A Philosopher's Blog

The 1,000 Feet Law

Posted in Law, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on January 12, 2011
Gun laws fail safety test: Greens
Image by publik16 via Flickr

Law making is often a reactive sort of thing: something bad happens and lawmakers rush to crank out a new law in response. While the bad situations sometimes do show a need for a new law (or a change in the old laws), it can be unwise to legislate when passions are still strong. Deciding on a new law, like other important decisions, is general best left to when cool and rational reflection is possible.

Just a few days after the shooting, laws are being seriously proposed. One is to ban the sale of high capacity magazines and the other is to make it illegal to knowingly carry a gun within “1,000 feet of the president, vice president, members of Congress or judges of the Federal Judiciary.”

In the case of the clip ban, it seems unlikely that this would have much of an effect beyond creating a buying surge on the part of gun owners. Even now gun stores are reporting a surge in sales because people are worried that a ban will be put into effect or that gun laws will be otherwise change.

The ban could, perhaps,  have some small impact. If someone decides to go on a rampage and has not stocked up on high capacity clips, then he might have some difficulty finding them and perhaps be forced to reload or switch guns somewhat more often when shooting, thus possibly reducing the overall damage done. However, a person would almost certainly not cancel a planned rampage based on a lack of high capacity clips.

The 1,00o feet law seems like it would also be rather infective. As people have been quick to point out that it is already illegal to shoot people. Making it illegal to carry a gun within 1,000 feet of these officials is certainly not going to serve as a deterrent if someone already intends to make an attempt at murder.

It could be replied that the law would allow someone to be subject to an extra charge if they tried to shoot an official. So, for example, on top of an attempted murder (or murder) charge, a person could be charged with breaking that law as well. While this has some appeal, it seems unlikely that this sort of extra charge would be needed in such cases.

Another reply is that this law could allow police to check people within 1,000 feet of an official for guns and to arrest people who have them. This would, it could be argued, protect the officials and the people around them. At least from someone who is unwilling to take a shot from 1,001 feet

While this does have some appeal, it does raise concerns about privacy. After all, the mere possibility that someone has a gun does not seem to warrant checking people who happen to be within 1,000 feet of an official. That would seem to be a violation of a Constitutional right. If people are not checked for guns, then the law would seem to be limited to charging people after they have gone for a gun with the intent to shoot (which would already seem to be a crime) or charging people who openly bring guns to within 1,000 feet of an official.  This might not be a bad idea in the eyes of some. After all, Tea Party folks were sometimes inclined to bring guns to political events involving officials and this law would seem to allow them to be arrested for doing so. This might, however, be seen as a violation of certain rights.

The proposed law also seems to have some other problems as well. When I first heard about the proposal, the story just reported that it would be illegal to have  a gun within 1,000 feet of an official. This, naturally enough, struck me as absurd. After all, 1,000 feet is a rather long distance (about 333 yards or 3.3 football fields) and it is easy enough to imagine someone innocently being within this distance while in possession of a gun. For example, someone might live next door to an official or drive by one while on the way to go hunting.  When I learned that the proposed law required that the person knows that they are within 1,000 feet of an official, it seemed somewhat less absurd. However, this law would seem to ban anyone who lives near an official from owning guns. It would also seem to ban people from going hunting or shooting with officials or even be in the area. Presumably this could be sorted out by more specific details in the law that make exceptions for such cases.

It might be pointed out that guns are also not allowed within 1,000 feet of schools (which somehow still fails to prevent people from bringing guns to school) and hence the law is reasonable.

Of course, there are some rather important differences between schools and officials: schools have fixed, known locations and are easy to identify as schools. Officials are mobile and not always easy to identify. Of course, this would enable people to appeal to the “knowingly” part of the proposed law if they happened to get within 1,000 feet of an official they did not recognize.

Of course, if the proposed law is rife with exceptions, it might merely amount to making it illegally to knowingly bring a gun within 1,000 feet of an official with the intent to shoot him/her. However, that already seems to fall under existing laws.

Given the apparent absurdity of the law, it might be suspected that it is being proposed so it can be tagged onto other laws and provide a reason for not passing those laws. After all, laws are often proposed with the express intent of being un-passable.

