You may have noticed that Congress is unpopular.
Really, really unpopular, actually. Only 9 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress has been doing its job, according the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. And you do sort of wonder about that 9 percent. Do you think they misheard and thought they were being asked: "Do you approve of Christmas?"
This week, the House of Representatives took time out of its busy schedule of going home for vacation to remind us, once again, why it has the strong support of about as many people who believe Rick Perry should be the next president. It approved a bill requiring states with strict gun regulations to honor concealed weapon carry permits issued in states where the gun rules are slightly more lax than the restrictions on who can dispense ice cream cones from a truck.
"This bill is about freedom," said Rep. Chris Gibson, a Republican from upstate New York.
In this Congress, it's hard to find anything that isn't. Cutting Social Security is about freedom. Killing funds for Planned Parenthood is about freedom. Once again, we are reminded that, as Janis Joplin used to sing, freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.
Here's an example of the way the House plan would work. California has very strict limits on who can get a permit to carry a concealed weapon, involving extensive background checks by local law enforcement. Utah, on the other hand, is really mellow about the whole thing. You don't even have to live there to get a Utah permit. Just ask the 215,000 non-Utah folks who have gotten one.
And, in Florida, "it is so easy that a staffer in one of our offices was able to complete the form in less than 30 minutes," said Rep. Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat.
Under this bill, California's strict rules on gun permits are now expanded to include anybody who drives into the state waving a Florida or Utah permission slip.
The bill passed 272-154. It's a law enforcement nightmare for states that take gun regulation seriously. There's no national database that cops can check if they stop someone who's carrying a gun with an out-of-state permit. Some state records aren't available at all.
"A common-sense solution to adapt to today's needs," said Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, cheerfully.
The opponents really did try everything, including the time-honored tactic of proposing that the bill be taken away and amended to say "except for child molesters."
They also pointed out, in tones of deep irony, that Republicans are supposed to be big fans of states' rights. But really, a vast majority of members of Congress have always believed that the states have a right to do anything that the member in question happens to like.
"It's tougher when it's those things you may disagree with that are left to the states," said Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., who should know since he was one of approximately two gun-rights lawmakers who opposed the bill because of principles of strict constitutional construction.
Anyway, the National Rifle Association will be giving everybody a grade before they run for re-election. Screw around with this bill, and you could be looking at a B-minus.
There is a distinct cultural rift in this country between the people who feel safest when there are as few guns on the street as possible and the ones who believe that they aren't secure unless they have a loaded gun around to protect themselves against evildoers. Actually, the evidence suggests very strongly that a gun in the house will most likely be used to take out a relative. And guns in the house are not the subject of this bill anyway, since we're talking about weapons being carted across state lines.
Anyway, God wants everybody to be armed.
"Mr. Speaker, rights do not come from the government. We are, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights," said Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind.
Among these rights are life, liberty and a pistol in the glove compartment.
© 2011 New York Times News Service