South Dakota’s Proposed Gun Mandate

By Beacon Staff

Much has been written over the last couple of days about a bill introduced in the South Dakota legislature by Republican State Rep. Hal Wick of Sioux Falls that would require citizens to purchase a firearm. On its face, the bill is, of course, absurd. Citizens would be allowed to pick out a gun, “suitable to their temperament, physical capacity, and preference.” But the goal of the bill is to point out its very absurdity, and demonstrate that the new federal health care law’s requirement to buy insurance is similarly absurd. Interesting point, right?

On its face, the bill seems like a dramatic piece of performance art/political-point-making. But the point itself – that a government adopting such a requirement is unconstitutional – is now coming under fire. Gawker’s Jim Newell writes:

Does Rep. Wick know that the federal government and the state government of South Dakota are two different things imbued with different rights and powers? I mean, who does he think requires him to own car insurance? You know what, don’t answer that.

Over at Salon, Alex Pareene takes it a step further:

I am actually pretty sure that South Dakota does have the power to do that, if you guys actually pass that law. Unless there’s something about it in the South Dakota Constitution, I can’t really see what would be unconstitutional about this awful idea. Sometimes awful ideas aren’t unconstitutional! The Tea Parties should learn this: Just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean it’s not allowed under the Constitution.

And POLITICO’s Ben Smith links to Jack Balkin, who points out that such requirements were, in fact, common during the nation’s early history:

The irony, of course, is that this is an example of what the federal government could require citizens to do at the founding. All able bodied male citizens were part of the militia, and therefore were required to bear arms in defense of the state. In fact, the federal government passed a militia act in 1792 that required that every citizen purchase a weapon and ammunition.

On a side note: I used to live in Atlanta, and a suburban town, Kennesaw, as far as I know, continues to have a law on its books requiring citizens to own a gun. All I remember is you used to be able to buy these sweet T-shirts there that said, “It’s the law in Kennesaw,” from the dude in this story, known as Wildman, for reasons that are apparent upon checking out his photo. Also, they don’t enforce the measure against non-gun owners.

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