READY, AIM, FIRE: Back when I still lived in Wisconsin, I did some reporting on the Posse Comitatus, a right-wing, paramilitary group of White supremacists, survivalists, religious fanatics, and gun-toting anti-Semites. I stumbled onto this having been inadvertently invited to a Posse wedding by a friend and co-worker — in this case the bride — who would discover only later that she’d married into a group of well-armed extremists. In the moment, I was blissfully clueless. It was a barroom wedding in the middle of nowhere on a moonlit snowy night; all I remember is drinking too much and trying to dance the polka. I did much better at the former. Only later would I discover I’d driven home with a stolen Christmas tree affixed to the roof of my car.
Those were simpler times.
My Commie friends back then saw the emergence of groups like the Posse Comitatus as yet more proof that the contradictions of global capitalism had achieved critical mass, and that David Rockefeller found himself forced to resort to more overtly fascistic solutions to maintain corporate hegemony. I begged to differ; I merely thought they were kooks. It would turn out we were both wrong.
Members of the Posse Comitatus, in fact, were deadly serious. When pulled over by cops and ordered to display their driver’s licenses and proof of insurance, they resisted. Often violently. My friend’s husband was especially militant in this regard. In Wisconsin, they don’t like it when you fight with cops, even if you’re white. He went away for a significant stretch. Up ’til then, my friend’s only worry had been about the extent of her betrothed’s creeping mommy issues.
Hey, he seemed like a nice guy. But then, I never got the whole Posse thing about driver’s licenses. It seemed such an eccentric hill to die on. But this weekend, I found myself scouring the Constitution for any mention of licenses. And mandatory auto insurance, too. There was no mention of either. The Constitution, it turns out, does guarantee the right to travel. But cars — not having been invented until 100 years ago — escaped the notice of our Founding Fathers, leaving it to our wig-sniffing modern-day Originalists to infer what they will from words never spoken.
I mention this in response to the explosion of mass shootings now taking place. How many have there been since Uvalde? 18? 20? Being susceptible to simplistic analogies, I always figured if The Man could force us to obtain licenses and insurance in order to drive, how hard could it be to require gun buyers to do the same? It seemed like an obvious idea. I suggested the insurance idea in the pages of this very column back in November 2015. At the time, 45 shootings had occurred on American college campuses that year.
Finally, people are catching on. This week, Governor Gavin Newsom signed three gun control bills with a flotilla of others in the pipeline. In January this year, the San Jose City Council passed an ordinance requiring proof of liability insurance for gun owners. As we speak, State Senator Nancy Skinner — yes, a pinko Dem from Berkeley — is pushing a similar statewide measure through the Sacramento legislature. The insurance requirement is screamingly utilitarian and elegant; it avoids any whisper or shadow of government intrusion. Instead, it bestows upon the insurance industry itself — Big Brother personified — all rights to determine how likely we are to shoot someone else or ourselves. Like Santa Claus, the industry knows if you’ve been bad or good and what risk you pose to become a mass shooter. They have the actuarial tables; they’ve run the odds. And maybe if you’re a 21-year-old male incel stewing in all your unrequited juices, they’ll simply deny coverage.
I don’t know how the Skinner bill will fare. With 12 gun-control bills chomping at Sacramento’s bit, there’s a lot of competition. By the time the San Jose city clerk recorded the council’s vote this past January, City Hall had been slapped with three lawsuits filed by gun rights advocates. Enforcement has been suspended pending resolution of this litigation.
Guns now kill more people — 43,000 a year — than cars. That’s because the auto industry now installs such things as airbags, seat belts, and other safety fixtures that they initially resisted. They ultimately did so, in part, at the insistence of the insurance industry.
I’m not a prude where guns are concerned. I was trained to shoot as a kid as part of the NRA’s Eddie Eagle safety indoctrination programs. One of my gun-nut friends pointed out that the majority of gun deaths are intentionally self-inflicted and that an insurance requirement would do little to change that. Good point. I’d counter by noting that 120,000 people a year are wounded by gunfire. I’m guessing 99.99 percent are not failed suicide attempts. Not having been shot yet, I’d guess that a gunshot wound is not something you just suck up and shake off. A vast pool of liability funds might go a long way to ease the burdens for those forced to suck and shake.
Last month, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas vastly expanded the rights of citizens to carry concealed weapons, decreeing nothing in the Constitution empowers local government to require law-abiding citizens to demonstrate they have a “special need” to pack concealed heat. Should Thomas review my proposal to require insurance for guns, he’d no doubt find there’s no mention of cars or car insurance in the Constitution either and rule both to be unconstitutional.
And that reminds me. How did that Christmas tree get on top of my car?