Mar. 9, 2000, Second Amendment newsletter

About once a month, Dave Kopel produces a free e-mail Newsletter containing short summaries and links to important new research and writing involving the Second Amendment and firearms policy. The newsletter also reports on Kopel's latest writing.

The content of this newsletter is produced by the Second Amendment Project at the Independence Institute, a think tank in Golden, Colorado. The newsletter is electronically distributed by the Second Amendment Foundation in Bellevue, Washington. Thus, the Second Amendment Foundation will be given your e-mail address.

Archive of past issues.

The Second Amendment Project is based at the Independence

Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado.

Table of Contents for this issue

1. New on the Web: Commentary on murder of Michigan first-grader.

Self-defense in San Francisco.

2. "Registry can't stop school shootings."

By Lorne Gunter. Edmonton Journal. Feb, 17 2000.

Canada already has all the anti-gun laws that President Clintondemands, and more. So why did Toronto just experience a horrible school murder?

3. Nicholas Owen. One of the great heroes of religious freedom.

By Dave Kopel.

4. Alamo tribute.

1. New on the Web:

"Shame on liberal hypocrites!

By exploiting a 6-year-old's tragic murder, liberals reveal the moral idiocy of their ideology."

By David Horowitz, on the Salon website. Mar. 6, 2000.

"Presidential detectives solve case of missing trigger locks

Hercule Clinton et al. tell us why 6-year-olds are killing classmates."

Mark Steyn. National Post (Canadian national paper.) Mar. 6, 2000

"Old, neglected gun kills armed intruder."

Jim Herron Zamora, San Francisco Examiner.

Tuesday, February 22, 2000.


"Registry can't stop school shootings."

By Lorne Gunter. Edmonton Journal. Feb, 17 2000.

Three hundred dollars and a week's wait; that's all it takes for any Toronto high school student to get a handgun according to police there.

"You have to be connected to a degree," Detective Sergeant Harvey Williams conceded to the National Post the other day. But anyone with a real desire to buy one will find a dealer, often a classmate. The dealer will place the student's order with a smuggler, who the very next weekend will drive to Buffalo or Detroit, pick up a half dozen handguns and bring them back to Toronto stashed away in the spare or inside the door panels or under the seat.

Or the dealer will call a contact on the giant Mohawk reserves that straddle the borders of southeast Ontario, southwest Quebec and upstate New York. Since federal politicians are politically afraid to permit customs officers to search Indians crossing from the US, these reserves have become the principal point-of-entry for smuggled smokes, guns and booze (up to 50 per cent of the national total), and for illegal refugees. (Would you like a carton of Lucky Strikes, a bottle of Jack Daniels and a Chinese garment worker with your pistol?)

One way of the other, the high schooler has his gun, and is only out about the price of a pair of hightops and a weekend's worth of pizza and movies.

And, not one of these guns can be traced by police. There has been a federal registry of handguns for 66 years, and all of these guns - every single one- will bypass it completely.

There have been 10 shootings at Toronto-area schools in the past seven years. Most were sparked by drug deals gone sour or ethnic gang wars, or both. And nearly all of them involved unregistered and

untraceable weapons.

Are the Liberals attempting to stop drug enforcers, end inter-ethnic turf battles or stem the flow of illegal handguns? Yes. But they are devoting a mere fraction of the effort and resources to those fights they are expending to have skeet enthusiasts in Peace River send them lists of their guns.

Gun registries don't stop crimes and they don't create cultures of safety, because criminals don't register guns. Indeed the notion that a registry could stunt even domestic violence by promoting a culture of safety is as naive as "visualizing world piece;" a nice idea, which is entirely impractical beyond the salons of the middle-class, eat-your-peas serial meddlers who perpetually think up such fluff.

A 1995 study of guns used in crimes, conducted by the federal government to justify its current registry for all guns, concluded over half of the handguns used had been smuggled.

This percentage seems laughable, and probably is. Remember, this is a government that badly and deliberately adulterated RCMP figures on the use of guns in crime to sell its 1995 Firearms Act to Parliament and the public. And, it was revealed last month, this is a government that deliberately withheld a detailed accounting of the cost of its registry during the time the Alberta Court of Appeal was considering a constitutional challenge to the Act because "announcing the costs before a decision may add a bad 'orbiter' in (the judges') decision."

To this day, the Liberals hide behind "cabinet secrecy" to conceal the true costs of the registry, even though they will admit it has cost well over four times their original estimate, and counting.

What's more, the government continues to claim the registry is not taking resources away from other police duties. It made that argument last summer when the association representing rank-and-file police officers threatened to withdraw its support. Indeed, Justice Minister Anne McLellan enthused then how the registry would save police $30 million annually, as registration duties previously performed at the local level were taken over by federal agencies.

