A month into various degrees of government-ordered lockdowns to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a growing, though still minority, resentment toward some of these restrictions.
The biggest objections are financial in nature. How people feel about decimating the economy and throwing tens of millions of Americans onto the jobless rolls is directly proportional to whether they are among the unemployed and how much government help they are getting in the meantime.
But there are also objections to the restrictions, imposed to curb the spread of the disease, that go beyond the pocketbook and involve ideological principles. However medically justified they might be, the restrictions rub against a deep-seated American distaste for overreaching, overcontrolling government dictates. The 10-person limits on gatherings of all types, for example, infringe on fundamental freedoms contained in the Bill of Rights, most particularly freedom of assembly and freedom of religion.
Those freedoms are being curtailed — at least temporarily — for the same reason that the public allowed the government to snoop indiscriminately on its citizens following the 9-11 terrorist attacks. When people are scared and feel their lives are at stake, they are often willing to trade some freedoms for security, at least until the threat passes.
With the present health crisis, the majority of people, not just in this country but around the globe, have been convinced that COVID-19 is such a massive and unique threat to public health that it is reasonable to accept temporary restrictions on church services, on social gatherings and on commerce because without these restrictions, more would become ill and die from the disease.
When government officials, though, buck the Constitution or statutes that protect personal freedoms, they better have both law and logic on their side, or they risk undermining the public deference to their authority.
Jackson’s mayor has made just that mistake with his effort to use COVID-19 as an excuse to negate a gun law he doesn’t like.
I don’t like Mississippi’s open-carry law any more than Chokwe Antar Lumumba does. Enacted in 2013, it is a dumb law that, if anything, has made this state less safe, not more so, by permitting everyone who doesn’t have a disqualifying criminal record or mental illness to openly carry a firearm. Lumumba believes the law has contributed to the number of homicides in the capital city.
That may be, but open-carry has nothing to do with the new coronavirus, and any effort to make that link is preposterous. Banning the open carry of firearms in Jackson, as Lumumba did via executive order a few days ago, will not stop a single transmission of COVID-19.
As soon as Lumumba’s order was issued, it was certain that it would be challenged as an unconstitutional infringement on citizens’ Second Amendment right to bear arms. The Jackson City Council, by a 6-0 vote, distanced itself from the mayor’s actions, obviously not wanting to waste money on a legal fight it knows the city can’t win.
The lawsuit could become a moot point Thursday if Lumumba lets his order lapse as scheduled. He would be wise to do so.
If Jackson’s mayor wants Mississippi’s open-carry law repealed, he should do the hard work of trying to line up support for that in the Legislature. Using COVID-19, however, as cover to unilaterally impose a form of gun control only fuels distrust about his motives during this pandemic.
It’s not uncommon for those in government to use a crisis to push an ideological agenda. Usually, though, they are a bit more clever about it.