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Growing Rift in Anti-gun Community?

Saturday, April 6, 2002

A group of anti-gun lawmakers and gun-ban advocates held a sparsely-attended press conference on March 20 to promote another attack on gun shows, but this effort also included a curious attack on the "Project Exile" prosecution model. The event drew far more anti-gun extremists than actual members of the media, and served as the launching pad for U.S. Representative John Conyers` (D-Mich.) H.R. 4034—touted as the House version of U.S. Senator Jack Reed`s (D-R.I.) S. 767. But was this event merely an attempt by Conyers and his supporters to grab publicity, or does it expose a growing conflict among anti-gunners?

Flanked by fellow Representatives Danny Davis (D-Ill.) and Dianne DeGette (D-Colo.), Conyers adopted the anti-gun movement`s universally-accepted shameless strategy of exploiting the war on terrorism to promote attacks on the Second Amendment. Conyers and his cohorts, however, went a step further to promote his legislation. Using a "study" put together by an obscure anti-gun organization called the Pacific Center for Violence Prevention (PCVP), Conyers derided the highly acclaimed "Project Exile" prosecution model—a program that has been widely hailed as helping to lower violent gun crime. This would appear to be an attempt to show how his bill is "superior" to the McCain/Schumer/Lieberman bill (S. 890), which includes cursory support for "Project Exile."

But there may be more to this latest assault on gun shows than simply just another example of anti-gun lawmakers working to eviscerate the Second Amendment. Does the addition of the attack on "Project Exile" in the anti-gun strategy serve to expose an ever-widening rift within the anti-gun movement?

This rift seems to have started with the launch of the new anti-gun organization that calls itself "Americans for Gun Safety" (AGS), and has widened with the attacks on gun shows. So it is not surprising an anti-gun shows bill would help to better expose the conflict.

On one side of the rift are the more radical extremist groups promoting the Reed bill, which includes the Violence Policy Center (VPC)—an organization that openly advocates banning all handguns—and the Consumer Federation of America (CFA)—which has worked hand-in-hand with VPC on numerous occasions and advocates that every home in America with children be "gun-free." VPC representatives attended the Conyers press conference but did not release a statement, while CFA`s Susan Peschin put out a release that seemed to indicate her group is entirely ignorant of federal gun control laws. Her statement included the comment, "Representative Conyer`s [sic] bill merely extends federal law from gun stores to gun shows"—a blatant lie, as the same federal laws that apply at gun stores already apply at gun shows nationwide. While the CFA release did not echo the anti-"Project Exile" sentiment of Conyers and the PCVP, it does express support for Conyers/Reed attack over the competing McCain-Schumer-Lieberman/Castle-McCarthy (H.R. 2377) anti-gun show bills, which both include language supporting "Project Exile" as a sop to pro-gun Congressmen.

But perhaps far more indicative of this growing rift within the anti-gun community was the distribution at Conyers` press conference of a recent American Prospect article attacking AGS. The article (a link to it can be found on the VPC website) explains how Internet billionaire Andrew McKelvey began funneling millions of dollars into the gun-ban lobby formerly known as HCI—McKelvey briefly held the position of HCI Board Member—then, to the apparent chagrin of the already established national anti-gun organizations, started his own anti-gun group, AGS.

Many anti-gun groups at the state level were initially enticed to align with AGS by the allure of McKelvey`s millions, but are now trying to distance themselves from AGS due to its attempt to mis-represent itself as an organization that supports the right to own guns. Most of those state groups are quite open with their extremist anti-gun views, even openly supporting banning firearms. So as AGS began to try to separate itself from the image of being just another anti-gun group, the state groups started dropping away. But AGS has not been able to hide from the fact that one of the goals it has stated as its "top national priority" is the establishment of a Draconian licensing and registration scheme for all gun owners.

So where does this leave the anti-gun move-ment? Still dangerous, of course, and with plenty of supporters in Congress and the so-called mainstream media. But it would appear that anti-gun organizations are now stalling their own agenda by openly fighting over the specifics of their anti-gun agenda. The most radical extremist groups, such as VPC, are trying to vilify AGS because it is not anti-gun enough. Meanwhile, AGS is trying to fool the general public into believing it "supports the rights of individuals who own firearms." And where does this leave the gun-ban group many people still refer to as HCI? Conflicted, no doubt, as it publicly supports many of the most extreme anti-gun views held by groups like VPC, but also tries to deceive the general public into believing that it does not have all law-abiding gun owners in its sights. HCI has yet to publicly weigh in on Conyers` anti-gun show/"Project Exile" condemnation press conference, and the group has vacillated on the two Senate bills that seek to end traditional American gun shows. Initially, HCI supported both, then changed its position to preferring the Reed bill, but not opposing the Lieberman-McCain bill. Considering HCI began claiming it supports "Project Exile," but only after NRA helped make it a nationally popular crime-fighting tool, it will be interesting to see how the organization responds to the March 20 event. Will it abandon its "support" of a proven crime-fighting tool, abandon several staunch allies by condemning their attack on "Project Exile," or simply remain silent, hoping not to get drawn into the growing battle within the ranks of the anti-gun community?

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