Should Public Health Trump the Bill of Rights?

New York Times’ writer Nicholas Kristof advances what he thinks is a very clever idea in his column today:

To protect the public, we regulate cars and toys, medicines and mutual funds. So, simply as a public health matter, shouldn’t we take steps to reduce the toll from our domestic arms industry?

The rest of the piece continues in this vein, using Saturday’s massacre in Tucson to argue for “reframing the gun debate as a public health challenge.” Since Kristof doesn’t bother mentioning the fact that gun rights are explicitly protected by the Constitution, I think we can assume he isn’t worried about infringing on them.

But what about the risk his approach poses to the rest of the Bill of Rights? As the Harlan Institute’s Josh Blackman has noted, the Second Amendment isn’t the only constitutional safeguard that imposes a cost on society. Guilty criminals sometimes go free as a result of the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, habeas corpus, or some other constitutional protection. Surely the public health suffers when those individuals go on to commit further crimes? Following Kristof’s approach, we should reframe the entire criminal justice debate in purely public health terms, even if the result is an expansion of government power and less security for individual liberty. Doesn’t the Bill of Rights deserve better than that?

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  • ||

    To protect the public, we regulate cars and toys, medicines and mutual funds.

    The idea is so clever that only one of those four items is even remotely analogous. Toys, medicine and mutual funds are not regulated to protect the public they are regulated to protect people from themselves.

  • IceTrey||

    The real question is, should those things be regulated?

  • ||

    They are not regulated to protect the public nor are they regulated to protect people from themselves.

    They are regulated to protect established players from upstart competition.

  • ||

    Note also that federal regulation (at least as currently practiced) of cars, toys, medicines, (and probably mutual funds) are also unconstitutional under Ye Olde Commerce Clause.

  • Stephen Breyer||

    Nothing is unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    There is nothing new about this kind of blather.

    The leftists in the Centers for Disease Control have been yapping about "epidemics" of gun violence for years in an attempt to justify the same kind of government power over guns that they have to deal with dangerous communicable diseases.

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    This.

    The anti-gun crowd started trying to treat the "national gun violence epidemic" as a "public health" issue years ago - I seem to recall that same kind of talk in the 1990s.

    CDC even did a report on it, and the AMA, or maybe it was the American Pediatricians Association, or whatever the hell they call themselves, came out with recommended guidelines for doctors to deal with the "health issue" of guns in the home - including asking kids whether their parents had any guns in the house, and including the question on new patient intake forms.

    As I recall, that nonsense faded away after GWB became president and the Ashcroft DOJ issued the infamous memo regarding the fact that the Second Amendment was an individual right.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    CDC even did a report on it, and the AMA, or maybe it was the American Pediatricians Association, or whatever the hell they call themselves, came out with recommended guidelines for doctors to deal with the "health issue" of guns in the home - including asking kids whether their parents had any guns in the house, and including the question on new patient intake forms.


    Maybe John Walsh can do a special on America's Most Wanted on how to cure AIDS, diabetes, and liver cancer.

  • Zeb||

    Anyone who uses the word "epidemic" to refer to anything other than actual communicable physical disease should be taken out and shot.

  • ||

    No.

  • ||

    Who will protect us from the Nicholas Kristofs of the world?

  • Virginia||

    Galston's remedy is to involuntarily lock his arse up in a psyche ward.

  • Colin||

    People shouldn't get so upset at what these "writers" at the NYT say. They talk in the world's largest echo chamber.

    Without any influence on public opinion whatsoever.

  • SFC B||

    Between this and the "lower standards for commitment for mental issues" stuff I feel like I'm being set up.

    They're trying to establish an ability to incarcerate people for unsual behavior and angry speech. Concurrently they're advocating things that are likely to make me use very angry speech and engage in unusual behavior.

    This post will probably be first bit of evidence presented at my commitment hearing.

  • ||

    It's what the Soviets did.

    -jcr

  • ||

    This post will probably be first bit of evidence presented at my commitment hearing.

    Your individualist paranoia represents a threat to the Collective, Comrade.

