The first thing to be said about all of the firearm-related bills being considered in Concord is that they take the wrong approach toward the goals sought by their sponsors. The right approach would be to amend the New Hampshire Constitution to declare that not all persons have the right to defend themselves, to claim that self-defense is a privilege, to change the definition of ‘persons’ to something like ‘persons who don’t scare us’, and so on.
But until such changes have been made, any fifth-grader can see that these bills conflict with the New Hampshire Constitution. It takes a constitutional scholar to miss that.
Clearly the sponsors of the bills don’t feel the need to go to the trouble of amending the constitution, partly because, as we all know, many judges would be happy to tap dance around any constitutional challenges, by changing the meanings of words like ‘all’, by creating ‘balancing tests’ out of thin air, and so on.
But I urge our representatives to consider a couple of deeper, less obvious consequences, not just of passing bills like this, but of even bringing them up for consideration.
First, these bills undermine respect for the rule of law itself. After all, if the legislature isn’t going to respect the limits placed on it by the New Hampshire Constitution, why should individuals respect any 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?
Second, one of the things that people 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 New Hampshire Constitution. And it’s for this reason that it is absurd to give a government that you may someday have to fight any say at all over what arms you have.
And these bills do pervert the ends of government, by forcing 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 these bills is the strongest argument for why, even if passed, they should simply be ignored, even though that would make criminals out of people who are harming no one, but who simply decline to let the fears of a few undermine the freedom of all.
(With a few changes, this is the very first testimony I ever gave at the statehouse, a little over five years ago. As much as I hate repeating myself, I think this is something that probably can’t be said too many times. Anyone who wants to testify should feel free to use it, in whole or in part.)