Clark Neily: The Arizona Legislature has been considering several bills that would trample property rights in a misguided attempt to promote gun ownership.
The Arizona Legislature has been considering several bills that would trample property rights in a misguided attempt to promote gun ownership.
HB2474 would require businesses to allow employees and patrons to bring firearms into parking areas as long as the guns stayed locked in their vehicles and would allow lawsuits against businesses that violate the law if anyone is injured or killed because a gun owner could not access a weapon. SB1113 would require restaurants to allow people who are not drinking alcohol to bring their guns onto the premises, unless they post signs at every door to keep weapons out. Similar proposals have cropped up in other states, including Florida, where business owners are forced to allow customers and employees to keep guns locked in their cars in the parking lot of the business.
I am a firm believer in the constitutional right to own guns, and in fact I was one of the three lawyers who litigated District of Columbia v. Heller, the historic case in which the U.S. Supreme Court held for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to keep and bear arms. That case was an important victory not just for gun ownership but for liberty itself - something this country was founded on, but which is in increasingly short supply as the government continues its headlong rush down the road of good intentions.
That is why it is so dismaying to see the Heller decision being used to undermine another fundamental individual right: private property. An essential element of that right is the ability to decide who may come onto one's property, for what purposes, and under what conditions. My organization, the Institute for Justice, has been at the forefront of the battle for property rights for nearly two decades, having represented the homeowners in the infamous Kelo eminent domain case, as well as Mesa brake shop owner Randy Bailey, whose property we saved from eminent domain abuse in 2003.
Like every other constitutional right, the right to keep and bear arms is a restriction on government power, not private conduct. Gun rights advocates typically favor more freedom and less government, so it is particularly disappointing to see them supporting laws that would strip away business owners' right to decide who, if anyone, may bring guns onto their property. Legislators should not impose yet another government-mandated, one-size-fits-all solution on a "problem" that private individuals can and should work out among themselves. If gun owners feel unsafe without their weapons, or if customers feel more secure in "gun-friendly" establishments (as I certainly would), then they can choose to patronize businesses that cater to those preferences.
But it should be a matter of choice, not government fiat.
Of course, this is not an isolated example of government disregard for the property rights of business owners, which includes, for example, smoking bans in restaurants and bars. But two (or even two-dozen) wrongs do not make a right, and people who understand that to have liberty means freedom from government compunction - not the right to have your way in dealing with other private parties - should not support these bills.
Clark Neily is a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice in Washington, D.C.