  • Tony||

    As long as we're not pretending we're being constitutional originalists, the 2nd Amendment of course written before modern guns were invented, and whose guarantee of an individual right to own guns outside of the context of citizen militias, but just to defend against hoodlums, is at least quite debatable.

    And let's not let constitutional fetishism lose sight of the very good point, that toys are more heavily regulated than guns.

  • Destrudo||

    This only illustrates just how stupid the level of regulation is regarding toys. Now go back to bottom duty.

  • ||

    Also this is not true. There are no toys in the country that require a wait time to purchase. What a disingenuous load of crap that toys are more heavily regulated than guns.

  • JD the elder||

    Well, let's see. The guns that I've handled:
    -do not have small, easily detached parts that could be swallowed
    -do not contain lead, phthalates, or other toxic chemicals
    -are not flammable
    -do not have sharp edges or points

    Yup, looks pretty good there! Now, to take the other side of the coin, I can
    -buy toys without any license or ID
    -carry toys wherever I want
    -buy as many toys as I want
    -buy any kind of toy I want
    -build my own toys

    So yeah, I'm all for this: let's regulate guns as strictly as we do toys...

  • Tony||

    I make poopy!

  • Gilbert Martin||

    I haven't lost sight of the very good point that you are an idiot.

  • Paul||

    Tony, people have also made it clear that the first amendment was written before modern communication methods, and so therefore [fill in regulatory diatribe here]...

    It's getting old.

  • Scalia||

    Of course the Internet isn't going to explode and kill you.

  • ||

    And let's not let constitutional fetishism lose sight of the very good point, that toys are more heavily regulated than guns.

    It's not a very good point, or even a mediocre one. It's totally irrelevant to the question of what regulations the government has the authority to impose on firearms.

  • Tony||

    The question should be what authority should it have. To me, 2A is an unfortunate constitutional relic, so simply appealing to it to justify a laissez-faire attitude toward guns isn't good enough for me. If the constitution needs to be changed, that's fine by me. It's still an important question how much access to how much firepower people should be allowed to have. You believe the same thing, of course, unless you think individuals should be able to buy WMDs.

  • ||

    the 2nd Amendment of course written before modern guns were invented

    Okay, I can't help myself: how does this matter?

  • Tony||

    It matters because it proves that constitutional originalists are full of shit.

  • ||

    It proves no such thing. That doesn't even come close to being a logical argument.

  • Goobs||

    "and whose guarantee of an individual right to own guns outside of the context of citizen militias, but just to defend against hoodlums, is at least quite debatable."

    Was debatable, Tony. Was. We don't need it debated any more since, for the purposes of this country, it is now established that Guns were expected to be owned by individuals, who used them for various purposes and that they would muster to militia duty with them if needed!

  • Michael Ejercito||

    As long as we're not pretending we're being constitutional originalists, the 2nd Amendment of course written before modern guns were invented, and whose guarantee of an individual right to own guns outside of the context of citizen militias, but just to defend against hoodlums, is at least quite debatable.


    And the Supreme Court noted that the clear and central purpose of the 14th Amendment was to prohibit invidious racial discrimination. (See for example Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 at 9) And yet, the Court implicitly rejected, before 1900, the idea that the 14th Amendment only applies to racial discrimination.

  • ||

    the 2nd Amendment of course written before modern guns were invented

    Oh, that's right. And the Constitution was written before cars were invented, so that's why the Fourth Amendment doesn't apply to cars.

    Yay.

  • Cecil||

    And of course the First Amendment doesn't apply to any media invented after the Constitution was written. Or even to modern high-speed printing presses.

  • Tony||

    I'm not saying it doesn't apply to modern guns, I'm saying the constitution has to be interpreted in light of new technologies. The first amendment is still debated in the courts with respect to the Internet, and that's not even a deadly weapon.

  • Johnny Longtorso||

    The Bill of Rights was passed before Tony was invented, so it clearly doesn't apply to him. Off to Gitmo w/ ya.

  • Johnny Longtorso||

    The Constitution was written before most of modern medicine was invented, so it clearly can't contain a right to _that_.

