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
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1819 GMT (0219 HKT)
As a woman whose parents had cancer, I have quite a few things to say about dying with dignity.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1304 GMT (2104 HKT)
David Gergen says he'll have a special eye on a few particular races in Tuesday's midterms that may tell us about our long-term future.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1452 GMT (2252 HKT)
What's behind the uptick in clown sightings? And why the fascination with them? It could be about the economy.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1301 GMT (2101 HKT)
Midterm elections don't usually have the same excitement as presidential elections. That should change, writes Sally Kohn.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2103 GMT (0503 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
ADVERTISEMENT