On Thursday, the LA Times published an editorial defending the constitutionality of mandating health care coverage. Commentators wondered about the limits of federal mandates. brianb2970 wrote: “The reality is that Congress DOESN’T have the power to ‘mandate’ that anyone buy anything. How about this: I’ll accept your ‘mandate’ to purchase health insurance if YOU accept a mandate that all law-abiding citizens MUST purchase a gun. After all, the evidence is clear that society is safer with widespread gun ownership, violent crime rates fall, and at least gun ownership is a real right per the Constitution and Bill of Rights.” Writing for the Times, Jon Healey responded.

The courts have already held that health insurance is interstate commerce subject to federal regulation. The healthcare reform law would build on existing rules in an effort to extend insurance to more people, in part by prohibiting insurers from rescinding policies or denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions. But that regulatory regime would be undercut by “free riders” — people who wait to obtain insurance until they need expensive treatment. Another aim of the new insurance rules is to slow the growth of costs. But people who don’t obtain insurance can undermine that effort by failing to obtain preventative care and relying on the most expensive venue for treatment: the hospital emergency room.

The bill regulates a form of interstate commerce, but that regulation would be ineffective without an individual mandate.

It’s hard to make a similar case for a mandate to buy guns or GM cars. Start with guns. Assume the overall regulatory regime is designed to promote public safety, as brianb2970 suggests. Would it be undermined if some people chose not to own guns? That would be tough to prove.

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