  • ||

    Hmmm...You know, that may be a good idea. I was thinking about booze, and all the damage it causes. We could curtail drinking...we could prohibit it! And drugs...they cause a lot of problems. We should stop people from taking drugs...we should go all out....put every resource into stopping people from taking drugs - why, we could declare war on drugs.
    And how many people get infected with AIDS???? Yep, no more sex, cause it is dangerous!!!!
    and that rock and roll is awful loud...WHAT DID YOU SAY...see what I mean?
    Think what a healthy world it would be without booze drugs sex and rock and roll...

  • ||

    There is no such thing as public health, just individuals and their own personal individual health status, of which they are solely responsible for.

  • Paul||

    But without systemizing public health, we can't control it.

  • Zeb||

    I think that there is such a thing as public health. It is good to have some organization (not necessarily governmental) to keep an eye on dangerous communicable diseases, encourage vaccination, and to coordinate a response should an outbreak that actually threatens the stability of society occur. The problem is that all of the contemporary public health fucks think that anything that statistically correlates to deaths is a legitimate object of public health regulation. That is why the form they give you at the doctor's office asks if you wear a seatbelt.

  • Grummun||

    Without bothering to look it up my own damn self, didn't NYC try the public health tack back during the gun industry lawsuit boom in the middle-late '90s? And get soundly rejected?

  • Paul||

    The rest of the piece continues in this vein, using Saturday’s massacre in Tucson to argue for “reframing the gun debate as a public health challenge.”

    This shit isn't novel, it started back in the 90s with the Clinton Administration.

  • Paul||

    Guilty criminals sometimes go free as a result of the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, habeas corpus, or some other constitutional protection. Surely the public health suffers when those individuals go on to commit further crimes?

    When Democrats abandoned fighting for the little guy-- sometime back in the early 90s-- the game was lost.

  • ||

    When Democrats abandoned fighting for the little guy-- sometime back in the early 90s

    ...snrk...hee hee...BWAAAHAHAHAHA! Whoo!

  • ||

    The fact is they don't care about public health, and they just want any excuse they can find to establish complete and total tyranny. By "they" I mean pretty much everyone.

  • junior||

    I don't know why these guys don't just argue for repeal of the 2nd amendment.

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    Some have.

  • Vermont Gun Owner||

    The repeal process was designed more than 100 years ago. It's too confusing.

  • Thom||

    If this succeeds the Food Network is fucked.

  • cynical||

    Exposure to the speech of these technocratic assclowns raises my blood pressure something fierce, and I'm sure they have the same effect on many other people. Surely, 1st amendment notwithstanding, there is something we can do to protect the public from this crisis?

  • hmm||

    Should Public Health Trump the Bill of Rights?

    That's pretty easy.

    No.

  • ||

    This is not only nonsense, it is disingenous. If they were honest and sincere about examining the effect of guns on "public health", they would consider the benefits as well as the costs. This they refuse to do; indeed, they label anyone who even suggests that guns have benefits as "nuts".

  • Tony||

    K. 30,000 gun deaths a year. How many successful preventions of death by guns, do you suppose?

  • ||

    To start with, that 30,000 figure includes legal self-defense killings.

    Reliable hard statistics on "preventions of death by guns" are hard to come by; conveniently for you, the government doesn't track that. I guess it doesn't fit their agenda. There are statistics available on the subject (for instance the National Self-Defense Survey) but I expect you will dismiss those without even looking.

    But I say again, if you're sincere about studying the "public health" implications of gun ownership, the research will need to be done. Are you interested in seeing that done? Or do you see it as "settled science"?

  • ||

    I just wanted to add that I don't buy into the premise that all individual rights are rendered null and void by simply declaring them a "menace to the public health". I only bring up the point that an honest argument of "public health" has to view the whole picture. I have never heard any advocate of "gun control for public health" who is even willing to consider that gun ownership may have benefits; it's just an angle they're playing, no doubt hoping that they can bypass Congress and get gun control by executive fiat.

  • ||

    To violate the Constitution and the Bill Of Rights is unacceptable. Every measure should be taken to permanently remove politicians who advocate violating the Constitution.

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