Friday, February 8, 2013

Thoughts about guns-in-trunks and property rights

While I have been critical of the proposed "guns-in-trunks" legislation, I would like to clarify my position. I am not as opposed to the actual legislation as I am the way it has been presented and pushed. The bill will soon come to a vote and undoubtedly it will pass. If I were in the State legislature and my constituents had lobbied me to support this bill, I would most likely vote for it also, so I am not critical of those who are going to vote for the proposal.

I have been critical of the argument that when an employer or other private property owner prohibits you from carrying a gun on to his property that is somehow a violation of your Second Amendment rights. It is not. That is no more a violation of your Second Amendment rights than if The Tennessean chooses not to print your letter-to-the-editor is a violation of your freedom of the speech rights guaranteed in the First Amendment. If a shopping mall owner says you may not distribute the Watchtower in his shopping mall parking lot, that is not a violation of your freedom of speech rights or your freedom of religion rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. All of our constitutional rights are protections against government, not restrictions on our fellow citizens. Forcing someone to allow guns on their property is a violation of private property rights. It is a taking of another's rights to their property.

My second criticism is the way the gun lobby used raw political power and bullied those who would not bend to their will. Because former chair of the Republican caucus Debra Maggart, a solid conservative and herself an advocate of second amendment rights and an NRA member and gun owner, would not push the bill through last session the gun lobby slandered her and threw massive amounts of money into her campaign in an effort to defeat her and they were successful. I find that highly offensive. I find such raw political power frightening. I don't like bullies.

If I think that taking away the right of a property owner to determine who may bring a weapon onto his property is an infringement on his property rights, then how can I now say I would most likely support it? Our rights are not absolute. We already accept many restrictions on our private property rights. Zoning says you cannot operate a garbage dump in a residential neighborhood. At one time many of this questions of how far you could go in using your property that distracted from your neighbors enjoyment of his property was a matter of common law, but now we have codified these laws.

We accept that you cannot raise pigs in a residential community. Here in Nashville, you may now raise chickens but the number is limited and you must get a permit. We accept that that is a grant from government, not a right. We accept that the government can tell you how much of your lot can be occupied by your structure and how tall you can build it and that you cannot park on the grass in your own yard. While we accept many zoning laws and building codes that restrict what we can do with our property, if a private property owner is operating a business, we accept even more restrictions. There are many ways in which we tell the owner of a business not only what he may not do, but what he must do. We accept that the government tells you how many parking spaces you must have based on the type of business you have. A real estate office does not have to have as many parking spaces as a restaurant. Businesses must make reasonable efforts to accommodate the handicapped. If your sale alcohol you must stop serving by 2 AM. We already accept many restrictions on the rights of property owners.

I only barely remember it, but I remember the civil rights movements when Blacks could not go to movie theaters or eat in restaurants or stay in motels. Most people in the South thought that was perfectly OK. The effort to require that owners of businesses serving the public accommodate anyone regardless of color or race was met with strong opposition. Sure, some of it, maybe most of it, was based on bigotry, but there were those who made a principled argument that for the government to require a restaurant to serve people the owner did not want to serve was an infringement on the property rights of the owner.

Most recently we have seen government requiring most eating and drinking establishments to ban smoking. I myself miss smoke-filled bars and enjoy smoking while drinking. I think that was a government over reach and think each establishment should get to decide their own policy. On the other hand, I support an end to "whites only" policies although I accept that both are infringements on the rights of property owners.

How do I square this circle? One does not have to be consistent. Rights are not absolute and sometimes policies are judgment calls decided by the political process. Let us go back to what I said earlier, that if a shopping mall owner prohibits you from distributing the watchtower on his property, your First Amendment rights have not been violated. You have no right to proselytize on the property of another. If I was a legislator, I would not support legislation saying a mall owner must let you distribute religious tracts on his property. Now, consider a mall owner who said you were not permitted to have a Bible in the glove compartment of your car while in the parking lot of his mall. That is still not a violation of your First Amendment rights, however I would support legislation saying mall owners could not impose such restrictions.

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  1. Interesting and multilayered perspective of the type not often seen with Republicans, this coming from a moderate.

    Grammar police are unpopular, but "restaurants are stay in motels"
    is egregious. You mean "or."

    While I'm at it, " I support and end to "whites only" policies" has an issue also. Wrong and. You want "an."

    We all foul up sometimes, usually privately. But I'd think you'd want to fix these public ones.


  2. The trip from home to the work parking lot is the question.

    Many folks travel thru dangerous areas to get to work. By saying you can't store/keep a method of self-protection in your automobile is denying a person the right of self-defense.

    Another thought, your car has many of the same protections as your home/castle - law enforcement can't search your car without your permission or a warrant.(except for areas within your reach)