Crowder Reports Rifts in Gun Movements
by Ari Armstrong, March 27, 2000
Carla Crowder of the Rocky Mountain News wrote a pair of stories March 26 detailing the rifts on both sides of the gun debate (5A). The first discusses the recent decision by the Bell Campaign to fire the Colorado coordinator of the Million Mom March (http://insidedenver.com/legislature/0326moms3.shtml). (My article on that subject is at http://www.freecolorado.com/2000/03/mmm.html.) Crowder's second article describes the differences between the National Rifle Association (and its affiliate, the Colorado State Shooting Association), Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (the affiliate of Gun Owners of America), and the newly formed Tyranny Response Team (http://insidedenver.com/legislature/0326nra2.shtml).
My readers may remember that I was quite critical of one article Crowder wrote (http://www.freecolorado.com/2000/02/retraction.html), but more often I have complimented the reporter for her objectivity and fair coverage of the issues. In this case, I think Crowder did a pretty good job. However, she raises a number of issues which call for additional commentary.
We might categorize those active on gun issues into four broad groups. The "radical anti-gun" group consists of those who, like the leadership of the Bell Campaign, call for some types of guns to be banned and all other types of guns to be strictly regulated and licensed. Of course, some of the radicals explicitly call for the total disarmament of American civilians. Next is the group consisting of "moderate gun control" advocates, people like Kathleen Hopkins, who was fired by the Bell Campaign because she owns a shotgun and consorted with the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The moderates call for trigger locks, background checks, and other allegedly "reasonable" restrictions, but they are generally fine with the civil ownership of arms for sporting and defensive purposes.
On the other side, the "moderate gun rights" groups, such as the NRA, oppose new restrictions on firearms but aren't much interested in repealing existing restrictions. As we well know, the NRA is also quick to compromise away additional rights if they start feeling political pressure. The "radical civil gun rights" advocates include RMGO, the TRT, and me. We advocate the repeal of the 1934 National Firearms Act, the 1968 Gun Control Act, the Brady Bill, and all related amendments. In essence, we want to punish those who criminally mis-use guns (that is, those who use guns in violence or threat of violence), but we want no "prior restraint" placed on law-abiding citizens concerning their ownership or trade of small arms.
The gun restriction groups generally disagree on ultimate ends, but they agree on most tactics. For instance, both Hopkins and Bell Campaign leaders want mandatory storage laws, extended background checks, and so forth. On the other hand, gun rights groups generally agree on basic principles but disagree on tactics. NRA leaders feel they must make every effort to compromise. RMGO's Dudley Brown believes taking a principled stand will achieve more victories.
As I've frequently made clear, I side with Brown on tactical matters. By now it should be abundantly obvious that the more we compromise, the more radical anti-gun groups will go for the jugular of the Second Amendment. In this context, compromising is a bit like throwing raw meat to the sharks. On the other hand, if we stand by our principles and state our case rationally with eloquence and passion, we have a real chance of changing public opinion and influencing politics. Brown has expressed the sentiment: "Does it really matter if we drive off the cliff at 45 miles per hour as opposed to 90 miles per hour?" In other words, if we're destined to lose, compromise will only prolong the ultimate defeat. If we try to slam on the breaks and reverse course, however, at least we have a chance to win.
Crowder captured the main differences in political tactics between RMGO and the NRA with a few lines:
The NRA buys (legislators) lunch. We drop thousands of pieces of mail in their district and let people know how they're voting," Brown said.
But the term "right" is an overstatement. Bradfield takes fundamentally flawed pieces of legislation and tacks on a few amendments making them less onerous. But ultimately that's a losing strategy. The "compromises" have gone mostly in one direction since 1934. True, concealed carry laws have been liberalized in many states, but that's the exception to the general trends. At present rates, most Americans will be effectively disarmed within several decades.
Unfortunately, Crowder made several inappropriate jabs at Brown and other ardent defenders of civil arms. She gratuitously refers to Brown's alleged "frequent smirk," something I've not noticed in any of my meetings with him.
Crowder also makes the following statement: "A few of the more militant pro-gun legislators do pay attention to the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. But their bullying has alienated traditional allies." She then mentions Doug Dean as one of those alienated. Crowder's comment is both inaccurate and offensive. If she's going to use the term "militant" to refer to strong supporters of the right to keep and bear arms, she better use the same term to refer to leaders of the Bell Campaign and Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic (the name of which likens gun ownership to a disease). Crowder is simply wrong in suggesting only "a few" legislators pay attention to RMGO. True, only a few legislators publicly endorse RMGO, but even those who dislike Brown pay attention to the group. Doug Dean, for instance, has made noticeable changes in his rhetoric because of criticism from RMGO (and me).
Crowder does a fair job of summing up some of my comments. She quotes me, "The NRA says enforce the laws on the books. We say the laws on the books are unconstitutional and should be repealed." I said a little more than that, though. I explained to Crowder that we want laws that punish the criminal mis-use of guns, not laws which restrict the actions of law-abiding citizens.
When Crowder refers to "Project Exile" as "a crack-down on gun crime," she ignores my comments that "Exile" blurs the line between real "gun crime" and arbitrarily defined infractions. Project Exile, or, as I have called it, "Project Gestapo," urges people to turn in their neighbors, not for the use of guns to commit violence, but merely for the possession of a so-called "illegal gun." But what's an "illegal gun?" The propaganda ads, paid for in part by the NRA, do not define the term.
As I told Crowder, there's properly no such thing as an "illegal gun," only the criminal mis-use of a gun. Of course, in today's political climate, an "illegal gun" is whatever city, state, or federal officials say it is, and the lines vary by locality. I told Crowder that we want to punish those who use guns in violence, but we don't want to persecute those "guilty" of violating an arbitrary law that isn't even constitutional. But, while I don't feel Crowder fairly described the issues surrounding "Project Exile," I understand that she faced space restrictions.
The good news is that my side of the debate is forming a public voice (or voices). Intellectually, we've already won the debate. But in the realm of public opinion, we have faired badly. Perhaps that's starting to change.