Dean Defends Rights of Adults 18-21

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Dean Defends Rights of Adults 18-21

by Ari Armstrong, January 13, 1999

In a January 12 debate on the Channel 12 Peter Boyles show, House Majority Leader Doug Dean strongly defended the rights of adults 18-21 years old to purchase and bear firearms. Dean said that discriminatory laws treat that group as "second class citizens."

Dean said that the "one vote I've regretted" was one in 1998 when he opposed Representative Ron Tupa's bill that would have partially re-legalized the purchase of alcohol by adults 18-21 years old. Tupa is a Democrat from Boulder. Senator Rob Hernandez has introduced a bill that would raise the age to purchase guns to 21, arguing that if adults must be 21 to buy alcohol, they should be 21 to purchase a firearm.

Dean could have made the stronger argument that the right to keep and bear arms is Constitutionally guaranteed, whereas the right to buy booze is not. Still, Dean's new position may indicate a growing willingness to consider the unity of rights. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, "Injustice everywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Once a corrupt principle is established in law, it tends to violate more and more rights unless it is rooted out completely.

Dean took sides with Dave Kopel from the Independence Institute opposite Representative Ken Gordon and Tom Mauser, a spokesman for "Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic." Gordon and Mauser supported the entire Owens gun restriction package. However, Gordon expressed several times that he's "not trying to take away anybody's guns." Further, he agreed that citizens have a Constitutional right to keep guns in their homes for self-defense.

Surprisingly, Gordon even brought up the case of Nazi Germany and the Warsaw Ghetto. He mentioned the Jews in that ghetto used guns to defend themselves against the Nazis, and he said the "Jews should have had more guns." Considering the position Gordon is coming from, his comments should be encouraging to the supporters of the Second Amendment. He seems to be making a good-faith effort to at least consider the arguments opposite his own. Clearly, those who study the issue from a pro-gun-ownership perspective are making headway in presenting their arguments and evidence.

However, Gordon had his facts all wrong about Professor John Lott's study on concealed carry laws. Fortunately Dave Kopel is intimately familiar with Lott's work and corrected Gordon. Gordon said he's read Lott's work, More Guns, Less Crime, but it was clear he has never made it to Chapter 7, in which Lott talks about the flagrantly biased attacks made against him. For instance, Lott describes the erroneous charge that part of his salary came from the ammunitions industry, a charge Gordon repeated during the debate. Lott's book came out in 1998, while his core research was presented in a 1996 paper.

The best argument Gordon could come up with against concealed carry is that it perpetuates the notion that society is a "jungle." He said that institutions, not individuals, should be responsible for reducing crime. However, while it's true that such social factors as the imprisonment of violent criminals plays a large role in the reduction of crime, it's also true that police usually cannot respond to a violent crime until after the fact. Thus, self-defense is crucial for stopping and deterring crime. Those who support concealed carry don't advocate a "jungle" mentality or claim every citizen is constantly in danger, they merely assert that we don't live in a utopia where crime is non-existent. Every individual faces some risk, however small, of victimization at the hands of a rapist, murderer, or other violent criminal. Armed citizens deter crime; indeed, if practically every citizen were armed, criminals would hardly ever attempt violence.

If anyone perpetuates a "jungle mentality," it is the opponents of concealed carry. These disarmament activists frequently make up fairy-tales about how guns somehow turn honest citizens into raving lunatics who might snap at any moment. According to these disarmament advocates, only the benevolent government can keep people safe from criminals and safe from themselves. But of course this is myth, and as the more than 30 states with concealed carry laws have proven, practically all citizens with lawful concealed weapons are responsible.

Dean and Kopel also opposed expanded honest-citizen background checks at gun shows. Kopel said the disarmament lobby frequently cites ridiculously inflated statistics claiming to show a large number of criminals get their guns from shows. However, according to research by the National Institute of Justice, only about 2% of criminal guns come from shows. Dean argued further that expanded checks would only drive criminals to get their guns from other sources, such as through theft or the black-market. (For more on this argument, see Gun Background Checks Empower Criminals at http://www.freecolorado.com/1999/12/gunecon.html.)

However, Mauser argued that the guns used at Columbine were purchased at gun shows from unlicensed private sellers. At a certain level, he won the argument against Kopel and Dean. Kopel said that not many guns used in crime come from shows, and Dean said that expanded checks would result in criminals getting their guns elsewhere. Both, however, fell back on the argument that licensed dealers at shows are already required to run checks on all purchasers. Mauser is right -- some criminals buy their guns at shows from unlicensed private sellers. And Gordon also made the point that background checks are a relatively minor inconvenience for purchasers, if in fact background checks stop some criminals from buying guns.

