Bringing Down The House

It’s hard, if not impossible, for this picture not to evoke a reaction.


House Democrats staged a sit-in to, something, something, “common sense” gun control. There were twits aplenty about how it was just “common sense,” a phrase with which I’ve taken some small issue in the past, but only because it’s a ploy to pander to the hard of thinking in order to make their feelings appear rational in the absence of any thought at all.

The concept of a sit-in raises some questions as to its purpose, what the participants hoped to gain.  After all, they are sitting on the ground in a chamber where they have comfy seats, where the public cannot tread, where they are the stewards of the chamber, together with their Republican colleagues.  What were they hoping to gain?

“We will not leave the floor of this House until this Congress takes action!” Representative Kathy D. Castor, Democrat of Florida, declared.

Democrats — who do not have enough strength in either the House or Senate to pass legislation on their own — have resorted to spectacle to highlight their anger over the failure by Congress to take any action to tighten the nation’s gun-control laws.

It’s not that the Democrats have never had enough strength to pass legislation. They did in the first two years of the Obama Administration. They just had other concerns at the time, and gun control wasn’t on the front burner. There was no massacre to fire up the troops and give rise to an emotionally-charged political movement upon which to capitalize.

But cries of hypocrisy flow easily both ways. The Republicans in the Senate refuse to give the president’s Supreme Court nominee a hearing. The Democrats in the House hold a sit-in to demand a vote on “common sense” gun control, a vote they will certainly lose but can then be used to create an issue for the upcoming election.

The bill offered, characterized by the “no fly, no buy” slogan, is bad law on every level. For those who hate guns, this is of little moment. Unconstitutional? Ineffective? Racist? So what? We must do something. Pointing out that the same list that was decried as wrong is now so very right, might give pause to the rational thinker, but to expect reason to overcome emotion is to misapprehend the nature of argument. There is no intersection between the two, and no feeling gets changed by reason.

For those Americans disinclined to adopt “common sense” as an excuse to ignore reason, there was the best attempt at trying to circumvent the constitutional issues, presented by Adam Winkler. It was a terrible argument from a law prof who has been at the forefront of trying to come up with a way to circumvent the Constitution.

Times editorial board guy, Jesse Wegman, chastised me for “impugning” Winkler’s integrity in my critique of his bizarre op-ed. I don’t question Winkler’s integrity for feeling passionate about gun control. I do, however, think Winkler smart enough to know that his argument, conflating the Fourth and Second Amendments, was absurd, and that he offered it because it might deceive non-lawyers and the deeply passionate into believing that there was a lawful rationale to support the outcome he wanted.

As regular SJ readers know, I’m neither a gun owner nor an ally of gun aficionados. If there were no guns around, I would sleep just fine.* And I am not blind to the fact that guns enable people inclined to kill to do so more quickly, more lethally, than they could otherwise. The untimely death of any person is something to be mourned.

But as I have also explained, the Second Amendment, as held by the Supreme Court in Heller and McDonald, cannot be ignored, no matter what my feelings about guns may be.  Ken White called it “a bundle,” where we either accept the premise that the Bill of Rights is worthy of respect as the fundamental paradigm of the United States or not.

There are a bunch of arguments being floated around, that rights are not “absolute,” that this is about government caving to the NRA, who should have copyrighted “strawman” when it had the chance, and the current favorite, that it’s just common sense. They are unavailing. The question is whether there can be a law that services an effective purpose without violating the Constitution. That’s a far more difficult argument to make, and one that has yet to be achieved.

Hate guns? That’s fine. But do you hate the Constitution? If not, then you have a dilemma. Much as you may love certain rights without loving the Second Amendment too much, if you turn a blind eye to the undermining of the Second Amendment in the name of your passionate feelings plus the “will of the public,” you have given away the rights you adore with the one you don’t.

The Constitution is always under attack, and is under attack now. Not just the Second Amendment, but the First (think anti-revenge porn laws, the Gawker verdict), the Fourth (think Strieff), the Fifth (think campus rape adjudications), the Sixth (think indigent defense funding), the Eighth (think solitary confinement). These are just the examples off the top of my head.

In each instance, there is an emotional reaction to a problem that would, in isolation, appear to be important, if not critical, and a demand that we do something. But when viewed from a slight distance, it becomes clear that we either have constitutional rights or we squander them to fix whatever transitory problems bring a tear to our eye.

