A modest proposal
With Congress tied up over health reform -- legislation whose initial, much-discussed goal was to extend health insurance to as many as 47 million uninsured Americans -- this may be as good a time as any to propose another, less divisive reform.
The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms estimated in 2008 that more than 250 million guns were owned by U.S. citizens. Since President Obama's election last November, newspapers and electronic media have reported a sharp increase in U.S. gun sales, spurred by rumors that the new administration had secret plans to block gun sales to law-abiding Americans. Normally, about 4.5 million guns are sold in the United States each year, so this surge in sales means that Americans own roughly 260 million guns, in a population of nearly 309 million.
Surveys indicate that gun ownership is not spread evenly across U.S. households. In fact, chances are that a substantial proportion of U.S. gun owners have more than one weapon, so it's quite possible that fewer than 200 million Americans own those 260 million guns. That means there may be more than 100 million citizens left unprotected against their gun-owning fellow citizens.
Surely everyone can agree that this is an outrage. Moreover, it is an outrage that Congress can easily fix, without months of committee meetings, town halls or tea parties. All that is required is a bipartisan, pro-constitutional bill to extend the Second Amendment's protection of gun ownership to all Americans, whether they like it or not.
Under such legislation -- let's call it the Gun Insurance Act of 2009 -- every American would be required to buy some kind of gun. Those who cannot afford even the simplest weapon -- say, those whose 2009 annual income is less than twice the federal poverty level -- could be issued $500 vouchers that would be valid only at gun shops or gun shows, and would have to be used before the 2010 Census. (Just think: What a stimulus to private enterprise all these gun sales would provide, and how many new gun-selling jobs would be created!)
How would the law be enforced? Census takers could verify that everyone they count has a weapon in working condition, and those census takers who survive could report all non-complying Americans to the FBI so it could notify local police departments, which would issue citations for whatever fines Congress chooses to impose. (Note that this proposed legislation would not require creating any new bureaucracy, public option or death panels.) Of course, illegal immigrants would not receive vouchers, would not be required to buy guns and would not be counted in the Census.
So there it is: a modest proposal even Max Baucus and Chuck Grassley can agree on. If we're willing to require people to buy health insurance, why not require them to buy guns? Sure, maybe the Congressional Budget Office could overestimate its cost, and some wimpy liberals could file a court challenge, but the Supreme Court would slap it down on a clear 5-to-4 vote. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, here's one issue where you can count on at least a couple of Republican votes.
The writer, a former Post reporter and editor, lives in Alexandria.