By implicitly granting the premise that honest-citizen background checks are legitimate at all, Kopel and Dean take the first step onto the slippery slope that implies all gun transactions should be subject to such checks, as Senator Hernandez suggests.

The only way to win the argument against expanded checks and prevent universal checks from eventually becoming law, is to oppose the entire premise that prior restraint of a Constitutional right is acceptable.

Both Kopel and Dean gave some arguments than can be used in a general attack on honest-citizen background checks. Kopel noted that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation already wrongfully and regularly denies permission to purchase a firearm because of faulty records. This is part of the general argument that, contrary to Gordon's claims, background checks are significantly harmful to honest citizens. I make additional arguments to this point in the previously cited article.

As Dean noted, those who support honest-citizen background checks greatly over-estimate the impact of such laws on criminal behavior. Indeed, as Lott mentions, some studies suggest the Brady Law has actually caused more crime by disarming lawful citizens. So just on an evidentiary basis, Gordon's claims in support of background checks are suspect.

But there are also serious question of legal principle. According to the Second Amendment, "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Of course, Gordon and his side want to interpret that statement loosely. Gordon chalks up to "paranoia" the concern that background checks will put citizens in danger of ending up on a government list (even though we now know the FBI -- one agency responsible for background checks -- lied in the Waco case).

Perhaps Gordon will consider an analogy relating background checks to another issue. I assume Gordon and I agree homosexuals should retain the freedom to practice their lifestyles as they see fit. Gordon might immediately object to the analogy, since guns are designed to kill, whereas homosexuality is inherently peaceful. To this possible objection, I counter that far and away the most frequent use of guns is to prevent crime, usually through the mere brandishment of the gun or through deterrence. In addition, some have made the argument that homosexuality indeed causes social degradation. I've even heard the claim that homosexuality is a primary cause for the fall of Greco-Roman society. Of course such arguments are as bogus as the arguments that gun ownership leads to cultural decline.

Back to the analogy: let us suppose that a conservative government wanted to institute background checks on all homosexuals before they could practice sex. After all, some homosexuals molest young boys, just as some persons use guns for criminal purposes. Surely background checks would be only a minor inconvenience for homosexuals and wouldn't "infringe" their rights in the least. (That's sarcastic, for those with a penchant for quoting out-of-context.) Would Gordon be "paranoid" that the government might use such background checks to eventually institute government lists? I suspect the homosexual community would be just as "paranoid" as gun owners are today.

Doug Dean is starting to see that rights are unitary. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Perhaps it's time for Gordon to further explore the same principle.



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Mauser said he wants to "keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them." However, almost all of the laws Mauser advocates would instead keep guns out of the hands of honest citizens. For instance, any law denying adults ages 18-21 their rights to buy guns would prevent them from protecting themselves and their families against violent criminals.

Dean came out strongly against mandatory storage laws, calling them "rapist protection" measures as they would prevent honest citizens from using their guns against violent criminals. However, in recent weeks Dean favored a negligence bill, which he and Representative Rob Fairbank later backed away from.

Dean supported adding juvenile crime records to CBI gun background checks. He said that if a person shoots someone at age 16, he shouldn't be able to buy a gun at age 19. Of course, there's an excellent argument to be made that violent felons should be prevented from owning a gun. However, background checks are inherently unjust toward honest citizens as they impose prior restraint of a Constitutional liberty. Any law preventing violent criminals from owning a gun should provide punishment for violating the law, not background checks on everyone. CBI already wrongfully denies permission to purchase a gun to many citizens; adding juvenile records would only increase the number of wrongful denials.

In addition, many juvenile crimes do not warrant denial of a firearm. Someone who gets caught with drugs as a teenager shouldn't be prevented from owning a gun as an adult. Many people can reform from even a violent crime committed as a child. Should a crime at age 12 prevent a woman at age 45 who has lived the rest of her life responsibly from defending herself and her family?

About the only law everyone agrees on, in principle, is one banning straw purchases. That is, it should be illegal to knowingly purchase a gun for someone who cannot legally own one. The principle is that it's wrong to help someone else commit a crime. The person who drives the getaway car should face reprisals along with the bank robber. The problems come when the law arbitrarily delimits who can own a gun. To take the extreme example, the Nazis outlawed "straw purchases" of guns for Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, yet it was morally appropriate in that circumstance to break the law.

Overall, in the television debate Dean demonstrated conviction in defending many rights of gun owners. The main exception is that he didn't take on honest-citizen background checks, and he even favored expanding such checks by adding juvenile records. In October, I wrote an article and a follow-up blasting Dean for his failure to defend the rights of adults ages 18-21 and for considering a compromise of gun shows. If I've dished out criticism, I also give credit where it is due.

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.FreeColorado.com