Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Poisoned Well

I was at first a little surprised at the number of people who have been finding some nefarious and dastardly plot in H.R. 2640. I am no fan of the gun control crowd, and I look pretty carefully at whatever scheme they come up with, because I am not terribly trusting of their good intentions. Still, I read the various criticisms of H.R. 2640, and I just don't see that it fundamentally puts gun rights at risk, except for the relatively small number of people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. Thanks largely to the ACLU, involuntary commitment (as opposed to being held for observation) is really quite difficult in the United States, and has been for a couple of decades.

So why is there this profound mistrust of not only H.R. 2640, but also of the NRA, for backing it? A friend of mine, Don Kates, who is the elder scholar of the gun rights movement in America, describes the net effect of the gun control movement's continuing efforts to disarm law-abiding people as "poisoning the well." They have created so much mistrust that even when they come together with the NRA on what should be an uncontroversial bill, there is an assumption that if the gun control crowd is for it, it has to have a dark, incredibly subtle underside to it.

Let's get straight about this: H.R. 2640 doesn't really change who is prohibited from owning a gun. The rules about those who have been adjudicated mentally incompetent not being allowed to own a gun have been in place since the Gun Control Act of 1968. If anything, H.R. 2640 is an improvement on the current system, because it provides an appeal mechanism for those who were wrongly declared mentally incompetent in the past. What it changes is the requirement for states to report this information to the federal government. Argue if you want that there's a privacy issue here, or a federalism issue, but this really isn't changing who is prohibited from owning a gun.

The gun control movement, for many years, has put most of its focus not only disarming criminals, or the mentally ill, or kids, but on disarming law-abiding adults. Hence, the assault weapons bans, the attempts to sue handgun makers out of business, and so on. The net effect has been to create an enormous body of mistrust. I know that I will never really trust the good intentions of the gun control movement precisely because it does have this dishonest history. I will always look over their claims and proposals with a concern about what they might be hiding. But I've done this with H.R. 2640, as has NRA, and there's nothing terribly dangerous about this bill.

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