So is this Democratic sit-in wrong?  Not at all. Let them sit on the floor, sing “We Shall Overcome” all night long, if that’s what they want to do. Assuming this is a sincere effort, and not merely a political ploy, so Jesse won’t spank me for impugning their motives, why shouldn’t a group of the most privileged members of our society be entitled to exercise the rights to protest protected by the Constitution? Even if House rules would enable the Sergeant at Arms to remove them from the floor, their right to put on a show for whatever good it does is paramount.

The Constitution. And Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s what makes us America.


The House chamber applauded Elizabeth Warren for bringing the donuts. It’s something we can all agree on.

*Your mileage may vary. That’s fine. This is not an opportunity to comment about why guns are good.

28 thoughts on “Bringing Down The House

    1. Sharpshooter

      As fast as they can change poitions, being in thrall with postmodernism, they know nothing of consistency, hypocrisy, contradiction…

    2. Bob S

      Back when the ACLU and CAIR were the most recognizable organizations banging the drum, it was fashionable for liberals to be concerned about the government’s various secret lists:

      [Ed. Note: LInk deleted per rules.]

      But when the NRA lent its voice too, suddenly Orlando could be blamed on the obstructionist Congressional Republicans who are in the gun industry’s pocket, demanding to sell assault rifles to terrorists.

    3. Franco

      Can you imagine the outrage if we suggested that you couldn’t vote if you were on the no fly list.

  1. DaveL

    Is that Rep. John Lewis sitting in the middle there? The same John Lewis who was harassed relentlessly by airport security a few years ago because somebody with a similar name was on a terrorism watch list?

  2. wilbur

    It reminds me of a tantrum of a spoiled child, who’s not getting his way.

    Sit-ins meant something when it was a lunch counter where you were refused service for having too much melanin. It’s not quite the same when you sit-in a campus administration building, or the well of the House of Representatives, simply because you cannot persuade others to your point of view.

    I’m sure my own Representative, the Honorable Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, believes they’re acting in the spirit and courage of those who came before them 50 years ago. She’s wrong.

    I hope they enjoy the doughnuts.

  3. JD

    Did you intentionally omit the Sean Connery wearing a ruby red diaper exception to the prohibition on gun is good statements?

    From Zardoz:

    (I will leave it to your discretion whether or not to post a picture of Sean Connery in his red diaper and bandoleer outfit)

    “The Gun is good!

    The Penis is evil! The Penis shoots Seeds, and makes new Life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was. But the Gun shoots Death and purifies the Earth of the filth of Brutals. Go forth, and kill! Zardoz has spoken. “

  4. Hastur

    It certainly is comforting to know that we have a group of people in congress working very hard to protect us from the dangers of constitutional rights.

    Really if due process and the right to bear arms were so important why are they amendments? Come on, people!

  5. Bruce Coulson

    When the other side behaves badly, clearly the only common sense response is to behave badly yourself. I know that got left off the list of all the important things you needed to know you learned in kindergarten, but that was clearly an oversight.

  6. losingtrader

    I’m neither a gun owner nor an ally of gun aficionados. If there were no guns around, I would sleep just fine.*

    I suggest a multi-purpose knife . It’s plausible to explain repeatedly stabbing someone with, “I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the electric carving knife.”

  7. LarryArnold

    Rule of Thumb: If the NRA and the ACLU both oppose a law, it’s a bad law.

    Regardless of where you stand on gun rights/gun control, the idea that a single government employee can put your name on a secret list, not just without any legal process, not just without giving you a chance to protest, but apparently without even any administrative oversight, should be scary. The idea that the list then keeps you from exercising rights, whether to travel or purchase a firearm, should be terrifying.
    Did we learn nothing from the USSR, or Joe McCarthy?

  8. Bill Winegar

    When I was sent to South East Asia at 18 I didn’t know a thing about Guns and Government. I learned a lot about both during my two tours of combat.
    The question not answered is why can’t people be content with their choices and leave others to theirs?
    For those that remember school shootings and believe taking Guns will stop this look at the Bath School bombing in 1927.
    Could the sit in and the violence be an indication of our current mental health care effectiveness?

    1. SHG Post author

      The question not answered is why can’t people be content with their choices and leave others to theirs?

      Of the various questions, this is probably one of the worst, as it’s easy to answer. One guy’s bullets end up in another guy’s body. That’s why. There are good questions. This just isn’t one of them.

      1. Captain Bob

        People should be content with their choices so long as those choices do no harm to others.
        If 200 million people choose to own guns and 200 (that’s .000001%) choose to shoot someone that’s no reason to condemn the other 199,999,800 people.

        1. SHG Post author

          Condemnation goes both ways. So what? There is a constitutional right involved, whether they condemn them or not. We condemn criminals (as we should), but still afford them their constitutional rights. That’s what makes this America.

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