Dean's Supporters Reply to Article (Well, Sort Of)
by Ari Armstrong, October 29, 1999
(Note: The present essay is rather long. To skip to my analysis on compromise, click here.)
Warning! Don't Read This! Author is Politically Incorrect!
So much for astrology. My sign for October 27 read, "When it comes to getting involved in social interests with friends, the day could be a rather pleasant one for you."
But by the end of the day, Aimee Rathburn, Executive Director of the Colorado State Shooting Association, had twice referred to one of my articles as "bile." Jon Bond, Director of Clubs and Ranges for CSSA, had suggested the same article might be considered "treason." Coincidentally (or perhaps not), on the same day I received a number of prank phone calls.
Nor was my astrological sign merely confused about the day, because the next day Bill Dietrick, Legislative Director of CSSA, said I have "callow inexperience" and a "giant ego."
So I guess I've lost my invitation to play in the reindeer games. Perhaps my wife put it best: "It reminds me of Junior High."
Why the harsh words toward me? It turns out several members of CSSA were unhappy with me for daring to publicly criticize the organization's favored politician, House Majority Leader Doug Dean. In that article, Rep. Dean Poised to Trample Constitution, I argued that Dean cannot, according to the Colorado Constitution, pass laws denying adults ages 18-21 their rights to purchase handguns. But that's what Dean said he intends to do in the 2000 session. I suggested that Dean ought to challenge the Unconstitutional federal law infringing that right rather than second the law in Colorado. Further, Dean has left open the door to expanding back-ground checks on gun purchases, a policy I argued to be at odds with civil liberties as well as the Constitution.
To date, no member of CSSA or any other person has attempted to counter the substantive points in my original article. And it's not for my lack of asking -- I asked Rathburn, Bond, and Dietrick to reply to the points raised in the article, but none of them chose to do so.
A Higher Standard
I grant that my original article was written somewhat sharply. However, I also stated that Dean "deserves credit" for the times he has stood up for gun rights. And a number of my comments were raised as general points, rather than as specific criticisms of Dean. (In addition, after Dean received threats from anti-gun activists, I called him to offer my moral support. Understandably, I got his answering machine and so left an encouraging message for him.) I might have toned down the rhetoric, but that would have sacrificed the emotional urgency I wanted to convey. We're literally talking about life-and-death issues here, as well as the future of liberty.
I never expected Doug Dean and the CSSA leadership to respond to the article as they did. As I've told others, I don't mind a heated debate, so long as light shines upon the issues. The vitriol I got from the CSSA leadership was quite unexpected, and, I might add, quite pointless.
Were my criticisms of Dean warranted, given that he is often a friend of freedom? My criticisms were especially warranted precisely because Dean claims to support liberty.
We expect many politicians to sell out civil rights to the anti-gun lobby. Some politicians boast that they can root out civil rights faster than anybody else. There's really no hope for these people, so far as gun rights advocates are concerned. Indeed, we would view a compromise as a step in the right direction, for such politicians.
But if we expect a politician to do the right thing, and they run for office on the premise that they'll defend liberty, then eager compromises to the anti-gun lobby are simply unacceptable. Dean deserved criticism for his recent comments, precisely because he should know and do better.
Argument From Intimidation
The CSSA leadership (I'm careful not to paint every member of the group with the same brush -- I'm referring only to those cited) didn't even try to defend Dean's comments on their merits. Rather, they resorted to stiff-arm tactics designed to bend me into compliance.
They argued from intimidation, implying that criticizing the House Majority Leader would cost me any support I might have in the legislature for bills I favor. They have also threatened to pressure my family members. They argued from authority -- "I'm older and wiser than you and I'm in the CSSA leadership, therefore I'm right and you're wrong." They also issued empty ad hominem attacks, calling me and my article all kinds of names. (Please view the original documents which are linked at the end of the present essay.)
I do have a great textbook outlining logical fallacies that Rathburn, Bond, and Dietrick might find useful in their future writing.
Fortunately, I had the good sense to side-step the bluster and ask the CSSA leaders to focus on the issues. I asked each one of them personally if they believe the Colorado Constitution grants Doug Dean and other state politicians the authority to discriminate against 18-21 year old gun owners or expand back-ground checks for gun purchases. Curiously, not one of them answered that simple question. You'd think that the leaders of a firearms organization would have a position on Constitutional matters that pertain to the right to bear arms. Either they don't have such a position, or they're not willing to go on the record publicly and state that position. Either possibility is bad strategy.
The Tribal Mentality
Jon Bond urged me to not attack "friends" of the pro-gun movement: "[Y]our best friends are on the pro-gun side. If you attack them, if you engage them, then you are in effect giving aid and comfort to the enemy -- and that's not very cool -- in fact some would call it treason. In my opinion, you need to identify who your enemy is."
I never suggested Dean is an "enemy." I did criticize him because he has preemptively agreed to pass more anti-gun laws in the 2000 session.
