Testimony of Ian Underwood on HB 1589

Today in Representative Hall, Ian Underwood presented the testimony below to the Committee on Commerce and Consumer Affairs.  Eyes widened.

Article 2A of the NH Constitution clearly states that:

All persons have the right to keep and bear arms in defense of themselves, their families, their property and the state.

It doesn’t say ‘some‘ persons.  It doesn’t say ‘approved‘ persons.  It doesn’t say ‘persons who don’t scare us’.  It says ‘all persons’.

A right for which you have to ask permission isn’t a right at all.  So the first point, I think, that has to be made regarding this bill is that it takes the wrong approach towards the goal sought by its sponsors.  

The right approach would be to amend the NH Constitution:  to declare that NOT all persons have the right to defend themselves, or that self-defense is not a right but a privilege, or perhaps to change the definition of ‘persons‘ to something like ‘persons we like’.  But until such a change has been made, any 5th grader can see that this bill conflicts with the NH Constitution.  It takes a constitutional scholar to miss that.

Now, clearly the sponsors of this bill don’t feel that they need to go to the trouble of amending the constitution, and that’s partly because, as we all know, many judges would be happy to tap-dance around any constitutional challenge by changing the meanings of words like ‘all’ ,by creating ‘balancing tests’ out of thin air, and so on.

But I urge the committee to consider a couple of deeper, less obvious consequences, not just of passing a bill like this, but of even bringing it up for consideration.

The first is that a bill like this undermines respect for the very rule of law itself. After all, if the legislature isn’t going to respect the limits placed on it by the NH Constitution, then why should individuals respect the limits placed on them by that legislature — whether regarding guns, or schools, or traffic laws, or anything else?  

If we’re going to disregard the big rules, why pay any attention to the smaller ones? For that matter, if words like ‘all’ and ‘person’ no longer mean what they’ve meant for centuries, then why should we pretend that laws, which are made of words, mean anything at all? In other words, if you can behave as if ‘all’ doesn’t mean ‘all’, why can’t I behave as if ‘not’ doesn’t mean ‘not’?

The second is that one of the things that all persons have the right to defend themselves against is their own government.  When (in the words of Article 10) ‘the ends of government are perverted’, the people have not just the right, but the duty, to reform or replace that government, something that might require the use of force.  It’s for this reason that an explicit Right of Revolution is recognized by the NH Constitution.  And it’s for this reason that it is absurd to give a government you may someday have to fight any say at all over what arms you have.  

And this bill does pervert the ends of government, by seeking to force people to make this choice:  You can be free, or you can obey the law, but not both.  

So the great irony here is that the very existence of this bill, and others like it, is the strongest argument for why, even if passed, they should simply be ignored — thus making felons out of people who are harming no one, but who simply decline to let the fears of a few undermine the freedom of all.”

Words have meaning
Words have meaning