Vargas’s Gun: A Thought Experiment

by Charles C. W. Cooke

In his piece today, Jim Geraghty observes that, Jose Antonio Vargas’s immigration status to one side, “he’s proven he’s quite comfortable violating or ignoring other laws as well, ones that are less disputed or controversial.” Specifically:

In the United States, if you want to drive a car, you have to get a driver’s license. This law is in place for several reasons, but public safety is preeminent.

Vargas first obtained a driver’s license from Oregon by faking documents and using a false address; he had friends mail letters to him at an address that wasn’t his home. When his Oregon license expired, he applied for one in the state of Washington, at the time one of two states that did not require applicants to provide Social Security numbers.

He used the false documents regularly; he even used his fraudulent ID to enter the White House grounds to cover a state dinner.

Vargas’s driver’s license was canceled by the state of Washington in July 2011, after he wrote about his illegal or undocumented status the previous month in theNew York Times Magazine. He has not had a legal license since. A few days ago, Vargas wrote in Politico: “I do not have a single U.S. government-issued ID. Like most of our country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, I do not have a driver’s license — not yet, at least.” (Vargas has a Philippine passport, so he has photo ID that permits him to get on a plane.)

This means every time Vargas has gotten behind the wheel of a car since July 2011, he has done so in violation of the law — and he’s gotten caught once.

As Geraghty points out, the laws related to driver’s licenses ”are pretty simple”: 

If you don’t have a valid driver’s license or learner’s permit, you’re not allowed to drive. There is no exception in the statute for individuals who have appeared on the cover of Timemagazine. There’s no exception for those who have risen to the status of “symbol of the immigration debate.”

. . .

Vargas felt free to ignore that law — and, apparently, to drive with headphones on.

In my conversations with Vargas’s defenders, the standard response to this criticism has been that the injustice of the situation has forced him to break these other laws: in other words, that because the federal government will not give him the requisite documentation, he has little choice but to take liberties in other areas. Okay. In which case, my questions are these: 1) How far does this principle remain in tact, and 2) At what point does it lose the Left’s support? My suspicion is that the answers to both inquiries are: “Up until the point at which progressives encounter behavior that they dislike.” 

A thought experiment, if you’ll indulge me. Jose Antonio Vargas, he tells us, “an American.” He just doesn’t “have the right papers.” As such, he is entitled to drive without a license and to work without a permit, and to lie on government forms if necessary. Fair enough. This being so, surely he has a constitutional and moral right to buy a gun, too? Indeed, not just to buy a gun, but to carry it around with him wherever he goes. Sure, as a practical matter, he can’t legally do this, because a) he is neither a lawful permanent resident nor a citizen, and gun ownership is restricted to those two groups, and because b) even if he wished to break the law and obtain a gun or a carry permit, there are a series of obstacles in the way of his actually doing so. But that’s just paperwork. The mandatory federal background checks that are the pre-requisite to any gun purchase? Just documents. Those federal purchase forms that require two types of valid ID, and that are so strictly enforced that the ATF is happy to send cops go to jail for marginal infractions? Bureaucracy. The various state and local regulations that restrict ownership to the eligible? Details, details. We should ask ourselves, as Vargas likes to, ”what is legal anyway?”

Could one not make a case here that, were Vargas to enjoy the American protections he claims as his right, he has little choice but to do what he has done with his employment forms, his driving license, and so forth, and just flagrantly break the law? Maybe he could buy a gun in a state without background checks on private sales (this would be spectacularly illegal). Maybe he could pick one up on a street corner. And then he could carry it without permission. Not because he’s a lawbreaker, you understand, but because he has no choice. Because the original offense cancels out the others. Because he’s an “undocumented American,” and his rights are at stake. Sure, progressives have spent the last two decades attempting to increase the bureaucracy around the Second Amendment, not diminishing it. Sure, the Left devoutly hopes to force all 50 states to apply the federal background check system to all private transfers, too. Sure, it lauds those states in which this rule already obtains. Sure, it argues routinely that America is in desperate need of a system that makes sure that only those who are eligible are buying guns. But this is different — a loophole, if you will. We should just let it go.

Let’s go one stage further. What if our newly heat-packing Jose Antonio Vargas were stopped by police for driving with headphones on, but this time had a gun on his hip? What should we expect from this situation? Would the officer be required just to let him go? And if not, why not? We hear incessantly that any gun-control law passed in order to ensure public safety has to be applied to everyone or it is next to useless. Is that true or is it not? After all, the Left is so upset that America’s “gun safety” rules are a patchwork quilt precisely because it believes that any holes in the system render that system useless. Does this ideal not apply because we know that Jose Antonio Vargas doesn’t mean any harm? Indeed, should we expect the Left to rally around defending Jose’s gun from the rules? Or we would hope that the laws on the books would be enforced lest the very principle of them be turned into a joke?

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