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EDITORIAL

It's time to let federalism back into the gun debate

Wednesday, March 6, 2013 - 12:01 am

How about different rules for urban and rural areas?

A planned gun show at the Lake County Fairgrounds went off without a hitch last Saturday. As a matter of fact, attendance was even higher than expected. It seems the show benefited from publicity surrounding a summit of Illinois and Indiana police and prosecutors, who had made a futile request to county commissioners to rein in private sales at gun shows. There’s irony for you.

“Private sales” – transactions between individuals, with no gun dealers involved – are targeted because they do not have to be reported and no background checks are required. They’re supposedly the main source of 20 percent of the guns recovered by Chicago police from 2008 to 2012. But Lake County is following the law, says Commissioner Mike Repay, “and if you have trouble with that, then the law should be changed.” As a letter writer to The Times of Northwest Indiana put it, “The Cook County sheriff and city of Chicago chief of police must learn to control their criminals and stop blaming others in Indiana.”

It’s called federalism – the idea that, except for the few carefully enumerated powers granted to the federal government, states are free to enact whatever laws they please. It seems quaint in these days of massive federal power, but it’s supposed to be the governing principle of this nation. It leaves local government the ability to deal with existing conditions without worrying about what other jurisdictions are doing about their local conditions.

The federalist approach is thoroughly suited for the gun issue, says Dr. Benjamin Carson, Johns Hopkins Hospital neurosurgeon. Carson became the newest conservative hero earlier this year when he disagreed with President Obama’s health care plan – in front of Obama at a White House prayer breakfast. But his views on guns stray from the Second Amendment purism usually associated with orthodox conservatism.

What’s wrong, he asks, with having different gun policies in urban and rural areas? If you live somewhere out in the country by yourself, he says, and want to have a semi-automatic, “I have no problem with that.” But if you live in the midst of a lot of people, “and I’m afraid that semi-automatic weapon is going to fall into the hands of a crazy person, I would rather you not have it.”

Whether the urban-rural dichotomy is the right framing of the issue is open to debate. But we should at lest be open to letting a federalist approach back into the debate. That would even be honoring the Founders, all you originalists. The Second Amendment, like all the others, was meant to shackle Congress, not state and local governments.