Gun control in the cradle of civilization


JUST because the gun lobby is always on the brink of apoplexy doesn't mean it doesn't have a genuine grievance from time to time. Take the case of Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's attempt to make a mockery of the U.S. Constitution by limiting purchases of handguns in Virginia by an individual to one handgun per month.

Actually, that's Governor Wilder's apparent attempt to make a mockery of the U.S. Constitution, but can you believe it? One handgun per month?

And on what flimsy grounds does the governor make this ludicrous proposal?

Well, it is the governor's contention that his state has become a source for illegal gun smuggling on the East Coast. He says dealers from New York City (where local laws sharply restrict access to guns) drive to Virginia and fill the trunks of their cars with weapons bought in stores by helpful local residents. Then they haul the guns back to New York and sell them illegally at huge markups.

Since it wouldn't pay to travel back and forth for one gun at a time, says the governor, limiting individual purchases to one a month could quickly put the smugglers out of business in Virginia, which it might do. It really might.

But let us ask ourselves at what price to the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizen of Virginia with the legitimate need to buy several guns a month?

This is Virginia, for crying out loud, the very home of so many of the authors of the U.S. Constitution and founders of our democracy.

And this is Virginia? Trying to abridge the right to bear arms, some of which just happen to be acquired from the large trunks of rental sedans? Please.

Needless to say, this intolerable trampling of individual and commercial liberties has drawn an unfavorable response from the gun lobby, and a compromise under consideration by a six-legislator negotiating team is that bona fide state residents who want to buy more than one handgun a month would get permission slips from the state police, and I should hope so.

I can think of three excellent reasons I'd be forced to buy more than one handgun per month:

1. Having the first handgun stolen from my shopping cart while I'm studying the fine print on the Cheerios box at the grocery store.

2. Losing the second handgun behind the sofa cushions in the convent sitting room while paying a visit to my former English teacher.

3. Letting my 9-year-old nephew borrow the third handgun for show-and-tell and having it fall out of his bookbag on the way home from school.

All of which is neither here nor there, actually. New evidence has just been discovered to show that the entire flap about the "right to bear arms" is due to a misunderstanding that occurred at the time the final draft of the Constitution was transcribed by a fellow who was slightly hard of hearing.

No kidding. I was surprised myself. But this is straight from the New England Museum of Historical Minutiae.

It turns out that John Hancock was a well-known (at the time) aficionado of agricultural nudist colonies, and that what he was insisting upon was a clause in the Constitution that would protect "the right to bare farms."

Hancock's request was misunderstood by the hearing-impaired transcriber, the proofreader missed the error, the document was signed after too many pints of rum had been consumed by the signers, and the rest is history.

Is that a kick in the pants, or what?

Robin Branch is a columnist for the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

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