- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2011

Unlike conservatives who reflexively rail against the mandate in President Obama’s health care initiative that all American buy insurance, South Dakota Republicans say they are looking at the big picture.

If the government can require Americans to buy health insurance, the reasoning goes, then why can’t the same government require them to purchase something a bit higher on the conservative wish list? That is why five GOP state legislators have introduced a bill that would require every South Dakotan age 21 or older to purchase a gun.

The legislation, known as “An Act to provide for an individual mandate to adult citizens to provide for the self-defense of themselves and others,” sounds like the stuff of Smith & Wesson’s fondest dreams, or perhaps the result of a very large campaign contribution from the National Rifle Association.

For firearms buffs, however, it turns out that House Bill 1237 is instead a commentary on the constitutionality of the federal health care law.

“If the federal government can order everyone in the United States to buy health insurance because everybody needs medical care,” said the bill’s chief sponsor, state Rep. Hal Wick, “it makes just as much sense for South Dakota to make this requirement to provide for everyone’s protection.”

Some state and federal judges undoubtedly would argue with that logic.

Mr. Wick said he doesn’t expect the bill to pass, but he hopes the debate will make Americans think about the unintended consequences of what critics deride as “Obamacare.”

“We’ve put this bill in to make a point and to help people understand why what the federal government is doing is unconstitutional,” said Mr. Wick.

His bill is receiving a warm reception among Republicans in the Legislature. Several state lawmakers, Mr. Wick said, told him they were disappointed that they weren’t invited to sign on as original sponsors.

“A dozen to 15 legislators asked me why I didn’t let them get on the bill,” said Mr. Wick. “Then I’ve had others who have asked me, ‘Can you change it so that I have to buy a new weapon every year?’”

Not everyone appreciates how Mr. Wick has made his point. A sternly worded editorial last week in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader admonished the first-term lawmaker for “political posturing.”

“These political theatrics, such as state Rep. Hal Wick’s bill requiring gun ownership, mock a genuine debate across our nation about health care,” the newspaper said. “Outside South Dakota, news of Wick’s bill will certainly convince many people that we are either hicks or idiots.

“Most of us are neither.”

On the other hand, the bill may convince outsiders that South Dakotans are possessed of a certain heretofore unappreciated level of political sophistication, even wit. State legislators across the nation may jump on the mandate bandwagon with their own bills inspired by South Dakota’s.

Although the provocative bill was introduced in a tongue-in-cheek manner, it has sparked more serious constitutional debate. Some say South Dakota legislators are fudging the key question in the debate over the health care law: not the issue of a mandate but of the rightful powers of the federal government.

“The argument against the individual mandate is that the federal government doesn’t have the power to compel people to purchase private insurance. It is not about what states can and can’t do,” Alex Pareene said in an analysis published by Salon.com. “… I am actually pretty sure that South Dakota does have the power to [require gun ownership], if you guys actually pass that law.”

Even if the bill goes nowhere, Mr. Wick said, he has not wasted his time devoting “about two hours, approaching three,” to its introduction. A hearing on the bill is slated for Feb. 16.

The legislation declines to specify what type of gun South Dakotans should purchase and instead advises them to purchase or acquire “a firearm suitable to their temperament, physical capacity and personal preference sufficient to provide for their ordinary self-defense.”

The bill has drawn at least 400 comments on the Argus Leader website. Although most fall into the “Is this a joke?” category, at least one poster says the legislation has real potential as a budget fix.

“And we can’t cut 10 percent from the budget why? We could expand this and require people driving through our state to carry guns,” said one comment. “Gary’s [Guns] could then open a rental station at the rest areas entering our state. How much money would that make us?”

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