Apparently, some legislators in South Dakota are pulling a political stunt by introducing a bill to require that all adults buy a gun upon turning 21. I say it’s a political stunt because the whole point of the exercise apparently is to say that Obamacare is unconstitutional, just like a an individual mandate to buy a gun would be:
Rep. Hal Wick, R-Sioux Falls, is sponsoring the bill and knows it will be killed. But he said he is introducing it to prove a point that the federal health care reform mandate passed last year is unconstitutional.
“Do I or the other cosponsors believe that the State of South Dakota can require citizens to buy firearms? Of course not. But at the same time, we do not believe the federal government can order every citizen to buy health insurance,” he said.
Well, what I find really disturbing about this is that a frikkin’ state legislator is so ignorant of the Constitution that he can make statements like this. We need to bring back civics education and do some sort of teaching on basic, fundamental constitutional law. Our nation is starting to suffer because of the low level of knowledge and education on the part of the citizenry on the most fundamental document that governs our political lives: the U.S. Constitution.
A Politician Ought To Know What Federalism Is
Fact is, South Dakota can require all adult citizens to buy firearms. That may be a terrible idea (because, well, it is), but there is nothing unconstitutional about such a law. Why? Because the Constitution is a restraint on federal power. In our system of government, the states are sovereigns; they may be restrained by their individual state constitutions, but the U.S. Constitution only limits them to the extent that their laws would run afoul of its specific mandates — such as the 13th Amendment.
Put another way, the federal government has enumerated powers specified in the Constitution, and in theory, any power not given to the Feds by the Constitution is reserved to the states. The states, on the other hand, have plenary powers and can do pretty much what it wants to do, unless prohibited by a specific clause of the Constitution.
Given the Second Amendment, there is no reason to think that a state cannot require its citizens to buy a firearm. That’s basic federalism. An elected official ought to know what basic federalism is. So it is profoundly disturbing that at least Rep. Wick (a fellow Republican) does not know that.
The People Ought to Know Basic Constitutional Law
Anytime some blog removes a comment that its proprietor finds objectionable, you get cries of CENSORSHIP! And various ill-educated morons start going on about freedom of speech.
Even regular citizens ought to now that the First Amendment applies to governments, not private individuals or companies. I can censor to my heart’s damn content, and it isn’t unconstitutional. People ought to know this. They should know that there is no Constitutional right not to be offended. There is no mention of the words “privacy rights” in the Constitution.
Some of the most contentious issues in modern American political life have to do with unsettled issues in Constitutional interpretation. If we’re going to have a debate about how we should tackle thorny issues through dialogue (vituperative as it may be at times) and debate (including some name calling as is natural in these things), then at least we should have some basic understanding of the Constitution and what it says and what it does not say.
People should know that the Constitution specifies a way to amend it, that it can be changed, that if we wanted a right to play video games, we can amend the Constitution to say just that. The sucker is a couple hundred years old, but it was never meant to be eternal or unchanging.
We All Should Agree On Some Fundamentals, No?
I started getting disturbed by this watching the NFL playoffs, and noticing that during the national anthem, many of the players on the sidelines were just standing there with their hands at their sides. A few knew that when the national anthem is being sung, you salute the flag — either with a military salute if you’re active or retired military, or with the right hand on your chest if you’re a civilian. Can we agree that no matter what our differences may be, we all should salute the flag during a national anthem? Non-citizens are exempt, of course, as we do not expect them to salute our flag.
Without civics education, it falls on the parents to teach their children these basic fundamentals of citizenship, of community. But given that we are a nation of immigrants, it’s awfully hard to say to someone newly arrived (legally!) in this country to teach their kids the basics of American citizenship. Given the importance of shared basic assumptions, shared basic knowledge, and shared basic behavior, I do think it’s time we bring back some heavy duty, real-deal civics education, including basic Constitutional law.
My suggestion? It’s likely too much, but here’s what I’d like to see:
- 9th grade: Basic civics, such as our system of government, difference between a democracy and a republic, our founding documents, saluting the flag, etc.
- 10th: Government 101, such as municipalities, county government, state and federal governments; executive branch, legislatures, and the courts; difference between police and military, etc.
- 11th: Basic Constitutional Law, plus more on the separation of powers, and federalism
- 12th: Law and Society, including rights and responsibilities of citizens and legal aliens; how laws and regulations are made, challenged, enforced; civil lawsuits and criminal prosecutions; more advanced topics in Constitutional Law, including controversies such as privacy rights, extent of Commerce Clause, etc., introducing all sides of the debate.
I’m obviously not a teacher, but a lot of these things can be taught to high school students without dumbing it down too much. I just feel it’s time we somehow train the next generations on some fundamentals.
What do you think? Am I going too far, or just plain nuts, or absolutely on the mark here?