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9 Responses

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  1. Asur said, on January 12, 2011 at 4:38 pm

    “Given the apparent absurdity of the law, it might be suspected that it is being proposed so it can be tagged onto other laws and provide a reason for not passing those laws. After all, laws are often proposed with the express intent of being un-passable.”

    It’s depressing that our representatives can determine the passage of legislation through means other than yea and nay votes. It’s a corruption of representative democracy in that it breaches the voting rights of those representatives not complicit to the given instance.

    I want to say that a system of line-by-line voting should be worked out. It seems the best solution to pork and vote rigging.

  2. erik said, on January 12, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    Here’s a problem: In states where it’s legal to carry concealed weapons, it would be possible for a person with no criminal intent whatsoever to come w/in 1000ft of a member of Congress or federal judge simply because he isn’t familiar with the appearance of said congressman, Senator, or judge . Would he be taken into custody and questioned because he’s not knowledgeable about the facial features of important political figures?

    Alan: “Have you seen a dentist lately?”
    Kandi: “I don’t know. I see people in the streets everyday. Some of them could be dentists.”* Substitute ‘congressmen’ or ‘federal judges’ for ‘dentist’, have the speaker packing heat, and you can see the problem.

    *creds to the writers of 2 1/2 Men

    • Asur said, on January 12, 2011 at 6:04 pm

      Yeah, such a law seems without merit outside of a reactionary attempt to placate the public and present the image of lawmakers being on top of things.

      The shooting itself doesn’t represent a shortcoming of the existing system, I don’t see any grounds for moving to change the already available options for dealing with these sorts of random acts.

  3. Greg Camp said, on January 12, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    I wouldn’t object to the law, so long as the named individuals promise to stay the required distance away from me. In fact, since they never know where I may be at any given moment, perhaps it would be best if the lot of them would withdraw to a barge in the middle of the Pacific. I’ll make sure that I won’t go to that location.

    In seriousness, though, the underlying intent appears to be the goal of disarming all of us.

    By the way, the picture with this post is ironic, since the pistol’s safety looks to be on. That gun won’t fire.

    • erik said, on January 12, 2011 at 8:32 pm

      Then again, from the NRA’s point of view, the underlying intent of most gun control regulation is to disarm us all. They seem not to trust the mechanisms created by the very document that they most revere, the Constitution, to prevent most gun regulations from leading us down the slippery slope to gun confiscation.

  4. T. J. Babson said, on January 12, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    “They seem not to trust the mechanisms created by the very document that they most revere, the Constitution, to prevent most gun regulations from leading us down the slippery slope to gun confiscation.”

    It is not the Constitution they mistrust but rather those on the left that want to reinterpret it rather than amend it.

    If you don’t like the Constitution change it by amendment, but don’t pretend it says something it plainly does not say.

    • erik said, on January 12, 2011 at 11:43 pm

      It is perfectly within the Supreme Court’s scope to INTERPRET the Constitution to determine whether states are acting within the mandates of the Constitution or not. At least that’s the way I interpret Article III, section 2.

      And, if a case comes before the SC as currently constituted –whether it’s a liberal majority or a conservative majority* and the court determines that one case or another should go one way or another, that’s just the way it is and should be. Scalia may call it amending when the decisions don’t fall his way. But that’s the way the Constitution intends it to be. Thus, for example, we have Roe v Wade, which pisses off conservatives and Citizens United v FEC which pisses off liberals.

      The issue of what is “PLAINLY” said in our founding document is evidently not so plain in either instance. So we have many, many 5-4 decisions on issues large and small because the line between the so-called “correct” interpretation and the so-called “wrong” interpretation is somewhat subjective to say the least. The issues, and the decisions that follow are NOT always black and white.

      But we have Judge Scalia and others who assume the originalist approach is the only correct approach to interpretation. Not surprisingly God, and endless thanks be unto Him for this, has not yet ordained it so.

      *Believe it or not the makeup of the court changes;it’s not immutable;sometimes it’s left-leaning;sometimes it’s right leaning. A lot of people on both sides of the political spectrum can’t seem to live with that reality.

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