Rep. Peter King, a Republican from New York, will introduce legislation that will make it a federal crime to carry a firearm within 1,000 feet of federal officeholders and judges in response to the shooting in Tucson that killed Judge John Roll and gravely injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. King, who chairs the Homeland Security committee in the House, will get support from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a longtime advocate for gun control (via The Daily Caller):
Rep. Peter King, a Republican from New York, is planning to introduce legislation that would make it illegal to bring a gun within 1,000 feet of a government official, according to a person familiar with the congressman’s intentions.
King is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. The proposed law follows the Saturday shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and a federal judge that left six dead, including the judge, and 14 wounded.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the nation’s most outspoken gun-control advocates, is backing King’s measure and is expected to put the weight of his pro-gun-control organization behind it.
There are two questions involved in any gun-control legislation, the first of which is whether it will be constitutional, and the second of which is whether it will do any good. Let’s take those in order. Courts have thus far upheld reasonable restrictions on where guns may and may not be carried, such as courthouses and in the vicinity of schools. However, those are fixed locations, not mobile personnel, locations for which a court could reasonably expect most people to know. If one carries a gun legally to a public place without knowledge of the presence of a judge or member of Congress, then an arrest would probably be unreasonable (although courts might end up ruling otherwise). And if an arrest without any kind of attempt to initiate an assault is considered unreasonable, then the law is superfluous, since the attempt itself would be illegal already.
Some may also argue that an attempt to create a special class of protected people in this law might also fail to pass constitutional muster. I’d say a court would take a long look at whether Congress has a compelling state interest in passing such legislation, at least on that point, and wouldn’t bet that they’d rule no. A better question might be jurisdiction, where the law would create a mandate on state and local police to enforce federal law. The Obama administration just got done arguing in federal court that Arizona should be constrained from enforcing federal immigration law, to which the district court agreed. Would states not have an argument in the other direction in the case of this law?
Next, let’s look at its effectiveness. Would such a law work in the sense that it would make these protected classes more safe? Such a law would not have stopped the shooting in Tucson. Had anyone in law enforcement seen the pistol in Jared Lee Loughner’s hands, they almost certainly would have reacted to it immediately by detaining him even without the federal law. Depending on the circumstances, they may not have been able to prosecute him under existing state law, but perhaps they could have confiscated his gun and revoked his permit after discovering just how insane he was and the evidence of his grudge against Giffords. Of course, the sheriff’s department in Tucson already knew of Loughner and hadn’t done much about it, but that won’t change under King’s proposed law, either.
King’s effort is of questionable constitutional and operational merit at best. It seems like another example of my axiom, Legislate in haste, repent at leisure. Rather than issue knee-jerk proposals to change the law, let’s see where the evidence leads us in this case to determine how best to protect everyone from lunatics like Loughner.
Regarding the legislate-in-haste dynamic, Nick Gillespie and Ted Balaker at Reason TV have a good video reminding us that exigent cases make for poor choices in the short term:
Update: Ben Domenech calls King’s proposal “silly,” and for many of the same reasons I do.