You go town, excited to be heading to the local establishment that carries a fine selection of firearms. You’ve been saving up your shekels for months and the day has finally arrived. You walk into the establishment and the man behind the counter knows you. “Hello, young man – what can I do for you?” “If you still have that Colt I was looking at last September, I’d like to take it off your hands today,” you say. “I’m sorry Johnny, but I sold it last month.” The proprietor looks at your crestfallen countenance with sympathetic eyes for what feels like an eternity. Then he begins laughing, and a few of the men in the store start laughing too . . .
“I do have a different one I can sell you, though” he says. You dig into your pocket, and pull out a wad of bills and two shiny coins and lay it all on the counter. “I should have known you were pulling my leg, Mr. Sorenson.” Mr. Sorenson retrieves the gun from the case behind the counter, collects your money, gives you your change and offers to show you how to load it. “First six shots are on me, Johnny.”
You buckle your uncle’s gunbelt – you had to add two holes with an awl – around your waist and your new revolver fits perfectly. It feels good on your hip. You thank Mr. Sorenson and you are on your way.
No background check, no waiting period? Are you even 21 years old?
None of that mattered in 1895. The only thing that mattered was that you had enough dough to cover the cost of the firearm. I imagine Mr. Sorenson would make sure you Pa approved of your purchase, or if he knew you to be a drunk he may not want your business. But otherwise, you were good to go.
It wasn’t until very recently that the “reasonable” restrictions on firearms ownership could even be considered remotely reasonable. For most of our history, a man could walk out of prison, head off to another part of his state and buy a firearm.
This is not to say that I’m in favor of allowing convicted criminals to purchase a firearm. What I am saying is that until very recently it was impossible to keep a convicted felon from purchasing a firearm – at least from legitimate establishments who would otherwise not want to sell one to a convict.
Remember, we’re viewing the 2nd Amendment through our modern eyes, in an era of fast communication that makes things like instant background checks possible. Before the modern era, nobody would make an argument about “reasonable restrictions” pertaining to the right to keep and bear arms. But did the restrictions become reasonable, or did they just become possible? Possible is not necessarily lawful even if it may be desirable.
Restraining a constitutional right prior to its exercise ought to be problematic on its face, no matter how noble the desired outcome. “Reasonable restrictions” like those in Chicago and Washington DC thwart honest citizens far more than they do criminals.
The thing is, technology exists now to make prior restraint on things like the First Amendment possible. ICANN could require me to get a background check before it would assign a domain name to me to publish a blog. That it is now possible, but does that make it lawful? Does it make it desirable?
I took my class, I gave my fingerprints, I got my background check before buying a gun to carry. As a practical matter, I’d rather be slightly inconvenienced than flat-out denied my right to keep and bear arms as I was for most of my adult life. On balance, it’s a win. But that’s not what the 2nd Amendment says.
Progressives used to be honest and respectful of the rule of law. When they got it into their pretty little heads to ban alcohol, they at least went to the states and got Prohibition ratified. They recognized that kind of intrusion onto a citizens’ life demanded a Constitutional amendment. Would that we were that respectful of our rights today.