Thursday, January 10, 2013
Controlling gun rights for "reasonable use" can grease a slippery slope on speech rights
The news is out that President Obama will soon issue Executive Orders tightening weapons control as much as he can, with Biden’s advice. And there doesn’t seem to be much objection to enforcing existing laws, or tightening the background check loopholes.
And, no, I don’t think that an America where every “good guy” needs to be armed because society has broken down, or because there are evil enemies impossible to control absolutely, is a place I could live.
But there is a slippery slope here. It is the idea that, for a citizen to exercise a “fundamental right”, he or she needs a legitimate motive or purpose or intent.
Agreed, very few citizens have a foreseeable need for military style weapons in their homes (unless they live in the wild and worry about grizzly bears). OK, is the psychological need of a survivalist (or "doomsday prepper") to provide absolute protection to his family a legitimate purpose? Is the preparedness to fight off a future tyrannical government a century from now, as articulated by Ben Shapiro (“Bullies”) on Piers Morgan tonight a valid motive?
You see, yes, it is starting to sound like different strokes for different folks.
It’s clear that at some point the government can exercise reasonable limitations on individual rights. We don’t have a right to possess plutonium dust in our homes (even Lawrence Tribe has said this), but we could probably never acquire any (except maybe from Iran or North Korea, through clandestine channels)l, so it's moot point. There’s no conceivably legitimate use. So that seems almost true of assault weapons, which compared to plutonium particles, are readily available for the common man. It gets interesting when you compare this to the government’s prohibition on possession of certain controlled substances. PK, there is no conceivably legitimate use for meth. But there might be for marijuana. The slope is starting to accumulate a little black ice.
One area where I get concerned is that the government then starts to have the right to limit Internet speech, or at least control its distribution, possibly by imposing new downstream liability requirements on providers. It’s surely going to be illegal to sell certain weapons (without background checks) on the Internet. (Maybe even ammo, eventually – because there is already a shortage for legitimate law enforcement.) But could providers be expected to police sale of illegal things, to further protect the public more absolutely from nutcases or extremists? Looking at the “purpose” of content is a dangerous idea – it’s the “implicit content” problem I’ve mentioned before. I’ve learned my own lesson on this matter (as detailed – you guessed it – on July 27, 2007).