McLellan continues to cling to and purvey this canard, even though Saskatchewan MP Garry Breitkreuz recently discovered, through access to information requests, that the RCMP will spend over $22 million assisting with the registry this year and has devoted over 300 officers full-time to registry functions in B.C. alone. Before the Liberals' registry, the Mounties had 30 staff nationwide enforcing gun control laws at an annual cost of $2.5 million.

But, we are assured, the registry has not diverted money and manpower from crime fighting. No, no, no.

The Ontario Provincial Police, who have to deal with much of the violent gun crime in the country, peg the share of handguns used in crime that originated in the United States at between 85 and 90 per cent in their province.

But if the registry will not, cannot work, why do the Liberals continue to defend it? Who knows. But it should surprise no one that government which thinks nothing of throwing away $1 billion on useless make-work schemes would think nothing of throwing away another billion on a useless make-work registry.

3. "Nicholas Owen" By Dave Kopel.

This essay was originally published in The Partisan in the Summer of 1999. It's more about the First Amendment than the Second Amendment, but it's an inspiring tale of courage and faith for freedom-lovers everywhere.

In some parts of the United States, as in most of the rest of the world, persons who wish to exercise the fundamental human right to keep and bear arms must sometimes resort to hiding their guns or knives. In China, as in many other countries, people must hide illegal Bibles. But suppose that instead of hiding a handgun or a Bible, you had to hide your religious leaders?

Several hundred years ago, a small man named Nicholas Owen made himself an expert in constructing hiding places for clergymen. Owens' story is the story of the great things that even the most wretched person can accomplish--with courage and faith.

In the late 1500s and early 1600s in England, during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and then King James I, everyone was legally required to attend and participate in the church services of the Church of

England. The head of the Church of England was the monarch.

Even the possession of Catholic religious objects, such as rosaries, was illegal, and smuggling a Catholic priest into the country was punishable by death by public torture.

The vast majority of the English people sheepishly followed the government's religious laws, and practiced the Anglican religion, just as their parents had sheepishly followed the government's requirement

to practice the Catholic religion, when Catholicism had been the state's monopoly religion a few decades earlier.

But history is made by determined minorities, rather than by docile majorities, and England was blessed with a good number of people for whom following God was more important than keeping out of trouble with the government.

During the reign of Queen Mary I (1553-58) England was officially Catholic, and Protestants were viciously suppressed. The great deeds of the Protestant English martyrs resisting "Bloody Mary" are recounted in Foxe's Book of Martyrs which was, next to the Bible, the most influential book in the development of the Protestant religion in the English-speaking world. (A full text of Foxe's Book of Martyrs is available at .)

Mary was succeeded by her Protestant half-sister, Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth convinced Parliament to pass the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity in 1559, which turned England into an exclusively Anglican religious nation, by law.

Most English people went along with the change. Elizabeth, for her part, asked only for external shows of conformity, and rejected advice to persecute persons who remained secret Catholics. She had no desire to make "a window into men's souls," she explained.

Unfortunately, the Catholic powers of continental Europe, led by Spain and encouraged by the Pope, plotted to assassinate Elizabeth, and attempted to overthrow her by force. The defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 removed the military threat, but the Protestant majority turned intensely suspicious of the small Catholic minority. Persecution of the Catholics grew severe.

In 1603, King James I succeeded Elizabeth. In the years before taking power, he had dropped hints that he might tolerate Catholics. Indeed, his Danish wife, Queen Anne, was a quiet Catholic. But upon becoming King of England, James made it clear that there would be no relaxation of the stringent anti-Catholic laws or their enforcement.

And this is where the hero Nicholas Owen enters the story.

Owen was born in approximately 1550 to a fervently Catholic family. When Anglicanism was established as the state religion, the Owen family became "recusants"--meaning that they paid hefty fines rather than attend Anglican church services.

Two of Owen's brothers became Jesuit priests. The third, Henry Owen, ran a covert Catholic printing press. When he was sent to prison for his continued recusancy, he managed a secret press from prison.

Nicholas Owen was only a little taller than a dwarf. But this was only one of his medical problems; because of a hernia, his stomach had to be held together by an metal plate. After a packhorse fell on him in 1599, he was further disfigured, and walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

Most Englishmen of Owens' time thought that a twisted body was an outer sign of a twisted character. But as Antonia Fraser observes in her book Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot, Owen's "great soul and measureless courage" offered "the strongest possible refutation of the contemporary prejudice."

Trained as a carpenter and a mason, Owens became perhaps the greatest builder of hiding places in man's history.

