Saturday, November 17, 2007

Astonishing--Perhaps Fatal Admission

Snowflakes in Hell and Call me Ahab brought to my attention this November 13, 2007 Washington Post article about the DC gun control law, and its current problems. If I thought the editors of the Washington Post were planning that far ahead, I would wonder if they decided to let their liberal readers down slowly about what is going to happen before the Supreme Court.

The article both admits that the DC gun control law did not work--as measured by things like the murder rate--but even quotes members of the DC City Council that it wasn't supposed to solve DC's problems. It was supposed to send a message!
Over the years, gun violence has continued to plague the city, reaching staggering levels at times.
In making by far their boldest public policy decision, the District's first elected officials wanted other jurisdictions, especially neighboring states, to follow the lead of the nation's capital by enacting similar gun restrictions, cutting the flow of firearms into the city from surrounding areas.
"We were trying to send out a message," recalled Sterling Tucker (D), the council chairman at the time.
Nadine Winters (D), also a council member then, said, "My expectation was that this being Washington, it would kind of spread to other places, because these guns, there were so many of them coming from Virginia and Maryland."
It didn't happen. Guns kept coming. And bodies kept falling.
I am not sufficiently knowledgeable to know if this admission constitutes a fatal turn for the District of Criminals or not. In general, the courts are supposed to accept a legislative body's claim, "We were doing this for a legitimate purpose X" unless there is clear evidence that they were not. (For example, when Alabama's legislature passed a law that provided for a minute of silence at the beginning of every school day, and proponents admitted during legislative debate that it was to provide an opportunity for prayer--something that the state denied in court.)

There might still be a conflict with the state or federal constitution, but unless that conflict is obvious, the courts are supposed to give the benefit of the doubt to the legislative body. (Except if it involves homosexuality or one of the other "special" groups that the courts so vigorously protect--then the rules all change.) Still, there's a difference between, "We passed this law effectively banning new handguns in the District because it was necessary for public health and safety" and, "We passed this law because we hoped that other cities might adopt it, and eventually, reduce the supply of guns enough that it might eventually make the District a little safer." One is a law passed for a legitimate public purpose (even if doesn't work), while the other is pretty indirect.

To make an analogy that might be a bit clearer: if the State of Alabama passed a law that prohibited sex between strangers, they could argue that this was a public health measure designed to reduce the spread of STDs. But if they passed a law that taxed single adults $5000 a year as an encouragement for them to get married, in the hopes that it would reduce sex between strangers, and thus reduce the spread of STDs--well, that's a lot more indirect. The first law is nanny-statism at its worst, and has many implementation problems, but it is at least an attempt to use the police powers of the state for what is generally considered a legitimate public health and safety issue. The second law is so indirect that you would have to consider it insane.

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