Dishonesty took center stage when Handgun Control, Inc., testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee opposing the nomination of John Ashcroft to become Attorney General. In the end, however, John Ashcroft prevailed--and so will the truth.
For the special interest groups that serve to represent America's loony left, the past eight years of Clinton/ Gore/Reno-style government were incurably addictive. And now the pains of withdrawal are being felt. Take Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI) as a case in point.
During the past eight years, HCI leaders got hooked on receiving invitations to Bill Clinton's media-driven Rose Garden parties. They got hooked on White House spin praising their every action and every new gun control scheme or buzzword. They got hooked on Clinton's often repeated but never proven claim that the Brady Act was an effective crime-fighting tool.
Suddenly, however, change was in the wind. By the end of the Summer of 2000, Al Gore decided that in order to become Bill Clinton's successor he needed to begin running away from HCI and its gun control baggage.
Gore's sprint came too late and, when he lost the election, the pains of withdrawal became acute. Like wounded beasts, HCI and others on the left lashed out in a frenzied attack on the first available victim--the former Senator from Missouri, John Ashcroft, the new President's choice for Attorney General.
If defeating the President's pick meant rapid deployment of an anti-Ashcroft website, HCI did it. If it meant disgracefully comparing this honorable public servant to a mass murderer on death row, HCI did it. And, if it meant providing false and misleading testimony to Congress, HCI did it.
When HCI President Michael Barnes testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Ashcroft's nomination on Jan. 19, 2001, the truth became a casualty.
Much of Barnes' testimony centered on a condemnation of Sen. Ashcroft's view of the Second Amendment. The nominee's view, Barnes claimed, "is known as the so-called insurrectionist view, and that is that Americans have a constitutional right to own guns so that they can defend themselves against government officials if they believe those government officials are tyrannical or despotic. And this is an extremist view of the Constitution which is held by only a very tiny percentage, perhaps one one-hundredth of one percent, of the American people believe that the reason the founding fathers put the Second Amendment in there is so that we can take up arms against our government."
Barnes' propagandist view of Second Amendment history may have been eagerly swallowed whole by the likes of Sens. Ted Kennedy, Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein, but it is, of course, easily discredited.
In 1833, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story published his seminal work, Commentaries on the Constitution. Story, who took part in most of the important Supreme Court decisions during the first great formative era of American constitutionalism, wrote: "The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them."
Leading constitutionalists following Story included Judge Thomas M. Cooley, widely acknowledged as one of the most influential 19th century constitutional commentators. In The General Principles of Constitutional Law in the United States of America, Cooley wrote: "The right of the people to bear arms in their own defence, and to form and drill military organizations in defence of the State, may not be very important in this country, but it is significant as having been reserved by the people as a possible and necessary resort for the protection of self-government against usurpation, and against any attempt on the part of those who may for the time be in possession of State authority or resources to set aside the constitution and substitute their own rule for that of the people."
When it comes to interpreting the Second Amendment accurately, John Ashcroft appears to stand in pretty good company.
During his confirmation hearing testimony, Sen. Ashcroft stated, "In Federalist No. 46, James Madison, who later drafted the Second Amendment, argued that the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possessed over the people of almost every other nation, would deter the new central government from tyranny."
Barnes claimed that Ashcroft had "referred to James Madison in a way that was directly contradictory to what every constitutional scholar believes Mr. Madison was saying." To answer HCI's "directly contradictory" charge, one need only examine Madison's own words.
James Madison, unlike many of his contemporaries, did not fear allowing the central government to maintain an army in time of peace, writing that if the government attempted "to extend its power beyond the due limits, the (States) would still have the advantage in the means of defeating such encroachments (because) the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand."
Madison did not advocate violence as the first response to despotism. His countrymen, he said, would respond to illegitimate acts of government first with "disquietude," "repugnance," civil disobedience and legislative impediments at the state level. Only after discussing a multitude of non-violent means of resistance did Madison come to explore "trial by force" and the armed citizenry.
Considering the variety of means of protecting freedom available to Americans, Madison concluded Federalist No. 46 with the words paraphrased by Sen. Ashcroft: "Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of."
As to HCI's preposterous claim that "every constitutional scholar" disagrees with Ashcroft's description of Madison's essay, it is proven false by a sampling of the dozens of articles by constitutional scholars on the right to arms (see www.2ndlawlib.org/journals).
For example, in "The Bill of Rights as a Constitution" (Yale Law Journal, 1991), Akhil Reed Amar writes: "In the event of central tyranny, state governments could do what colonial governments had done in 1776: organize and mobilize their Citizens into an effective fighting force capable of beating even a large standing army. Wrote Madison in the Federalist No. 46: '(T)he State governments with the people on their side would be able to repel the danger. (A standing army) would be opposed (by) a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence.'"
