The presidential race has degenerated to the point where I am going to attempt to cheer you up by talking about abortion and guns.
And state legislatures. We do not, as a nation, devote a whole lot of attention to what happens in state capitols, although I personally enjoy those fights about selecting an official rock or state muffin. In recent years, one of the most popular activities in many legislatures has been finding new ways to expand the right to bear arms in places like schools (Utah) or bars (Tennessee) or airports (Georgia). The other is tromping on reproductive rights. I am telling you all this as a lead-in to a fascinating bill that was recently proposed in the Missouri House of Representatives. It would treat Missourians seeking to buy firearms the same way it treats Missourians seeking to end a pregnancy.
“For instance, there would be a 72-hour waiting period,” said the sponsor, Rep. Stacey Newman.
Missouri has piled so many unnecessary requirements on abortion providers that it’s down to one clinic in St. Louis. Newman didn’t attempt to limit the state to one gun store — her bill just requires that residents buy their guns at a licensed dealer located at least 120 miles from their homes. After cooling their heels in a local motel for three days, the prospective buyers would have to listen to a lecture about the medical risks associated with firearms and view pictures of people with fatal gun wounds.
Most Missouri lawmakers regard themselves as pro-life. Therefore, Newman feels, they ought to want to do something about the fact that St. Louis and Kansas City both rank in the top 10 American cities for firearm deaths.
“It was one way to get people’s attention,” she said.
Nobody thinks her bill is going to pass — or even get a hearing in the Republican-dominated legislature. Newman says the odds are far more favorable for proposed legislation that would allow people to carry concealed weapons on college campuses and require that women who want abortions get permission from the man who impregnated them.
We live in hard times, people. But when you think of Missouri, give a fond mental shout-out to Stacey Newman. And remember her lesson — when it comes to civil liberties, there’s currently far more concern in this country over the right to buy weapons than there is over a woman’s right to control her own body.
All the major Republican candidates for president are pretty much on the same page when it comes to firearms. So much so that you probably can’t guess which one of them said: “I used to think they needed to be registered, but if you register them they just come and find you and take your guns.”
OK, it was Ben Carson.
All the major candidates are also opposed to giving women any rights whatsoever when it comes to terminating a pregnancy. But lately, there’s been disagreement on the far edge of the issue: whether bans should include an exception for rape and incest victims. It came up at a recent gathering of a group of donors and activists called the Republican Jewish Coalition. (This was the same event where Donald Trump told his Jewish audience: “I’m a negotiator, like you folks ... Is there anyone in this room who doesn’t negotiate deals?”)
Sen. Ted Cruz, the up-and-coming darling of social conservatives, was asked about his abortion positions, and he rambled on about the evils of contraceptives without ever acknowledging that he does oppose giving any leeway in the cases of rape or incest. Cruz is also, of course, an avid protector of all things gun-related, and recently theorized that the man arrested in the mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic was a “transgender leftist activist.” Ah Ted Cruz, Ted Cruz.
“If the nominee of the Republican Party will not allow an exception for rape and incest, they will not win,” predicted Sen. Lindsey Graham, who followed Cruz to the podium. The presumption is that voters will demand some show of mercy, but there are plenty of women who are not victims of rape whose stories are equally heart-rending. Girls who become pregnant before they’re old enough to know what they’re doing. Poor women with several children and two jobs whose birth control method fails. Women who desperately want a baby but discover the fetus they’re carrying is too deformed to survive after birth. Most Americans don’t want to prioritize — they’d leave the whole matter to the women and their doctors.
But the current debate on the Republican side has slid so far to the right that the moderates are people who do not want to force rape victims to carry the fetus to full term. Or allow concealed weapons in kindergarten.
Maybe what this campaign needs is a 72-hour waiting period for everything.
Gail Collins joined The New York Times in 1995 as a member of the editorial board and later as an Op-Ed columnist. In 2001 she became the first woman ever appointed editor of the Times’s editorial page.