The gun lobby and states rights
By MARK SHIELDS
According to the Census Bureau, in the year 2020, there will be 214,000 living Americans over the age of 100 and, according to Washington wise-man Mark Russell, all of them will have valid State of Florida driver’s licenses. That line makes fun of two distinct characteristics of the Sunshine State: Because of the appeal of its surf and sun to so many of the elderly, the state qualifies as ‘God’s waiting room,’ and Florida’s motor vehicles bureau does indeed seem determined to license every octogenarian within the state’s borders.
In addition to senior drivers, Florida wants to license individuals to be able to legally carry concealed firearms in public places. To qualify for a so-called conceal-and-carry permit in Florida, you do not have to bother to go through the thorough FBI-run National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Why? Because in Florida these gun-carrying licenses are issued, if you have $117, not by any state law enforcement agency — which could legally access the FBI system — but instead by the Florida Department of Agriculture, which, you guessed it, is not eligible to ask the FBI for background checks.
The U.S. State Department has reported that 113,431,943 Americans hold valid passports even though, to qualify, each of them had to first answer dozens of nosy or snoopy personal questions. Just imagine if the Florida Department of Agriculture were handling passports, half the people on the planet would have American passports.
To be honest, these concealed carry laws have grown in popularity across the country. Barely a quarter century ago, there were no right to carry laws in Ohio, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Nebraska, Texas and New Mexico. Today, the only state that does not have a law to permit, under certain conditions, its citizens to conceal and to carry firearms is Illinois.
While it is true that conservatives have generally presented themselves as defenders of state’s rights and opposed all sweeping federal ‘mandates,’ that has not been the case where conceal-and-carry permits are involved.
In the last Congress, with strong support from the National Rifle Association, the U.S. House by a lopsided 272-to-154 margin voted to require every state that issues concealed-weapons permits to honor permits granted by any other state, even if that state’s standards for arms training or background scrutiny were manifestly inferior.
The congressional champions of conceal-and-carry laws that enable an individual to bring a handgun into a barroom, a church or a school carefully exempt their own Washington workplaces. No citizen’s Second Amendment rights extend to Capitol Hill or the Senate or House office buildings, where every visitor must go through a magnetometer and an X-ray machine operated by a couple of the 1,800 trained and armed U.S. Capitol police officers. Not quite 14 years ago, as many of us around here can never forget, two of these officers, John Gibson and J.J. Chestnut, were shot and killed by a demented man who was on a mission to save America from legions of cannibals.
That’s right, there are 435 House members and 100 senators and 1,800 police officers to protect them. That works out to a ratio of just over three police officers for every member of Congress. And, of course, the Senate and House leaders of both parties and their respective party whips are each given a personal security detail.
Don’t you think if these powerful lawmakers really meant it about an absolute Second Amendment right to possess and to carry arms into stores, businesses, and even schools and churches, then why shouldn’t law-abiding Americans be able, when visiting the halls of Congress, to pack a little heat?
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