There are two legislative efforts underway to attack gun rights without proper judicial consideration: Diane Feinstein’s wish to ban “suspected” terrorists from buying guns, and the Washington State effort to make it much easier to take someone’s guns based on an allegation (not an adjudication) of violent tendencies–much like the law in California.
It’s a mistake for those of us in the gun community to see these as attacks on gun rights. They certainly are, of course, and they’re intended that way. But there’s something even more profound at work, and that’s the attack on due process.
So, how does one get put on the terrorist watch list? The Attorney General puts you there. No trial, no hearing, no nothing: just the say-so of a political appointee. Sure, you can sue to have your name removed. That seems like a totally reasonable process to undergo to get your rights back. And I’m sure we are all quite confident this will NEVER be used to harass unpopular groups or political enemies.
Is there ANY other right we would tolerate being taken away by the word of a political hack? Suppose this wasn’t guns. Suppose it was a car, or a house, or a computer, or your bank account. Is it OK for the AG to declare you forbidden to buy any of those things because “I said so”? It’s ridiculous to even think that way. And that’s the ground we need to attack this bill on—not the 2nd Amendment, but the 5th, which requires due process.
It goes without saying, of course, that while terrorists might buy guns at the main street gun shop, they might not–and certainly, there is no reason to think that denying them access to the local shop would actually deny them access to weaponry.
The same objections apply for Washington’s bill and California’s law. Gun control advocates say they will “suspend access to guns” for the subject of the order, which is true if you think that there is no such thing as a black market in guns, and also that allegedly violent and mentally ill gun owners will helpfully point out where they store all of their guns when the police show up. Right, that’s how it works. And then they give them back after a set period of time, ranging from a few weeks to a year depending on the type of order–by which time, perhaps your mental illness, that justified attacking your rights, will have healed itself.
But even then, you should ask yourself: do you want crazy wife-beaters to have guns? No I do not. How about terrorists? I’d prefer they don’t have guns, either! So: do you want child-pornographers to have computers and digital cameras and homes with doors that close? Of course not! Fine, so we’ll just make possession of a computer or a camera or a residence a revocable privilege based on a mere accusation, then. Sound good? Anyone accused of making child porn is required to live in the street and have no electronic devices. Trial? No, we don’t need a trial. But don’t worry, we’ll let you sue to get off the street, so it’s OK!
Again, that’s not a 2nd Amendment issue, it’s a 14th Amendment issue. And I think most people can understand that! “Guns” go into a different mental basket for a lot of folks, and that hurts the cause of gun rights. As I discussed in Knife Control and the Spirit of Liberty, the problem isn’t that the government thinks it can disarm us, so much as the government things it can regulate us at all without a really good reason. Gun rights are a special subset of the more general right to be left the hell alone unless you’re doing something bad, and they can actually prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you’re dangerous enough to be locked up–either a convicted criminal, or suffering from a very severe and dangerous mental illness–then fine, you lose your guns. You can’t take them to prison anyway. But if they can’t meet that very high burden of proof–then they should leave you, your guns, your house, your computer, your baseball bats, and everything else–alone.