Barnes concluded his attack on Ashcroft's view of the Second Amendment by saying that "the Supreme Court has said, and I quote, 'that it is obvious that this is not a correct interpretation of the Constitution.'" The Supreme Court has never said any such thing. If the news media were doing its job, HCI would have already been forced to admit that its testimony before the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate was false. No doubt HCI would say its leader simply mis-spoke, but, unfortunately, that admission will never be made before a national television audience as was the original fabrication.
When HCI does get around to correcting the record, it should also apologize for attempting to mislead Senators by selective use of a Wall Street Journal article that "reported just recently, more than 96,000 Americans are still killed and wounded each year by gun violence."
HCI conveniently failed to mention that the Journal article explored a recent Bureau of Justice Statistics report noting that gun-related deaths/woundings in the U.S. dropped 33 percent from 1993 to 1997, while the number of firearms in circulation increased 10 percent. A complete and honest representation of the article would have put the lie to one of HCI's core arguments--that there is a direct correlation between the proliferation of firearms in America and gun crime, suicides and accidents.
HCI also attacked Sen. Ashcroft for his support of a right-to-carry referendum in his home state of Missouri, Barnes calling it "an ill-conceived and extreme ballot referendum poorly written and riddled with loopholes."
Extreme? Michigan recently became the 32nd state to enact a "shall-issue" law allowing citizens to carry firearms for self-defense against criminals. Poorly written? The referendum ballot language passed by the Missouri General Assembly read:
"Shall state or local law enforcement agencies be authorized to issue permits to law-abiding citizens at least 21 years of age to carry concealed firearms outside their home for personal protection after having passed a state and federal criminal background check and having completed a firearms safety training course approved by the Missouri Department of Public Safety?"
When polling data showed majority support for the referendum, a lawsuit challenging the ballot language was filed. It was successful, and the language voters saw on the ballot did not include "law-abiding citizens" or the age restriction, multiple criminal background checks and firearm safety training qualification originally passed by the legislature.
Despite the fact that anti-gunners succeeded in keeping the legislature's language hidden from the voters, the referendum passed in 103 of 114 Missouri counties.
Among anti-gun Senators leading the cheers for HCI in its assault on Sen. Ashcroft was Ted Kennedy, who was happy to lead the witness with the following: "Mr. Barnes, as I understand, there are 12 children that die from gun accidents every single day. Is that your understanding?"
"Well, Senator, thank goodness it's a little better now. Thank goodness, it's just under 11 children a day in the United States dying from gun violence," Barnes replied.
To reach 11 children a day, HCI must count anyone under age 20 as a child, covering up the fact that the vast majority of firearms fatalities are assaults and suicides among 15- to 19-year-olds. And even if you count anyone under age 20 as a child, Kennedy's claim is 17 times higher than the true number of accidental firearms fatalities in that group.
HCI also introduced its "fuzzy math" to the issue of federal firearms law prosecutions. Barnes told the Committee: "The statistics that I've seen indicate there has actually been an increase of at least 16 percent in federal gun prosecutions under Attorney General Reno."
The truth is that during the eight years Attorney General Reno was in office, the average number of prosecutions per year was 7.5 percent below the peak reached in 1992, the final year of the Bush Administration. And, of course, the Clinton-Reno prosecution numbers would have been much worse except for efforts such as the NRA-backed Project Exile program, which both HCI and the Clinton Administration only begrudgingly endorsed after wide-spread public support became evident.
Barnes also addressed the case of U.S. v. Emerson, in which federal district judge Sam R. Cummings ruled: "A textual analysis of the Second Amendment supports an individual right to bear arms." HCI says, "no other federal court in U.S. history has taken the view of federal judge Sam Cummings that individual citizens have a Second Amendment right to possess firearms." The truth is that decisions by U.S. Courts of Appeals for the First (Cases v. U.S., 1942); Fifth, (U.S. v. Bowdach, 1977); Eighth (U.S. v. Hutzell, 2000); 10th (U.S. v. Swinton, 1975); and 11th Circuits (Gilbert Equipment Co., Inc. v. Higgins, 1990) have all recognized that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right.
Additionally, the U. S. Supreme Court has recently recognized the Second Amendment as an important individual right in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 112 S.Ct. 2791, 2805, 120 L.Ed.2d 674, 696 (1992); and U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez, 494 U.S. 259, 265 (1991). See also Justice Thomas's concurring opinion in Printz v. U.S., 521 U.S. 98, 117 S.Ct. 2365, 138 L.Ed.2d 914 (1997).
Prof. Nicholas J. Johnson of Fordham University of Law sums up the case well, noting: "Perhaps the greatest barrier to a unified response to gun crime is the treatment of the Second Amendment by the anti-gun lobby. The vast majority of legal and historical scholarship concludes that the Second Amendment was in fact intended to preserve an individual right." The attempts to trivialize the Second Amendment, Prof. Johnson writes, "help to explain the visceral opposition from many gun owners and civil libertarians to anything originating from Handgun Control, Inc."
We now add our visceral opposition to HCI's shamefully misleading and purposely deceitful testimony before the U.S. Senate.
For Nation's Gun Owners