Much has been written about the subject of guns over the past few years. With each headline grabbing shooting, the rhetoric ramps up and media spin-doctors play it up for all it is worth. We all feel a sense of loss for the victims and their families, and it is not at all uncommon for many of us to think that this time we have to do something about it.
Sadly, there is more than a little misinformation on this subject. We all tend to agree, for instance, that convicted felons and mentally disturbed individuals should not be allowed to legally own firearms. But, just how much thought have we given to the implications of this idea?
All Americans have a right to due process. Simply put, this means the government cannot deny you anything that is yours – your property, your liberty or your rights – without clear and defined processes that include informing you of the government’s attempt to so deprive you. If the government wants to imprison you, they must first charge you with a crime and prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. If the government wants to take your property, they must use established procedures and show proper reasons to do so. Felons being unable to purchase weapons are restricted only after a long and deliberate process; it is not arbitrary, and those in that situation have had an opportunity to defend their selves.
What about the mentally ill, however? This is a much stickier question. The mentally ill, however defined, still are entitled to every due process protection due to every citizen. Further, there are many (or most) people with a mental health diagnosis that are not a danger to themselves or others. Should the presence of such a diagnosis, by itself, be enough to deny the right to keep and bear arms? Again, the answer lies with due process. Without an adjudication that a person is indeed likely to harm his/her own self or others, a fundamental right should never be abrogated.
Maybe we should prevent persons on government ‘watch lists’ from buying guns? It’s just common sense, right?
As an American, the idea of a government “watch list” should be a horrifying one. The current no-fly list, designed to prevent future airline-related terrorist attacks, is a murky, shadowy thing maintained by no one agency, but by the so-called ‘homeland security’ bureaus. Americans can end up on the list for, well… maybe some suspicion that you may have some affiliation with someone who might be sympathetic to a cause we officially do not like.
The problem starts when they make a mistake – and that happens with alarming regularity. There is no due process to get onto the list, and there is no due process to get off the list. A person wrongly placed on the no-fly list faces a hellish bureaucratic nightmare when he attempts to remove his name.
A no-guns list has this same, deeply flawed due process problem with a Constitutional kicker: while there is no constitutional right to board an aircraft (outside of a broader freedom to travel that the courts have created), there is an explicit constitutional right to own a gun. When a federal bureaucrat has the power to place a person onto the “list” without any notice or other due process, not only has a massive inconvenience been caused, but civil liberties have also been violated.
It is my deep and abiding belief that the natural rights we are all endowed with, and enshrined in the Constitution, are worth defending vocally and passionately. All of our rights are bound together; they cannot be separated from one another without serious damage to all of them.
The question of how to stop mass-shootings is a much larger and more complex question that can’t be fixed with simple, feel-good solutions; one that should not and cannot allow law-abiding Americans to have their God-given rights denied.