instead do Y and Z? So the argument that new gun regulations would be ineffective is worthy of further examination, but different.
That, though, is not what I am hearing on the stump and in interviews. I’m hearing candidates who are deeply reluctant to talk about gun controls that they favor, and instead are far more comfortable simply toeing the absolutist line and invoking – without any further explanation – the Second Amendment.