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EDITORIAL: Politicians become outlaws when they outlaw guns

The Gazette editorial board | Published on 7/1/2021

Few in Colorado approve of neo-Nazis. Most reasonable people do not want these haters marching up and down the street.

Maybe the Legislature would do us a favor by passing a law that says communities may outlaw marches, festivals or rallies that promote neo-Nazi ideology. Hate is ugly, so please outlaw it. Or, at the very least, allow Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs and other communities to forbid neo-Nazi activities.

Take it a step further and allow fire districts, water districts and neighborhood associations to prohibit neo-Nazi events. A majority of the public sees no value in neo-Nazi festivities, so by all means pass a bill, sign it into law and get rid of the sights and sounds of hate.

Oh, but wait. The Legislature and governor cannot possibly do this no matter how much we may want them to. Doing so would make them outlaws. That is because the First Amendment guarantees the civil right of free speech to every free individual on American soil. The right belongs to good people and bad people alike.

Free speech — including the awful kind — is non-negotiable, and no court sees it any other way. That is why a church full of haters, known as Westboro Baptist in Kansas, has the court-affirmed right to picket funerals. These horrible protesters get to publicly say hateful things about people in caskets — even those who died defending the country — and taunt loved ones who mourn them. No city council, no county commission nor any other authority can stop the haters from rallying. The Legislature and the governor cannot change this fact, whether a majority likes it or not.

That is the difference between a genuine “democracy,” in which public sentiment reigns supreme, and a constitutional republic established to put specified rights above collective sentiment.

For this reason, Colorado residents should be scandalized by a bill sitting on the desk of Gov. Jared Polis.

Senate Bill 256 represents what might be the most naive legislation to come out of the Legislature in years, and Polis might sign it into law. The bill minces no words in attempting to give cities, towns, counties, water districts, universities and all sorts of other special jurisdictions authority to “enact an ordinance, regulation, or other law governing or prohibiting the sale, purchase, transfer, or possession (emphasis added) of a firearm, ammunition, or firearm component or accessory … ”

“The bill declares that the regulation of firearms is a matter of state and local concern,” explains the summary of SB 256.

This is so blatantly unlawful we expected Polis to veto it without hesitation. That is until we spoke with him about it during a question-and-answer session featured in this week’s Perspective section of The Gazette. The discussion also covers drugs, taxes, border concerns and more.

“We have different areas of our state with different relationships with gun ownership, with the different cultures, and I think it’s completely appropriate that we empower local jurisdictions to draw the line,” Polis said, giving us every indication he plans to sign the bill into law.

Polis can sign all he wants, and it won’t change a thing. He might just as well argue for local authorities to determine which schools whites and Blacks may attend. Or, he might sign a law that tells communities they can outlaw neo-Nazi rallies and hate-filled funeral protests. In these terms, his authority is futile.

The Second Amendment, which clearly protects the rights of individuals to keep and bear arms, is not something communities and special districts may take or leave. Indeed, it is just like the First Amendment. Authorities don’t get to negate free speech on a basis of unique community values.

“We would not apply an ‘interest-balancing’ approach to the prohibition of a peaceful neo-Nazi march through Skokie (Illinois),” the U.S. Supreme Court majority wrote in its 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, referencing its decision in National Socialist Party of America v. Skokie.

“The enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table,” the court explained.

With its Heller ruling, the court of final appeal told the nation’s capital city it may not prohibit guns — or even require full-time trigger locks. Given this ruling, there is no chance the court would allow cities, counties and special districts in Colorado to prohibit the sale, purchase, transfer or possession of guns. This is an open invitation for litigation that Colorado cannot win.

“I don’t think residents of El Paso County want to live under the exact same gun regulatory regime as residents of Boulder County,” Polis said.

It doesn’t matter. Residents of each county, and all others, live with authoritative limitations established by the Second Amendment and extended to states by the 14th Amendment. If that is not enough, and it is, the Colorado Constitution forbids this proposed law. A state’s constitution outweighs state statutes.

Governor, don’t make a mockery of a right the U.S. Supreme Court considers no less valid than the right to worship and communicate. Please veto this ridiculous bill.

The Gazette editorial board