We are all miserably accustomed to being informed that our rights must be curtailed because the Founders “couldn’t have imagined” the way in which they would eventually be exercised. “Well, sure it made sense to have an armed population back when the people only had muskets,” this argument tends to go. “But now that four-year-old children can buy semi-automatic nuclear death-rays with their Happy Meals, it’s just anachronistic.”
Silly as this approach ultimately is — basic individual rights do not rely upon the date for their integrity — it is one that can at least be earnestly entertained. 1789 was, after all, a different world. But what about 1986? Can laws written this recently really be said to have had a meaning then that we cannot apply reasonably now? The Third Circuit certainly thinks so, and a decision it issued last year has led to a significant number of people’s being arrested, charged, and thrown in jail. It is high time that this came to a stop. The problem is this: Because America has a federal system of government, the majority of the gun laws are set at the local level. Thus “assault weapons” that are banned in Connecticut and New York are readily attainable in Texas and Idaho; thus permissive concealed-carry regimes are available to the citizens of Vermont and Arizona but not to those in New Jersey and Illinois; and, thus, as one might expect, the transportation, brandishing, sale, and storage rules differ wildly by location. What is good for one set of people is anathema to another. Up to a certain point, this is all well and good. Indeed, within constitutional bounds, local variation is a good thing. It allows individuals to run their communities as they see fit, and it keeps an out-of-touch central government from imposing a single set of rules upon a big and diverse country. Nevertheless, however fractured the political system becomes, a question remains: What happens to people who are merely traveling through? What, for example, does one do if one wishes to drive across the country with a firearm — to and from places where one has a legal right to possess a gun, but through places where one does not?