The English Catholic community needed priests, both for spiritual leadership, and for administration of the sacraments. But harboring a priest was a capital offense.

So in the large country mansions owned by England's crypto-Catholics, Owens constructed ingenious hideouts for priests.

Mansions were built of stone in those days, so Owen's task was especially difficult. The English government's priest-catchers ("poursuivants") would carefully tap on walls, and a hollow sound would immediately betray a room that was hidden through mere use of an empty space.

So Owen's hiding place were much more sophisticated. For example, at the Baddesley Clinton mansion, Owen contrived secret trapdoors in the turrets and stairways, connecting them with the mansion's sewer system. During a 1591 search, several priests stood up to their waists in water, hidden from searchers for four hours. In some cases, priests survived several searches of the same house.

Owen ran feeding tubes into the rooms, so that priests hidden therein could receive food for the days or weeks they might spend inside. Sometimes he built an easily-discovered outer hiding place which concealed an inner hiding place.

While Owen completed scores of hiding places, the exact number is unknown; some remained undiscovered until the twentieth century, and others still remain hidden. (Perhaps some of the ones that are still secret are being used to conceal handguns these days.)

So that the mansion's servants would not know about the hidden chambers, Owen would do ordinary house carpentry work during the daytime. But at night, Owen would build his secret spaces, always working alone--thus minimizing the number of persons who would know about a given hiding place, and be susceptible to revealing it under torture. Breaking through heavy stone walls to build complex rooms would have been difficult for any construction crew, but it was difficult in the extreme for a small man working alone. He always worked for free, and received communion before starting a new project.

Nicholas Owen used a variety of names to conceal his identity as he traveled around England--Little John, Little Michael, Andrewes, and Draper.

Owen was chosen as one of the first laypersons to be inducted in the Jesuit Order. When his fellow Jesuit Edward Campion was arrested, Owen spoke openly about Campion's innocence, so Owen himself was then arrested. He was arrested again in 1594, tortured on the infamous Topcliffe rack, and hung for three hours from iron rings, with heavy weights on his feet. But he revealed nothing, and was released after a wealthy Catholic paid a ransom. The English jailers who took the bribe to let Owen go thought he just an insignificant friend of a priest--rather than the master builder of England's underground railroad for priests.

Three years later, Owen masterminded Father John Gerard's escape from Tower of London.

In November 1605, Guy Fawkes and a small band of Catholic conspirators made plans to blow up Parliament, kill King James, and place James' Catholic daughter on the throne. The discovery of the Gunpowder Plot led to a massive crackdown on all suspected Catholics, which led to Owens' arrest in early 1606.

Owens had been secreted in one of his hiding places for two weeks, while poursuivants searched a Catholic home. But when he came out of hiding and attempted to sneak off the premises, he was captured. Immediately he claimed to be a priest--a claim which amounted to condemning himself to death, but which he hoped would throw the poursuivants off the trail of the priests who remained hidden in the building.

But this time, the English authorities knew that they had captured the one person who knew enough to bring down the entire network of covert Catholics in England.

At first, Owen was held under light confinement, with visitors allowed, in the hope that some secret priests would reveal themselves by coming to visit him. Owen, however, was too cautious to be tricked, and spent his time in solitary prayer.

Soon, Owen was transferred to the infamous Tower of London, so that he could be tortured. Yet he remained calm and fearless.

The English law of the time forbade torturing anyone to death. For this reason, any person who was already maimed (as Owen had been since the horse fell on him) was not supposed to be tortured at all, due to the risk of death. Nevertheless, Owen was tortured in a particularly gruesome manner, in light of his already-ruptured hernia.

Nicholas Owen was racked for day after day; six hours at a time. And an iron band was tightened around his hernia.

While the reliability of confessions obtained under torture was dubious, England's law enforcement authorities never had a problem getting some kind of confession from a torture victim. Except for Nicholas Owen.

He refused to answer the interrogators' questions about anything important, and never revealed a single fact about any of his hiding places. Instead, he constantly invoked aid of Jesus and Mary.

Perhaps all the physical suffering which Owens had endured since the birth of his deformed body had helped him cope with tremendous levels of pain.

Owen died from the torture on March 2. Since Owen's treatment had been unconscionable even by the standards of the time, the government claimed that Owen had committed suicide by stabbing himself twice with a dinner knife. Actually, Owen's hands had been so disfigured by the torture that he could not even hold a pen or a knife, or feed himself.

In 1970, Nicholas Owen as canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church. His feast day is March 22, and he is counted as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, from the time of the anti-Catholic persecutions.

