James Gill: The news from Appomattox

Oil City, home to just 1,000 souls, is in the middle of nowhere — Caddo Parish, to be precise — but life there is far from uneventful.

As many as 25 wild hogs might show up at any time and start rooting around. It wouldn’t do much good to shoot one and scare the rest off, so Jim Morris outs with a semiautomatic.

And that’s not the only time Morris, a Republican state rep, reckons serious firepower is necessary around Oil City. Why, if thugs are simultaneously pouring through the front door, the back door and the windows, an “excitable individual” cannot be expected to take careful aim. He will need to spray the joint with bullets.

Morris has a point; even those of us who are not normally excitable might find it difficult, in such circumstances, to remain calm. Without our semiautomatics, we’d never be able to protect our families, he believes.

Maybe Oil City is not really that hairy, for Morris does have a vivid imagination. He foresees hordes of federal agents roaming the country and confiscating every semiautomatic weapon they can lay their hands on, for instance. He has therefore filed a bill calling for a referendum on a constitutional amendment exempting Louisiana from any restrictions Washington might impose. There will be some long faces when the news from Appomattox reaches Oil City.

No matter, because the NRA won’t let the feds take our guns away in any case. The proper response from Morris’s colleagues would have been to pat him on the head and tell him not to be so excitable. Instead, they rushed to vote for his bill.

“I have $100,000 in student loans that says this is probably unconstitutional,” Joseph Lopinto, R-Metairie, declared during debate on the House floor. Being a lawyer, he got that right; Morris’s bill is plainly invalid under the Supremacy Clause.

If you understand Capitol logic, you will easily guess which way Lopinto voted. The next words out of his mouth were “But I like the bill,” and it has been was plain sailing ever since.

Any attempt to block federal laws in Louisiana is so obviously futile that even Morris concedes his bill might not withstand a constitutional challenge. But he is a man of principle, and will not shrink from putting our money at risk. “If we’ve got to spend every dime we’ve got defending our rights, it would be worth the money,” he says.

Taxpayers might agree if the bill did strike a blow against tyranny. But it amounts to no more than a gesture, albeit in support of a cause that is no less widely and passionately supported for being lost.

Morris’ bill progressed amid shades of that other Lost Cause. There were smiles all around when it reached a Senate Committee and he was asked whether “this had anything to do with the war that ended in 1865.” “I don’t need the federal government to live,” Morris had angrily informed a House committee member who opposed his bill.

But Morris evidently embodies the latest thinking in Louisiana, because his bill is now pending before the full Senate. And the rest of America does not, on this occasion, regard us as nuts, because similar legislation is pending in 17 other states, according to Morris. But that just means they are nuts too.

Morris likes to spray superfluous words around like bullets from a semiautomatic; his bill calls for a referendum on what he terms the “Louisiana Preservation of Individual Gun Rights of Citizens Act,” which, even by Capitol standards, is painfully clunky.

It is designed to be painful for federal agents, who could get two years in the clink if they show up in Louisiana and try to enforce laws banning semiautomatic weapons. Proponents of the Morris amendment point out that such laws may be unconstitutional, but it’s kinda hard to tell since they do not yet exist. Besides, a federal law is valid, “the Constitution and laws of any state notwithstanding,” until the United States Supreme Court says otherwise.

Imagine the chaos if the Morris amendment passes, and the feds do ban semiautomatics. One day a state trooper and an ATF agent could show up in Oil City as a sounder of hogs is mown down, and it will take them all day to figure out who gets to arrest whom.

James Gill can be reached at jgill@theadvocate.com.