Bond is essentially saying that loyalty to personality is more important than loyalty to principle. I disagree with Bond. I believe that anyone who compromises the principles of human liberty deserves criticism. I sincerely hope that if I am ever about to compromise my principles, someone will criticize me as well. I hope and expect that I will have the integrity to thank those who set me straight, rather than seek to malign them.
One sign of a true friendship is constructive criticism. When that is lacking -- when we are compelled to follow the orders of others or be expunged from the group (as happened to the person who posted my article to the CSSA e-mail list), the friendship has ended and a pathological co-dependency has begun.
Bond claims my criticism of Dean may be "treason," but the only treason lies in sacrificing one's moral ideals. On that score, my conscience is clear. And in the final analysis, my criticism of Dean can only help him, because it may encourage him to carefully re-evaluate some of his troublesome positions.
A Presumption of Freedom
Some say I shouldn't have criticized Dean because, hey, he's often on the pro-freedom side of the issues. However, that would be very much like failing to criticize a doctor who makes just one little bitty life-threatening mistake.
The presumption is that doctors will consistently "do no harm." I believe a similar presumption should be held with regard to politicians and our political freedom. (See Sandra Johnson's A Hippocratic Oath for Legislators.) Anything short of a free society should be regarded as an aberration, a condition to be improved upon as quickly as possible. We wouldn't accept a doctor who usually treats illnesses effectively but who occasionally amputates the wrong limb. Neither should we accept politicians who want only a moderate amount of freedom and just so many civil rights. In effect, Doug Dean wants to allow the anti-gun lobby to "amputate" some of our civil rights, and this in a "hospital" in which the majority of "doctors" are supposedly pro-freedom Republicans!
I expect Doug Dean and other politicians to consistently uphold the ideals of human liberty. When they do so, they deserve praise, to be sure, but when they fail to do so, even if only sometimes, they deserve criticism.
A Right Requires Economic Freedom
One argument that might be made against my claim that the Colorado Constitution denies politicians the authority to discriminate against young adult gun owners is that the Constitution specifies only the right to keep and bear arms, not the right to purchase arms.
However, every political right is, at base, a right to ownership, and thus every right requires a freedom of trade.
What good would the right of free speech do us if the government could regulate who could purchase paper, ink, and internet service? What good would the right of assembly be if the government could restrict access to meeting halls to those with politically correct views?
Similarly, the right to keep and bear arms is worthless if individuals do not also possess the right to acquire those arms. The right to purchase arms cannot be infringed without doing violence to the right to keep and bear arms. Thus, politicians restrict the rights of lawful adults to purchase firearms only by doing violence to the Constitution, which by intent ensures the right to bear arms.
Some would have us compromise away our freedoms at every turn. "It's necessary!" is the cry. Is it?
If a thug pulls a gun and threatens, "Give me your money or your life," of course we compromise and give up our wallet. Either option is bad, but one option is the lesser of two evils. Sometimes that's the best offer we have available.
However, we don't walk around the city actively seeking muggers with whom we can compromise. Instead, we seek to avoid compromising situations to the greatest extent possible.
Many Democrats and others who disparage civil rights want to rob us of those rights. But in our system of government, majority rules, and the majority of legislators in Colorado are Republicans! So why is Dean rushing to compromise our civil rights three months before even meeting his opponents, who are holding only rubber knives as weapons?
In our age of intellectual relativism and mindless moderation, compromise has become an end in itself. It doesn't even matter that the Republicans could lead us through the valley unscathed; we've got to compromise! We're being slowly compromised to death.
The reason so many Republicans find it necessary to compromise on gun rights is that they don't take a moral stand on the issue. They own the moral high-ground, yet they practically drag the anti-gun lobby up to take their place there! Too often, squishy pro-gun politicians duck their heads and run when the anti-gun lobby spews its emotion-driven rhetoric and flagrantly misleading statistics. Retreat enshrined as a policy will only ensure destruction.
When Mayor Wellington Webb strikes his self-righteous pose, kisses Bill Clinton's ass and flagrantly violates civil rights, where is the Republican to remind the African American community that they bore the burdens of America's first anti-gun laws, so that the Ku Klux Klan could lynch innocent blacks without fear of facing armed opposition?
Where is the Republican to tell the women and girls of our state that they are less likely to be raped to the extent that our right to bear arms remains intact? Who will tell the fathers that criminals are less likely to threaten armed households?
Where is the Republican willing to stand up and exclaim loudly that a major purpose of an armed militia is to prevent tyranny?
Gun ownership is a moral issue. The Democrats sense that, which is why they strive to keep Republicans on the moral defensive. By offering to compromise at every turn, Republicans implicitly grant the (supposed) moral superiority of those who would deny us our freedoms. And, while some Republicans consistently stand up to be counted for civil rights, many --like modern-day Esaus -- sell out their birthrights, their rightful place on the moral high-ground, for short-term political advantage.
("Once, when Jacob was boiling pottage, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. And Esau said to Jacob, "Let me eat some of that red pottage, for I am famished! Jacob said, 'First sell me your birthright.' Esau said, 'I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?' Jacob said, 'Swear to me first.' So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage and lentils, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright." -- Genesis 25)
Care to read the original documents? Click on the following links: