Boulder Council Debates Civil Arms
by Ari Armstrong, June 27, 2000
Something extraordinary took place the evening of Wednesday, June 21 in the chambers of the Boulder City Council. 71 speakers rose to argue the philosophy, history, and consequences of civil arms. The administrative hearing started at 6 pm and lasted well past 10:00. Over 50 of those who spoke supported civil arms. Most of the nearly 200 members of the crowd provided moral support, with some wearing "Tyranny Response Team" T-shirts. Bob Glass and others wore Stars of David to symbolize the feeling that gun owners are increasingly being treated as second-class citizens and persecuted with arbitrary, hysterical legislation.
At issue were seven specific proposals under consideration by the Council. However, speakers on both sides of the debate tended to discuss their positions more generally, alternately calling for mass disarmament or unfettered rights to bear arms. Representatives of the so-called "Million Mom March" said the Council's proposals do not go far enough in restricting gun ownership; many civil arms advocates said gun restriction laws have already gone too far.
The Boulder Council is considering seven proposals relative to firearms. Three of them are specific to adults, while four aim at minors. A list of those proposals, as ordered in various city documents, follows:
However, by the time of the administrative hearing the city staff had recommended significant changes in these proposals. City attorney Joseph N. de Raismes, III headed the list of staff in a memo concerning the proposals.
The city staff recommended against regulating gun shows at the city level, as such are regulated by state and federal law. In addition, the city's literature notes, "no gun shows currently take place in the City of Boulder." Alan Dunwell reiterated this point during the hearing, noting the proposals are "trying to fix a problem we do not have."
However, members of the anti-gun lobby argued that city laws frequently encourage the passage of similar state laws, which in turn influence federal legislation. They urged the passage of the gun show restriction in order to "send a message" to broader levels of government.
The third speaker, a member of the anti-gun movement in Colorado, stated openly that regulating gun shows is not his ultimate goal. He wants to eliminate all private transactions of firearms. That is, he wants every gun transaction to be subjected to federal background checks, which register gun owners with the FBI.
Civil arms advocates raised concerns over the "reasonable efforts" language of the sixth proposal, concerning criminal penalties for parents whose children misuse firearms. Such terms are mired in ambiguity. A similar problem was noted concerning the third proposal, which would make it unlawful to "knowingly furnish" a rifle or shotgun to a minor.
However, city staff recommended proposals three and four, which would make it a crime to provide a minor with a rifle or shotgun and for a minor to possess a rifle or shotgun. One speaker noted that minors are licensed by the State of Colorado to hunt -- with rifles and shotguns -- at the age of 16. It is unclear whether the proposed Boulder ordinance would impact an adult who provided a rifle or shotgun to a minor for use in hunting.
City staff urged caution on the sixth proposal because of the potential ambiguity. The staff backed away from proposal five, the summary reading, "Instead, staff recommends that the City consider providing relief from civil negligence liability if firearms are stored in a locked gun safe." That proposal strikes this author as a sensible alternative.
Many civil arms advocates noted the inherent dangers of requiring or even encouraging by threat of criminal action the lock-up of all firearms within the home. Several women pointed out that, if their guns are locked away, they are at greater risk of criminal victimization.
The city staff recommended that "assault weapons" not be banned, but rather be subjected to storage laws. Gun owners balked even at this limited restriction, noting there is no clear definition of what an "assault weapon" even is. Some defensive semi-automatic pistols are classified as "assault weapons" according to some jurisdictions.
Members of the anti-gun lobby were quick to point out that California and Denver ban "assault weapons." They stated that Denver banned such weapons because of their alleged wide-spread use in gang crime. However, in fact Denver banned "assault weapons" for political reasons and no factual evidence was ever brought forth indicating such guns were a significant problem in crime. Besides, noted a few gun owners following the hearing, just because some jurisdictions pass a law doesn't mean the law is a good idea. The history of the United States is filled with examples of some jurisdictions passing unjust laws, mostly to the detriment of minority groups.
Significantly, the city staff recommend the law banning open-carry of firearms. Civil arms advocates replied to this proposal on a number of levels. First, a disarmed populace invites criminal mayhem. One man suggested that Boulder follow up passage of its laws by posting a sign at the city limits welcoming rapists, home invaders, and other criminals. Others worried that this law, too, could be highly ambiguous. For instance, while the law does not apply to the transportation of firearms in a vehicle, does it apply to carrying one's firearm from one's home to one's vehicle? One gun owner noted that he rides a bicycle and does not own a car. What would constitute legal storage of his gun while riding his bike?
Far and away the greatest concern of gun owners was that the proposals would turn honest citizens into criminals under the laws. One man said defiantly, "You can add me to your list of criminals. I just purchased an 'assault rifle.'"
Several civil arms advocates took a strong message to the hearing. Mark Call argued that rights come from God, not from the state government or the City of Boulder. "Our god-given rights will not be infringed," he said. Bob Glass, a leader of the TRT, added, "I did not come here to beg you to exercise my rights. Our days of begging you are over. My rights are not negotiable."
Another gun owner said, "I'm not dangerous to anybody... I'm a businessman, a father, I go to church... I trust my fellow citizens, I trust my children... Gentlemen [of the Council], I don't trust you."
