A Modest Proposal: The Right to Bear Poison
The other day, as I heard about yet another fight over Americans' right to keep and bear arms, I mused about how odd our fascination with guns is. We're a nation obsessed with a tool whose express purpose is to kill someone else.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. It's in the Constitution so it must be okay. So what if a few people every year -- well, a few hundred thousand people -- seem intent on using firearms for something other than keeping British soldiers at bay? We Americans will still want our poison to be legal and accessible.
Wait, did I say "poison"? Yes, for that's what I was musing upon. What if the Second Amendment had been written this way: "the right of the people to keep and bear Poisons, shall not be infringed."
You might think poisons aren't as fun as guns. You can't shoot tin cans with a vial of weed killer. But at the height of their popularity -- in Renaissance Italy -- poisons were kind of cool, the murder weapon of choice among the nobility. Having access to a skilled poisoner was as important then as knowing a crooked gun dealer is today.
And just as we fetishize various guns today -- the .44 Magnum of Dirty Harry, the MAC-10 of Colombian drug lords -- so the deadly tinctures of poisoners were obsessed over. Which was better: arsenic or cyanide? Where best to slip the poison: in food, wine or an unsuspecting relative's ear? Where to store it: in a flask hanging from a cord around your neck, in a cleverly-constructed ring or (my favorite) on one side of a carving knife as you cut a piece of chicken for a dinner guest you're hoping to see less of?
A bullet-proof vest was no good against poison, of course, but if you were a monarch afraid of someone slipping something toxic in your cherries jubilee you could protect yourself by taking a little bit of a lot of poisons, thus building up an immunity. Just think of Mithridates, the Persian king who was so unsuccessful at killing himself with poison that he had to order a slave to run him through with a sword.
If our Founding Fathers had loved poison as much as they loved guns, things would be a lot different today. School shootings wouldn't be a problem. Instead, we'd have to worry about school cafeteria poisonings. (Don't think you can kill very many people very quickly with poison? Just look at Jonestown.)
Critics would point out that people are more likely to be poisoned by a loved one than by a stranger. Liberals and police chiefs would lobby for locks on poison drawers or, at a minimum, child-proof caps on poison bottles. Of course, the National Poison Association would fight any perceived effort to restrict an American's ability to get his hands on some cyanide, warfarin or cobra venom.
"When poisons are outlawed," they would say, "only outlaws will have poison." And really, who cares if you drive into a national park with big jugs of arsenic hanging from the poison rack in your pickup truck?
Some people might think America's morbid fascination with poison was a bit creepy. Members of the NPA -- their logo a bald eagle holding a fizzing ampule of some cloudy toxin -- would shout back: "It's poison that made this country great! You can have my poison when you pry it from my cold, dead hands."
Oh, by the way, the Maryland General Assembly's House Judiciary Committee is considering a bill that would require people suspected of domestic abuse to give up their firearms. According to Lisa Rein, author of today's story in The Post, the committee in the past "has resisted the firearms bills and other domestic violence legislation because of concern for the rights of suspects and gun owners."
So, tell me: What's your poison?
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