Father John Gerard, one of England's leading secret priests, wrote that

no-one had accomplished more than Owen: "I verily think that no man can be said to have done more good for all those who laboured in the English vineyard. For, first, he was the immediate occasion of saving the lives of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular, and of the estates also of these seculars, which had been lost and forfeited many times over if the priests had been taken in their houses." (A hidden priest then, like illegal drugs or guns today, was cause for forfeiture of an entire home.) The modern edition of Butler's Lives of the Saints states, "Perhaps no single person contributed moreto the preservation of the Catholic religion in England during penal times."

Regardless of whether one is a Catholic, a Protestant, or anything else, the decision of England's Catholics to maintain their faith, no matter how great the threats from the government, was highly admirable. The Catholic who illegally received communion, or otherwise resisted the government's effort to stamp out their religion, affirmed that the God and the individual were more important than the government. The survival of Catholicism in England, and the failure of the Church of England to establish a complete monopoly of faith, helped sow the seeds for the long-run development of religious toleration in England, and in the rest of the Western world.

Whatever merits belong to other persons who, when offered the opportunity to partake of an illegal communion, or otherwise to defy an illegitimate suppression of religious freedom, flow from Owen's making it possible for the priests to exist in England.

Nicholas Owen was one of the pivotal figures of English history, and, indirectly, one of the fathers of modern religious freedom. He was not born to wealth or nobility or normality, and few people who stared at his small and twisted body would have predicted that he would be remembered as one of the greatest Englishmen of his time.


Further reading: Owen's biography is Blessed Nicholas Owen: Jesuit Brother and Maker of Hiding Holes, by Margaret Waugh. Published in 1959, the book is out of print and difficult to find in the United States. Owen is one of the major characters in Antonia Fraser's superb book Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot.

4. Remember the Alamo!

From Feb. 23 to Mar. 6, 1836, the brave Texan defenders of the Alamo fort and church in San Antonio held off the siege of the Mexican dictator Santa Ana. When the Alamo fell, every person inside was killed. But the men, women, children who had defended the Alamo had not died in vain. By delaying Santa Ana's army, the Texans at the Alamo gave Sam Houston time to rally the forces that would defeat Santa Ana at the Battle of San Jacinto, winning the republic of Texas independence from the dictatorship of Mexico.

At the bottom of this page are links to the web's best Alamo sites. But before your try the links, read the lyrics for the Texas War Cry, an inspiring patriotic song from the 1830s. Then, read a short excerpt from the Constitution of the Republic of Texas.

In today's current atmosphere of anti-patriotism, and America-bashing, it is all the more important to celebrate the brave men and women who led Texas in freeing itself from Mexico's dictatorship. Remember the Alamo!


The Texas War Cry

[to the tune of the Star-Spangled Banner]

Oh Texans rouse hill and dale with your cry.

No longer delay, for the bold foe advances.

The banners of Mexico tauntingly fly,

And the valleys are lit with the gleam of their lances.

With justice our shield, rush forth to the field.

And stand with your posts, till our foes fly or yield.

For the bright star of Texas shall never grow dim,

While her soil boasts a son to raise rifle or limb.

Rush forth to the lines, these hirelings to meet.

Our lives and our homes, we will yield unto no man.

But death on our freesoil we'll willingly meet,

Ere our free-temple soil, by the feet of the foe men.

Grasp rifle and blade with hearts undismayed,

And swear by the temple brave Houston has made,

That the bright star of Texas shall never be dim

While her soil boasts a son to raise rifle or limb.


This wonderful song is available on compact disc or audio cassette in Moving West Songs, which you can buy from


Texas Declaration of Rights

This declaration of rights is declared to be a part of this constitution, and shall never be violated on any pretence whatever. And in order to guard against the transgression of the high powers which we have delegated, we declare that everything in this bill of rights contained, and every other right not hereby delegated, is reserved to the people.

1st. All men, when they form a social compact, have equal rights; and no men or set of men are entitled to exclusive public privileges or emoluments from the community.

2nd. All political power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority and instituted for their benefit; and they have at all times an inalienable right to alter their government in such manner as they may think proper.


14th. Every citizen shall have the right to bear arms in defence of himself and the republic.The military shall at all times and in all cases be subordinate to the civil power.

15th. The sure and certain defence of a free people is a well-regulated militia; and it shall be the duty of the legislature to enact such laws as may be necessary to the organizing of the militia of this republic.


Alamo Links

The Alamo: 13 Days of Glory. Article explains the background of the Alamo, and modern controversies about the battle.

Remember the Alamo! Small but well-designed site.

Alamo de Parras. Superb collection of historical documents. A wonderful resource for studying the Alamo in depth. Contains the original Texas Constitution, and much more.

That's all folks!

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