One disarmament activist noted that according to one poll 83% of Coloradans support the gun show restriction initiative sponsored by the anti-gun lobby group Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic, the name of which likens gun ownership to a disease. Later, Neal Muhlberg mocked that argument: "In the 1940s, 83% of Germans polled favored 'Jew Control' -- so what?" Muhlberg argued that the proposed laws would actually have effect of making people less safe. "We should not have to ask permission to defend ourselves." He closed by noting, "An armed society is a polite society."
Tony Clark argued that if Boulder is serious about increasing firearms safety, it will reinstitute hunter education in the schools. Firearms training is "a proven lifesaver," he noted, adding, "if it saves just one life, it's worth it." He said, "I will volunteer to teach it for free." Clark, a Democrat, continued, "I'm angry at what my party is doing" to restrict civil arms. He noted that firearms training teaches children responsibility. "I'll take kids with guns any day."
One woman recounted her experience waiting 90 minutes for the police to arrive as she was held hostage. She supported the right to carry a firearm for self-defense. "I am responsible for the safety of my children," she said. "My kids WILL have a mom." A police officer told of a man who placed a restraining order on his wife so that she couldn't purchase a gun, then he proceeded to "beat the hell" out of her.
Barbara Phillips, once a supporter of more gun restrictions, said, "Some of us changed our minds after being threatened. Each of us is ultimately responsible for his or her own safety."
Most agreed that Bruce Tiemann stole the show with his parody of anti-gun hysteria. His presentation began:
I am speaking to you here tonight to urge you to pass reasonable, common-sense laws to halt a grave and deadly threat to our communities.
Bruce was quick to point out that his analogy is a perfect mirror of the anti-gun hysteria heard at the City Council hearing and elsewhere. Fires kill many more children every year than guns, he noted.
Perhaps what was most astounding about the hearing was the lack of coherence in the arguments made by members of the anti-gun lobby.
The first speaker said that gun suicides in America are higher than gun homicides. Raising the age to purchase a handgun to 21 would alleviate this problem, she claimed. However, the availability of guns is not correlated to the suicide rate. For instance, the suicide rate in Japan is roughly double what it is in the United States, even though Japanese do not generally use guns to kill themselves. In addition, it's unclear why a law should trump the rights of every law-abiding citizen because of a very few psychologically disturbed individuals.
Later, a woman argued that "all rights are restricted and regulated." Indeed. For instance, the First Amendment right of free speech does not protect one from copyright infringement, slander, or yelling "fire" in a theater. In other words, no action is permitted which is inherently criminal, which violates the civil rights of others. Similarly, any use of a gun to harm another person (except in self-defense) should be and is strictly against the law. The speaker suggested there's a double-standard because gun owners are not more stringently restricted. However, the double-standard lies in the fact that gun owners are subject to prior restraint of their rights, whereas those exercising speech are not. For instance, reporters do not have to register with the FBI or undergo a background check before writing an article. If the goal is consistency in the law, all the prior restraints on gun owners must be repealed, not expanded.
The next speaker said that, because she has been attacked by emotionally disturbed children with whom she works and did not need a firearm to defend herself, therefore nobody needs a firearm for defense. The fact that a typical rapist or murderer differs markedly from an emotionally disturbed child seems not to have occurred to this speaker.
Ironically, Robert Howell said he didn't want people carrying guns for self-defense because he doesn't want society to return to the "old west" where violence is prevalent. Howell, as vice-president of the anti-gun Boulder Bell Campaign, is the person who previously physically assaulted Shariar Ghalam at a Boulder rally. Ghalam was packing a legally concealed 9 mm pistol but (of course) never pulled it, choosing instead to back away from Howell.
Another anti-gun advocate said she supports mandatory storage laws because of a case in which a man cleaning his gun and shot and killed someone. Of course, mandatory storage laws don't apply when one is cleaning a gun. What do apply are the fundamental rules of gun safety, which were obviously not followed in the case of the fatal shooting.
One speaker supported mandatory storage laws because, when the magazine is removed from a semi-automatic firearm, a round may remain in the chamber. But this is not some sort of revelation to handgun owners. NOTHING trumps the fundamental rule of safe firearm handling: always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. This writer has never met the owner of a semi-automatic who didn't know the safety tip mentioned. Here's another safety tip: a firearm is useless for defending against violent rapists and murderers if it's locked away in a safe.
The nonsense kept coming from the anti-gun speaker. One man said he opposed the defensive use of firearms because "no one has the right to be the jury, judge, and executioner." However, the defensive use of firearms is only for those cases in which one's life is in danger, and then only to stop the threat, nothing more. (Obviously the man had never taken an NRA personal protection course.) One certainly has the right to defend one's own life.
In an attempt to explain why nobody should be allowed to own firearms for self-defense, one woman said, "Murders are not only committed by criminals." (That doesn't require a rebuttal.)
In short, the message from the anti-gun lobby was the same mindless drivel, high on emotion but low on logic and evidence. In contrast, many of the speeches by civil arms advocates were riveting, as intelligent as they were enthusiastic. It was a memorable evening for the defenders of freedom.