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From my Cold, Dead Fingers

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Bob Hays isn't rushing to buy guns, but he does want to have them for hunting Bob Hays isn't rushing to buy guns, but he does want to have them for hunting

As people rush to buy guns, they should ask themselves if they really do have a Second Amendment right.

“Gun Sales Surge After Obama Election,” read the CNN headline and news services carried the story nationwide of a rush to purchase guns and ammunition after voters placed Democrats in the majority in both the House and the Senate, and Barack Obama was named the next President of the United States. Gun sellers and buyers both stated fears that Democratic leadership would attempt to “take away” their guns. Between November 3 and November 9, 324,000 requests were made to the FBI for background checks associated with purchasing weapons. That’s a 49 percent increase over the same period last year.

Calvin Fuller, owner of Sandpoint Outfitters in Ponderay, said he has seem the same action here in North Idaho. “It started about three or four days after the election,” he said. “We’ve seen sales four times what is normal. Right now, my suppliers are completely out of assault-type rifles, weapons like the AR-15 style semi-auto and handguns that carry more than twelve rounds in the magazine. Normally,” he added, “it’s 10 to 12 weeks (for a custom order) direct from the manufacturer. Now it’s 20 weeks or more.” In addition, “The price for both guns and ammo is on the rise. From what I’ve been hearing there’s concern about a proposal to implement a 500 percent tax on some of the ammunition (these types of weapons) require.”

Calvin says he hopes no federal action will effect the sale of hunting weapons or ammunition for the same.

At the Army Surplus store in Sandpoint, a store employee stated that sales there hadn’t changed from normal, but felt media was too biased (presumably against gun-owners) to continue a conversation.

A co-manager for the Wal-Mart store in Ponderay, when questioned about local gun sales, said, “We’re not allowed to answer questions like that,” and even the corporate office of this U.S. giant in gun sales is keeping mum on the topic.

How valid are concerns over new impediments to gun ownership?

While President-elect Obama has said he believes the Second Amendment protects individual gun rights, he’s also said he supports the rights of local governments to set their own gun laws. He has also supported, and even authored, other bills that regulate gun ownership.

Of course, so did John McCain. McCain has voted to ban cheap guns (Saturday Night Specials), to require safety locks and gun show checks, and even said, in 1999, that he was open to voting for an assault weapon ban “depending on the details.”

It’s hard to imagine how a President and Congress, faced with an imploding economy, massive federal debt, a war against a verb, a growing crisis in access to health insurance and ever-increasing violent weather patterns will have much time to consider restrictions to gun ownership. That said, as long as a tool is used inappropriately in even some cases, government (Republicans and Democrats alike) will seek to regulate its use—witness the bans on the use of cell phones in cars. And as my grandma used to say, you can never have too much toilet paper. Even if Congress is too busy to consider gun control legislation, no one will be hurt by stocking up on ammunition or rifles. Purchases might even work to help stimulate the economy—but you might want to buy now, before prices rise any higher. “Although they may have to wait for an order to come in, people can buy today at today’s prices,” Calvin said.

People who worry that Democratic leadership at the federal level will act to violate their second amendment rights, however, little understand the fact that no one has an unlimited “second amendment right” to own firearms. The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (the right to keep and bear arms) was one of only two amendments never incorporated against the states. For most of the amendments to the Constitution, neither the federal government nor any state government can infringe upon the rights granted. The Second Amendment, however, only protects people from infringement by the federal government—state governments are free to place any and all limitations on the right to keep and bear arms. And they’ve done so.

Residents of Montana and Idaho, however, can rest assured that their state legislatures made sure to include these rights in their own state constitutions, though Montana was less emphatic about it than its western neighbor. Idaho’s constitution not only provides the right to keep and bear arms, but also mentions in its first paragraph the right of citizens for “defending... life and liberty,” “protecting... property,” and “securing... safety.”

Montana’s constitution states that a Montana resident has a “right to keep and bear arms in defense of his own home, person and property, or in aid of the civil power...” Interestingly enough, it does not guarantee any resident the right to keep and bear arms for, say, hunting big game. Given that Montana’s current constitution was adopted in 1972, after the equal rights movement was well established, the choice to use the word ‘his’ (as opposed to his/her or some less clumsy construction that doesn’t indicate gender at all) is also puzzling.

Under the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, federal law supersedes state law when the two conflict. Therefore a federal law regarding handguns could be passed that would take precedence over state laws. Whether that will happen or not, only time will tell. Until then, those interested will continue to line up at the cash register and exercise the rights they currently possess.

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Landon Otis

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guns, second amendment, Sandpoint Outfitters, Calvin Fuller, gun sales

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