Skip to main content

Gun lunacy rides high in America

By John J. Donohue, Special to CNN
September 13, 2013 -- Updated 1247 GMT (2047 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A controversial gun measure in Missouri failed to override veto by one vote
  • John Donohue: The measure's claim that a state can nullify federal law is absurd
  • He says in states like Colorado and Iowa, gun rights advocates are gaining ground
  • Donohue: Gun owners must be more responsible to not be duped by NRA deceptions

Editor's note: John J. Donohue is C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith professor of law at Stanford Law School and research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

(CNN) -- Just when one might have thought that lunacy over gun policy in the U.S. cannot be exceeded, think again.

In the wake of the Newtown massacre, Colorado adopted a universal background check system and a modest restriction on the size of high-capacity magazines. This was good news for everyone except gun sellers who don't want the sales to felons and the insane to dry up (and those who think what for most purchasers would be a five-minute background check is too much of an imposition).

Since gun sellers call the shots at the NRA, the lobbying group launched an effort to punish Colorado legislators who stood up for public safety over gun seller profits. Now, two thoughtful Colorado legislators have been recalled and the NRA is crowing at having exercised its muscle once again.

Other states are trying to up the ante. Only last week, Iowa highlighted the nonsense by offering concealed carry permits to blind individuals.

John J. Donohue
John J. Donohue

State battles intensify on access to guns

This week in Missouri, by the thinnest of margins -- only 1 vote in the state Senate -- the legislature failed in its effort to make that state a haven for gun toting felons and lunatics by overriding the governor's veto of a bill designed to thwart any form of federal gun regulation, including background checks, and even trying to make it a crime for federal agents to enforce these laws.

The claim that the state can unilaterally decide to nullify federal law is so preposterous that even the strongest of gun advocates with some understanding of Supreme Court precedent acknowledge its invalidity.

Indeed, Robert Levy, who personally funded the litigation designed to convince the Supreme Court that the Second Amendment, which begins "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state," had nothing to do with a well-regulated militia has recently conceded that the Missouri stunt flouts the very Constitution that its supporters claim to uphold.

Missouri gun measure fails
Gun control debate heats up

Even Levy's concessions fall on deaf ears in the legislatures of Kansas and Montana, where the idea of state nullification of federal gun laws seems eminently reasonable -- despite the clear language of the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, which states, the "Constitution and the Laws of the United States ... shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding."

While Iowa is merely highlighting the absurd laxity of gun laws in this country, the damage will be slight since most blind Iowans will have the good sense not to possess or discharge firearms. But the overheated rhetoric flowing from the NRA crowd during the Colorado recall and from Missouri (and similarly inclined states) is dangerous for at least two reasons.

First, it undermines our democracy when voters act based on false and misleading views about the actual content of state and federal laws. Second, similar hyperbolic rhetoric after the passage of the federal background check system and the (now elapsed) federal assault weapons ban galvanized the unstable gun zealot Timothy McVeigh forward with his scheme to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City.

The NRA can succeed in its efforts to punish legislators who stand up for positions its own president once specifically advocated and push for clearly unconstitutional laws by recklessly fooling voters into believing that federal gun laws are tyrannical. In fact, federal gun restrictions are so lax that the U.S. overwhelmingly dominates the world in the number of guns held by private citizens -- and also among rich countries in its rate of gun deaths from murder, suicide, and accidents.

Just the other day, a child killed herself with her father's gun while camping in Yellowstone National Park. Law-abiding citizens with guns have to recognize their obligations to prevent the types of tragedies that occur on a daily basis in the U.S. when lawfully owned guns are used, intentionally or inadvertently, to kill and maim others.

One needs to accommodate the interests of legitimate gun owners if sensible gun laws are to be passed, but gun owners must also take responsibility -- first, by not being duped by NRA deceptions to advance the economic interests of gun merchants, and second, by taking every effort to ensure that their guns do not contribute to the mayhem.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John J. Donohue.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT