The Individual Gun Mandate
8:30 AM, Feb 2, 2011 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
So, Representative Hal Wick of Sioux Falls has introduced into the state legislature a bill that would require every citizen of the state to own a gun. And can’t we say that, as a way of making a point about the individual mandate in the health-care bill, this is much funnier than the endlessly recycled tropes about how mandatory insurance is like making people buy broccoli or cars from General Motors?
The humor, of course, is passing some by. But I spoke to Rep. Wick about the proposal—the funny, clever idea he had for getting under the skin of everybody who thinks the health-care bill is constitutional. And he clearly gets the joke he’s made, both the bite of the thing and the comedy. If the government can force us to buy and keep health insurance, then why can’t it compel us to keep and bear guns? Guns, of all things likely to drive to madness the supporters of the health-care bill.
Part of Wick’s success, of course, is timing. He dropped the bill in the hopper at the last possible moment for introducing new legislation, only to learn a few hours later, he told me, that Judge Roger Vinson had ruled the individual mandate unconstitutional, in the multi-state suit against the health-care law (a suit joined by the attorney general of South Dakota). Wick said he wasn’t planning on introducing his gun bill if the case had been decided, but it is, naturally, Vinson’s decision that brought the question of government-compelled economic action so clearly into focus—and that made Wick’s bill so biting a piece of constitutional commentary.
An airline pilot who’s served, off and on, in the state legislature for years, Wick knows that his gun bill is not, strictly speaking, parallel to the national insurance mandate. For one thing, it’s imposed on the state level, while the whole point of the debate is concern with the federal government’s power. South Dakota law might even allow the bill to stand. (It depends on how the state courts would read the somewhat hortatory language of Article VI of the state constitution.)
But Wick’s point is not whether the states, as opposed to the federal government, should have such authority. It’s whether anyone should have the authority to force citizens into such economic actions. It’s about whether there now exist any limits on governmental action within the general sphere that is life in America.
And for the purpose of raising that question, Hal Wick’s bill for mandatory gun ownership is as good as any other—and better than the example of broccoli or GM cars. Besides, out in the wilds of South Dakota, you can actually use a gun, from time to time.
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