Dear Nucla, Colorado: Mandatory gun ownership is still a bad idea

This was an ill conceived plan the first time I heard of it, and it’s gotten no better with time. Some overly enthusiastic supporters of the Second Amendment in the town of Nucla, Colorado have taken their support of a sacred freedom for Americans and shoved it a bit over the line. The town has passed a law requiring every head of household to own a firearm.

Guns have put Nucla in the national Second Amendment spotlight since the Nucla Town Board on May 8 passed the first — and only — municipal ordinance in Colorado requiring heads of households to have guns, and ammunition, “in order to provide for and protect the safety, security and general welfare of the town and its inhabitants.”

In truth, guns were ingrained in the culture of this out-of-the-way western Colorado town before the current gun-rights movement and before anyone had dreamed up what is being called the Family Protection Order. A visitor is hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t already own guns — many guns — before the ordinance passed.

Only one member of the town board voted against the measure, but he’s not some sort of gun grabbing, Left wing firearms prohibitionist. In fact, if you read his response in the article, he makes a lot of sense. He just doesn’t want any more government regulations, including those at the town level.

But that’s not the only reason to oppose this sort of law. Charles Cooke outlines another important principle on this topic at The Corner.

The idea that there should be no difference between what one likes and what one thinks should be mandated is extraordinarily destructive to liberty — especially in today’s world, in which appeals to “public health” and “public safety” are routinely used to trump the freedom of the individual. Is this really the road that we want to start going down? A reminder: Obamacare’s individual mandate is a terrible idea because it forces people to buy a product that they might not want, not because it operates in service of a bad policy. The moment that we forget this on the Right, we will start a mandate war, in which we are not objecting to mandates on principle but objecting to them in practice. Then, whichever party is in power will use its authority to force people to conform. That way lies disaster.

The mandate argument is important, but it’s a bit more wonky than what lies beneath. When I hear this sort of discussion taking place, the more important – and basic – word which comes to mind is freedom. We have a number of freedoms which we hold near and dear, requiring permanent vigilance to ensure the government doesn’t mince them up too much under cover of protecting us from ourselves. But it’s equally important to remember that every freedom has two sides to it. You have the freedom of speech, but that also means that you are free to remain silent when you choose. You have the freedom to worship as you see fit, but it does not carry with it an implied requirement to attend church. And you have the freedom to keep and bear arms, but nowhere does it say that you must.

The closest I’ve seen to a valid argument in support of mandatory gun ownership as a constitutional principle is the example of state governments mandating automobile insurance to make sure everyone is protected and set up to some degree against liability. But that comparison fails on two points in my opinion. First, it was the same argument which was used to claim that the individual mandate in Obamacare was legal. I didn’t buy it then and I don’t buy it now. But more to the point, even the state laws which require auto insurance almost universally provide a back door out of the requirement. (You can generally post an interest bearing bond in the amount of the minimum liability coverage to be used to pay someone if you are found at fault.)

The town makes a great case in arguing for gun ownership with the goal of lowering crime rates and protecting the general welfare. But they should also remember the need for personal responsibility and the right of refusal. The residents will – hopefully – always be free to purchase a firearm should they wish, but it’s not the place of the government at any level to force them.

EDIT: (Jazz) The original title of this article spelled the name of Nucla incorrectly.

UPDATE 1: Fascinating information provided by unclesmrgol in the comments providing some historical reference I was unaware of. “An Act more effectually to Provide for the National Defense by establishing a Uniform Militia throughout the United States”. In part:


Of course, that goes to the question of whether this would pass constitutional muster, which clearly sounded dubious to me. (We were originally focusing instead on the idea of rights vs. obligations and the wisdom of government mandates.) But this puts a twist on it. This might stand up in court after all, even if it’s still a very questionable idea. Would love to see any challenges to related legislation over time which made it to the SCOTUS. But still worth reading. Thanks!