Jeb! On Colbert On the Second and Tenth Amendments

September 9th, 2015

Last night, Governor Jeb! Bush appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Colbert, reading a viewer question, asked Bush about the issue of gun control. Bush explained that in Florida, there is a mandatory three-day waiting period to acquire a handgun, and that he favors background checks for mental health conditions. Bush rejected a call for a national gun laws, explaining that it can be done on a state-by-state basis. He also offered explanation of the 10th Amendment.

Here is (my own) transcript:

Jeb!: In Florida where I was Governor, we have a requirement of background checks, a 72-hour waiting period, we are not violating any Second Amendment rights. In fact, Florida would be considered a Second Amendment, pro-gun state. Gun violence is way down. But we have, simple checks to make sure that people who are criminals are not accessing guns. I think the next step is to figure out ways to make sure we know if people have mental health issues, which is really a common denominator in a lot of these violent, tragic cases, where people aren’t getting access to mental health, and we don’t even know if they have real issues.

Think Progress offered a faint (and temporary praise), noting “For a minute, the former Florida governor almost sounded like he supported expanding background checks to more gun purchases.”

Colbert intervenes:

Colbert: And if mental health checks are opposed by the NRA, how do we fight back?

Bush: I think you do it at a state-by-state level. This is the greatness of our country. Vermont is a lot different–Vermont is probably the most pro-gun state in the country. But New York City is a lot different than rural Florida, and vice versa, so why would you want to impose national gun laws on top of every circumstance of this country.

Bush may not realize it, but he inadvertently parroted Justice Breyer’s dissent in Heller. Breyer wrote that different states with different populations can regulate guns in different fashions. The District Columbia and Chicago can do what Des Moines and Cheyenne cannot. This is emphatically wrong–the Constitution does not have a geography clause, where rights mean different things in different places. See my article, the Constitutionality of Social Cost.

Colbert shot right back:

Colbert: Well the right to have an individual firearm to protect yourself is a national document, the Constitution.

Colbert is right for the wrong reasons. As the Supreme Court recognized in McDonald, the Second Amendment is indeed a national right, and it applies equally, everywhere. But then Colbert seems to read the Second Amendment (incorrectly) to suggest that there should be one series of national firearm laws.

Colbert: So should the way it is applied, also be national.

This perverts the issue, as states are free to offer additional protections of the right to keep and bear arms. Here, Bush (correctly) responds that the 10th Amendment affords states these powers.

Jeb: No, not necessarily.

Colbert: So when I go to Florida, I am living by Florida’s laws, I am living by New York’s laws, and I should just basically roll the dice if I don’t feel that is the safest to do.

Jeb: No, there is the 10th Amendment to our country, the Bill of Rights has a 10th Amendment, that powers are given to the states to create policy and the federal government is not the end-all, be-all. That is an important value for this country. It is a federalist system that works quite well.

Bush closes out strong, and makes an important point–the states are free to afford more protections for the right to bear arms. But his earlier comment, which suggests that rights mean different things in different places, is dangerously incorrect.

For full disclosure, I have advised the Rand Paul campaign.