Federalism, which among other things allows individual states to experiment with policies untried at the national level, has a downside in one sense for advocates of liberty and limited government: those who appeal to a right to keep and bear arms must do battle for their rights at more than one level.
The recent massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School has many all across the country understandably looking for a solution to such shootings. Those who understand that gun control produces few if any real world results in terms of reducing gun violence can be relieved that little of great substance is likely to come from a divided Congress at the federal level. However, Washington is not the only government that can deprive citizens of Second Amendment rights if they are not vigilant.
Across the country, state legislatures are taking aim at firearms, with a particular focus on ammunition. Beyond the well-known magazine capacity limit passed in New York State, some state lawmakers are looking to tax ammunition. California State Representative Roger Dickinson has proposed a five-cent per bullet tax, the proceeds of which would be used to fund mental health evaluation and intervention. Nevada’s William Horne has proposed a two-cent per bullet tax to fund a similar program, as well as a corresponding $25 tax on handgun purchases. California’s Linda T. Sanchez has proposed a 10% on handgun purchases, which would fund gun buybacks. Maryland Delegate Jon S. Cardin’s 50% excise tax on ammunition and $25 annual registration fee would go to pay for another mental health program.
As taxes, none of these proposals run afoul of our constitutional rights, although they serve as disincentives to gun ownership and ultimately conflate what might be a good solution – dealing with mental health issues – with a non-solution – reducing ammunition. Furthermore, they forget Reagan’s admonishment that society should not be blamed for the perpetrator’s actions.
Other states, such as Colorado, have come up with more stringent controls. With the additional impetus of the shooting at the theater in Aurora in memory, Colorado lawmakers have introduced five proposed changes to state gun laws. One bill passed by the legislature likely to be signed by Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper bans magazines over 15 rounds. Other proposals include a fee on background checks and a ban on online certification for concealed carry permits.
In the understandably emotional climate after Sandy Hook, now may not be the most tactful time to introduce legislation rolling back gun control measures. Less than a week after the shooting, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder vetoed legislation that would have expanded the legal use of concealed carry to certain gun free zones. (Snyder did sign two bills that would streamline the process for handgun purchases and eliminate restrictions on interstate rifle and shotgun transactions.) Georgia and South Dakota legislatures aimed to pass measures allowing teachers to carry in classrooms.
Such laws would likely be more effective than any of the restrictions introduced or passed in the aforementioned states, but the most important thing at the moment is defense – protecting the rights state citizens have now. States are, or at least at one point were, ideally the cushions protecting the rights of their citizens against intrusion from the federal government. State cannot play that role if they too infringe on the ability of citizens to defend themselves.
Cal Davenport is a writer based in Washington, D.C. Image courtesy of Big Stock Photo.