Grasping at Straws: New Hampshire House of Representatives Votes to Restrict Gun Rights

Yesterday, I was walking along Main Street when I saw a reporter from NECN ask the proprietor of a bakery if she had any opinion on the New Hampshire House of Representative’s recent vote to restrict the use of plastic straws. The reporter was met with skepticism, if not bewilderment, and so, she left the bakery in search of a more malleable quote.

[You didn’t offer any enlightening commentary?]

In one of my more infrequent moments of good sense, I kept my lips zipped and bought a whoopie pie, which is all I had come into the shop for, originally.

[Were you already aware of the passage of this bill before you crossed paths with the reporter?]

I was. Less than an hour before, I had read about this bill in the Union Leader. Without diving into every particular, the state legislators want to reduce the number of plastic straws that we use and discard, since plastic straws take a toll on the environment, and whatnot.

[A reasonable goal, although I’m sure the legislators have found some way to cause more trouble in the process.]

Undoubtedly. Their critics ask the most predictable question: is this a violation of our individual liberties? It’s a fair question, but perhaps it could be asked of a worthier issue. After all, when you invoke the higher principles of liberty in a discussion of something as forgettable and slight as the dispensation of straws, you tend to inspire a lot of smirking and eye-rolling among those whom you wish to convince of your view.

[And is there an issue that is worthier of concern, of this concern of individual liberty?]

Absolutely: there is the decision made by the same New Hampshire House of Representatives to restrict the sale of guns.

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[Before we discuss this issue in depth, we should take the time to note that the recommendations of the House were not signed into law. The bills were passed, yes, but only by the House—so far, anyway. Next, they will travel to the Senate, where there is a realistic chance of passage. Then, it would be on to the desk of Governor Sununu, whose interest in vetoing them is uncertain, to say the least.]

In other words, there’s a lot of uncertainty at this early date, though there is much to be concerned about, as well.

[Undoubtedly. What would the bills achieve, if they were to be signed into law?]

According to the Union Leader, one bill would require universal background checks for anybody looking to purchase a gun. To a lot of people, including several conservatives, that sounds like an untroubling, reasonable measure, but what these people likely failed to take into account is that such a measure would, in effect, abolish the right to engage in private sales of guns.

[How do you mean?]

If I own a gun and I want to sell it to you, I am not required to conduct a background check—not under current New Hampshire law, at least. Only licensed firearms dealers are required to conduct a background check.

[This is what liberals refer to as “the gun show loophole”?]

Yes, and you’re probably unsurprised to find that I take a lot of issue with that term, issue with conservatives as well as liberals. In the first place, allow me to confirm the rumors that the term is a misnomer, not only because I’ve never encountered a single seller at a gun show who did not conduct a background check, but because such a sale—a sale without a background check—can occur outside of a gun show, anyway.

[Might we also question why it is referred to as a loophole? A loophole through what?]

I haven’t the slightest idea. In this instance, the term “loophole” implies that there is already some law requiring universal background checks, which is not the case as of this writing.

[So, why do you take issue with conservatives regarding the use of this term?]

Because I don’t like how they focus on the structure of the term, as if this disproves the legality of private sales sans background checks. Those sales are still legal, regardless of the euphemisms and soubriquets adopted by uneducated politicians. What conservatives should do, rather than quibble about the semantics—leave that task to writers like me—is defend the right to sell guns privately.

[And how does one defend that right?]

By making the clear-sighted and predictable observation that the private sale of firearms does not lead to violence. Is it possible that an individual who acquires a firearm through a private sale will perpetuate violence with that weapon? Certainly. However, there is no inherent, demonstrable link between the first action and the second.

[In other words, the proponents of a bill such as that which was recently passed by the House seem to believe that possibility is causality. They are forming a pattern where none exists. At the risk of beating a dead horse with another threadbare analogy, their position is as untenable as the claim that every person who purchases alcohol will drive under the influence.]

Quite right. They are mistaking one action for an unrelated result. Purchasing a gun is not the same as using the gun, regardless of the morality or immorality of the usage. One man reads Nietzsche and becomes an academic. Another man reads Nietzsche and joins forces with Hitler. It would be absurd to blame Nietzsche for this, but anything is possible in an irrational culture.

[Even if one happens to agree with the supporters of this measure, it seems strange that the reporter from NECN would choose to focus on the dispensation of plastic straws, and to ask people if they are comfortable with that restriction of their freedom, rather than question the public on this issue.]

Especially because, if the bill regarding straws is ever signed into law, then people will still have access to straws; they will simply have to request one at a restaurant, or wherever. This bill, on the other hand, would eliminate a right currently enjoyed by the citizens of New Hampshire. There is a world of difference between the two measures, regardless of whether we are speaking of straws, guns, or something else completely.

[Now might be a good time to explore the other bill, which, as you say, restricts the sale of guns, as well.]

The other bill, if signed into law, would require citizens to wait up to eleven days before they can acquire a gun, even if they have already passed the background check.

[We have little need of explaining the false connection between action and result in this instance, after what we have written about the other, similar error.]

Indeed, we have. All I wish to mention is another unproven connection, one which arose within my own mind: this period of enforced contemplation, or whatever is intended by this measure of the House, is awfully reminiscent of the three-day waiting period that is sometimes recommended for women seeking an abortion.

[That waiting period is described by its critics, rightly, as condescending and disrespectful to the women seeking an abortion.]

Concordantly, the eleven-day waiting period must be condescending and disrespectful to the men and women seeking to purchase firearms.

[I would agree, and that would be an interesting discussion for the reporter from NECN to have with the people.]

Unfortunately, she spends her time grasping at straws.

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