Gun rights and Presidential assassins

Should Lee Harvey Oswald have been interfered with in the exercise of his Second Amendment rights?

There are gun-rights advocates in the world, and then there are gun nuts.

Sane gun-rights advocates understand that giving any one of 300 million residents of the U.S. the capacity to change history by killing a President – which is the inevitable consequence of allowing people to be armed when a President is in the line of fire – is not a tenable policy, since it would either require Presidents to hide themselves from the public or make the government dangerously unstable.

I pointed out to one correspondent that under a strong Second Amendment that didn’t give way in areas guarded by the Secret Service, no one would have had the authority to stop Lee Harvey Oswald, since his actions would have been entirely lawful up until the point where he aimed his rifle at the Presidential motorcade. He responded:

No, I don’t think there’s anything obviously wrong about people who happen to be President being subject to the same ordinary hazards as people who don’t happen to be President. We’re not a monarchy, after all, the President is just another citizen. He doesn’t carry a “restricted civil liberties” zone around with him, everywhere he goes.

If Lee Harvey Oswald wasn’t doing anything on the grassy knoll that would have been illegal if the President had been 200 miles away, there’s no basis to arrest him just because a guy holding a particular office happens to be in the neighborhood.

The technical term, for those keeping score at home, is reductio ad absurdum.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: