08/31/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The (Legally) Armed Flasher: too Close for Comfort

To hear a lot of Republicans with microphones lately, you'd think that America's foundation is a big pile of hardware -- specifically, guns. On Sonia Sotomayor's last day of Congressional hearings, Senator Tom Coburn seemed to imply that if slaves had only been armed, they wouldn't have been slaves, as if their overwhelming minority status were a mere technicality. And Virginia GOP candidate/self-appointed Constitutional scholar Catherine Crabill recently proclaimed that "America was founded by right wing extremists," and that the beauty of America is that tax issues can be resolved at the ballot box first, and "at the bullet box" second.

Coburn and Crabill think of themselves as patriots above all else, but I have to break it to them and their ilk: What's unique about our nation, and the reason it's thrived for over 200 years, is that we are a nation of laws, and we share a commitment to upholding the mutually agreed upon legal process. After all, the Gaza Strip has been awash with guns in the past; so have a great number of African nations. But I don't envy their occupants their liberty.

I know it will sound quaint to those among us who believe they're invincible as long as they're within reach of a gun 24/7, but our founding fathers didn't envision a country of vigilantes. They described, in the awkwardly-worded Second Amendment, a need for an ongoing militia for "the security of a free State." But somehow this is taken by the NRA and its supporters as tacit approval for a populace that's armed to the teeth. They lobby our legislators as if their lives depend on our laws reflecting this, and anyone with an argument to the contrary is overwhelmed by their vehemence, or indifference.

In the latest affront to common sense and the notion of public safety, an amendment proposed by Senator John Thune of South Dakota and attached to a Defense Department appropriations bill was defeated last week by the thinnest of margins. This piece of brilliance, with the typically Orwellian title of "Protecting States Rights and Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act," would have permitted individuals with permits to conceal and carry weapons to take their firearms with them to any of the 48 states that issue such permits (Illinois and Wisconsin don't).

Problem with this scenario is, it completely ignores the very concept of states' rights that conservatives have always championed. For example, Utah law dictates that it's legal to carry a gun into a bar, as long as the carrier doesn't get drunk. And the citizens of Alaska think it's fine to issue CCW permits to people who've committed violent misdemeanors or sex offenses against minors. Only you live in New York. Now you're riding a crowded elevator, and you're wondering whether that sketchy-looking drunk who's pressing himself against your leg is packing, or just happy to see you. If the Thune Amendment had passed -- and the vote was 58-39 in favor, just two votes short -- it could very well be the former.

I know, I know, there are always perverts who are happy to break the law, and these things happen. But do we have to make it so easy for them? Do we really want to live in a society in which it's once again legal for assault weapons to be sold at gun shows without background checks? Do we want there to be prohibitions against public information about illegal gun-trafficking, so we're in the dark about who's making it easy for terrorists to arm themselves?

Actually, that's the society we live in now. Because while the Obama administration and Congress work to unravel the unholy mess left by their predecessors, the NRA and its minions are cocky in the knowledge that, with bigger fish to fry, legislators won't allow gun control to become a debilitating wedge issue. They need as much support as possible to pass bills that create jobs, fix the economy, provide healthcare and ensure safety at home and abroad. So now, with a Democratic president, Senate and House, gun nuts are getting away with their wildest agendas. They're taking advantage of their countrymen in a time of urgency. And they're anything but patriotic.