Virginians have the opportunity soon to vote for candidates for all of the seats in the General Assembly—both Delegates and State Senators. Millions of dollars are pouring in from out-of-state in a shameless attempt to hijack the election and shift the political orientation of the Commonwealth from red to blue. Second Amendment infringements1 hawked by confiscationists2 are at the top of the list of issues presently.
It was in this political frenzy that I had the opportunities, first, to have an email exchange, and then a live conversation, with a well-meaning but deeply misled incumbent Republican State Senator. Shockingly he’s in the “race of his life” against a candidate that might as well be running as a socialist.
The focus of our conversation was his support for “red flag laws”. His mailed flyer highlights a talking-point about “keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people”, which apparently is the code phrase for those in the know for “red flag laws.”
The flyer was disingenuous on many levels. The bill contemplated in Virginia doesn’t define what constitutes dangerousness. Studies so far indicate that up to 20 confiscations are needed to stop one suicide,3 which means that in addition to the one dangerous person, 19 non-dangerous people (and the families they protect) are rendered defenseless. There isn’t any solid evidence that any homicides were prevented by the law first implemented in the late 1990s.
I emailed the Senator this information, as well as my contention that these bills are as yet untested before the Supreme Court, but have multiple Constitutional deficiencies, chiefly a complete lack of due process. He replied that his edits to the bill remedied these problems, and that “red flag laws” are supported by large swath of the electorate and the National Rifle Association. Additionally, and even more shockingly, he contended that since these bills are modeled after warrants and domestic violence protection orders, they have to be Constitutional by association.
Fortunately I had the opportunity to meet with the Senator in person. I reiterated my objections to the bills, and pointed out that the NRA actually drafted what reads like a mental health civil commitment statute that secondarily considers firearms—nothing remotely similar to current and proposed “red flag laws.” The forces behind “red flag laws” specifically want mental health left out of them, both for fear of stigmatizing the mentally ill, and wanting to facilitate confiscation from a much larger group of gun owners.
As for popular support, most polls ask “Do you support legislation that would keep dangerous people from accessing firearms?” Most people who are not familiar with the details of these bills reply “Yes”. I suggested that respondents might answer differently once they’ve read the bills. Finally, given that these bills infringe on an inalienable right, I found the “Constitutional by association” concept wanting.
After listening, he replied in the end “You’d be worse off with the other candidate.” This earned him an election “red card”—immediate ejection from the game.
His reasoning seemed to be that since I’d be worse off with the other candidate I should compromise and accept his proposed infringements. Not a chance. That logic leads to a gradual, steady and entirely unacceptable erosion of our inalienable rights. Although plenty of political issues are up for debate, chiseling away at rights I was born with is not one of them. If that renders me a “single issue” voter, so be it. That “single issue”, the inalienable right to defend myself, is absolutely necessary to defend all my other rights.
This candidate forgets that voting isn’t a forced choice exercise: I can stay home, and demonstrate that the “winner” “won” with less participation, and begin shifting my efforts to the other two branches of government. I can write in a candidate, to demonstrate my dissatisfaction with the political machinery in play. I’m not a captive voter, and it’s disturbing that this candidate doesn’t understand that.
This appears to be an early manifestation of a systemic malady, “Potomac Fever”. It begins with assertions of government power over the governed, replacing the consent of the governed with the coerced acquiescence of the governed. It can progress all the way to end-stage “Potomac Fever”, characterized by tyrannical outbursts such as calls for confiscation of weapons by police, taxation, and overreaching Presidential executive orders.
If caught early enough, it can be managed in the voting booth, along with the checks and balances built into our Constitutional form of government. Our Founders recognized that the right to bear arms is a critical deterrent of and a fail-safe remedy for tyranny, and therefore made sure that this inalienable right “shall not be infringed”.
In the 1700s “well regulated” meant “in good working order”, imbued with the qualities needed to function well. The militia of the people wasn’t conscripted, but freely chose to participate in becoming well trained. At the same time, the system of checks and balances should ordinarily right things. The people’s ultimate ability to resist tyranny provides the means to take back the government and return it to a “well regulated” condition if those checks and balances fails. And our uniquely durable experiment in self-government gets regulated by the voters with each and every election.
This election season, I bid all my fellow gun owners: “Stay well regulated!”
1 I refuse to use phraseology from the 1984 Newspeak Dictionary. Gun control describes trigger discipline and the related physical handling of firearms. “Gun control” in common usage today means infringing on my rights and so I refer to it directly as such.
2 Politicians, “public health” officials, and well-meaning but uninformed citizens who want in some way or another to come between law-abiding citizens and the possession and use of their self-selected firearms are “confiscationists”, regardless of how they self-identity.
3 The researchers used an ad hoc statistical measure to arrive at this number, so the actual number of confiscations to prevent one suicide could be even greater.
–Dennis Petrocelli, MD is a clinical and forensic psychiatrist who has practiced for nearly 20 years in Virginia. He took up shooting in 2019 for mind-body training and self-defense, and is joining the fight for Virginians’ gun rights.