The 1,000 Feet Law
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.