Is South Dakota Trying to Mandate Gun Ownership?

This is yet another of those headlines which is custom designed as catnip to get all of the natives up in arms. (Pun intended.)

Bill would require all S.D. citizens to buy a gun

Five South Dakota lawmakers have introduced legislation that would require any adult 21 or older to buy a firearm “sufficient to provide for their ordinary self-defense.”

The bill, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2012, would give people six months to acquire a firearm after turning 21. The provision does not apply to people who are barred from owning a firearm.

Nor does the measure specify what type of firearm. Instead, residents would pick one “suitable to their temperament, physical capacity, and preference.”

Introduced by Rep. Hal Wick (R-Sioux Falls) this isn’t really a story about 2nd amendment rights. It’s about health care. Wick states up front that he knows the bill will be killed before it ever has a chance to become law and he’s only proposing this to make a point. If the government can force Americans to buy any other product, such as a health insurance policy, what is to stop them from forcing you to buy a gun?

While I see what he’s doing here, and it’s a valid argument to make, I’m still not thrilled with the path he has chosen to make his point. We’ve seen other proposals in the past – in Georgia and Texas just to name two – which were far less tongue in cheek and they seem to uniformly hurt the effort to maintain our 2nd amendment rights. It plays to the popular, media driven theme of “gun nuts” versus responsible gun owners.

Further, it clouds the basic argument. The constitution takes great pains to assure the rights of Americans as to what they may do, not what they must do. We all have freedom of speech, but that includes the right to remain silent. (A lesson sadly lost on many modern politicians.)

Wick’s efforts may wind up backfiring on him. Instead of spurring a much needed discussion about the constitutionality of a mandate in Obamacare it could derail the discussion back to gun control – I’m sorry, Democrats… “restrictions” – at a time when 2nd amendment rights are already in the crosshairs – sorry again – following the events in Tuscon.

UPDATE: Insty gets into the technical side of it in the State vs. Federal role argument, a point already coming up in comments.

I don’t think this bill makes the constitutional point its sponsor intends — state governments, unlike the federal government, are not limited to enumerated powers. But even the federal government could require citizens to own guns under its militia power, as opposed to the commerce power. In fact, it did just that in the Militia Act of 1792, but I rather doubt that this power would extend to requiring ObamaCare under that clause, which empowers Congress “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.”

It’s a fair point, with certain provisos attached. If we were talking about banning, rather than requiring guns, recent court decisions would seem to indicate this is changing, but the powers of the state and federal governments are obviously in play and quite different. Of course neither of the scenarios in question deal with preventing someone from doing something, but with forcing someone to purchase something.

But as I tried to point out above, I wasn’t attempting to address the legal aspects of the point being made in South Dakota. It’s a question of steering the national discussion in response to such a provocative proposal, not the specific legality of the N.D. bill. And if we’re going to draw up a parallel to focus a brighter spotlight on the Obamacare mandate, gun laws of any sort might not be the best path, particularly at this juncture in history.