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.