Junk Politics

by Linda Gorman

June 23, 1999

In the June 11 Denver Rocky Mountain News[LG1], Ken Gordon, Colorado's House minority leader, called for a special session of the Colorado General Assembly to "discuss youth violence."  Despite a 1993 special legislative session that banned juvenile possession of handguns, Mr. Gordon fears "children may die" if we fail to "limit youth access to guns."  He wants more "reasonable restrictions."  Even though these restrictions are the same measures that populate the laundry lists of laws proposed groups dedicated to disarming private citizens, Mr. Gordon still claims to support the constitutional right to bear arms.

Welcome to the game of junk politics, the contemporary American sport in which the winners are those who do the best job of saying one thing while doing another.

Consider Rep. Gordon's first "reasonable" restriction, safe storage.  When Senator Pat Pascoe's introduced a safe storage bill in January he said its "provisions aren't onerous…Most people probably already do safely store their weapons."[LG2]   Why pass an unnecessary law?  In practice, the bill's "reasonable" safe storage provisions would have made it impossible to both obey the law and have a handgun readily available for self-defense.

Rep. Gordon's second "reasonable" restriction would limit firearms purchases to one a month.  At present, the state has no legal way to track this.  Passage of this "reasonable" restriction would necessitate the creation of a firearms registry dedicated to tracking guns and gun owners.  Those working to disarm American citizens consider firearms registries a major milestone on the road to gun confiscation.

In light of this, Mr. Gordon's professed support for the constitutional right to bear arms makes one wonder which constitution he has been reading.  The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution explicitly guarantees the right to bear arms, and there can be no doubt that the framers of the Constitution intended to reserve this right for individuals.  In 1689, after the British Crown attempted to disarm large segments of the population, England adopted the Seventh provision of the English bill of Rights.  It stated that Protestant subjects could own arms for self-defense.  By the 1700s, the right to possess arms, both for self-defense and as a counterbalance to state power, was a basic right of English subjects and had made its way across the Atlantic[LG3].

James Madison considered a militia of armed citizens the ultimate defense against a hostile army loyal to the federal government.  Militias consisted of all free men between the ages of 16 and 60.  Members were expected to supply their own weapons.  As Madison explained in Federalist 46, "…the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation…forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of." 

The right to bear arms has been of tremendous benefit throughout American history.  Black Americans used guns to protect their rights, their lives, and their property when U.S. governments wouldn't.  In Cincinnati in September of 1841, mobs of up to 1,500 whites attacked a black residential area.  Blacks fired into the crowd, forcing the mob out of the area.  The city government took adult black males into protective custody and confiscated black arms.  The mob returned the following night[LG4].  By the early 1960s it was guns and a willingness to fight, not naïve dependence on empty government promises, which protected Southern blacks from the depredations of the Ku Klux Klan[LG5].

Cases in which U.S. governments are unable or unwilling to protect citizens still occur.  When that happens, people need guns to protect themselves.  During the 1992 Los Angeles riots, police were pulled out.  People desperate for a means to defend themselves were turned away by gun stores forced to comply with a state mandated 15 day waiting period.  Those who had guns faced a mayoral ban on the sale of ammunition.  When looters attacked Korean-American shops, merchants saved one building by patrolling the roof with toy guns that looked like Uzis.  Some houses and apartment buildings were also spared, reportedly because rioters knew the residents had guns.  Nobody, as one 13-year-old put it, wanted to "mess with" those folks[LG6].

In Arizona, federal and state authorities are currently refusing to protect ranchers from the depredations of illegal immigrants.  Gangs of illegals up to 600 strong cross the border, break into houses, slaughter cattle, raid water supplies, and destroy fencing and crops.  Beleaguered ranchers are reaching for their guns.

If Mr. Gordon has his "reasonable restrictions," those ranchers, along with the millions of Americans who use guns in self-defense each year, will be forced to give up their guns in exchange for politicians' promises.  Are you ready to bet your family's safety on the words of a person who says one thing and does another?

 [LG1]Ken Gordon.  "With lives in danger, can we afford to wait?", Denver Rocky Mountain News, 11 June, 1999, p. 61A.

 [LG2] "Bill puts pressure on gun owners," by John Sanko. Rocky Mountain News, Legislature '99.  12 January 1999. 

[LG3] William Van Alstyne, "The Second Amendment and the Personal Right to Arms." Duke Law Journal. Date from Encyclopedia Britannica article on English history.  Quote from Britannica Great Books Series, vol. 43, American State Papers, p. 152.

[LG4] Robert J. Cottrol and Raymond T. Diamond.  Fall 1995. "The Second Amendment:  Toward An Afro-Americanist Reconsideration,"  Georgetown Law Journal. 

[LG5] Id. note 140

[LG6]  Fifteen Myths about Gun Control.  Dallas, Texas: National Center for Policy Analysis.  p. 3.

Linda Gorman is a Senior Fellow with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, http://i2i.org.

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