Two Days at the Capitol
by Ari Armstrong
[The following article originally appeared in the March/April 2001 edition of Colorado Liberty.]
One day the Democrats won, the other day the Republicans won. Both days the clear loser was Lady Liberty.
I testified in front of the Senate judiciary committee on February 13 and 14. The first day I argued that mandatory gun storage laws are dangerous and a needless infringement of liberty. The next day I argued that minimum prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders should be repealed and that alternatives to incarceration should be considered.
The committee voted against the libertarian position on both days. The two votes are representative of why our civil liberties are at risk at the hands of the "Republicrats." Indeed, my experience those two days serves as a microcosm of the American political landscape.
Arnie Grossman of the anti-gun lobby group Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic, the name of which likens gun ownership to a disease, asked, "Who could speak on behalf of unsafe gun storage?"
Apparently he can, because mandatory gun storage laws are proven to increase every category of violent crime by interfering with the right of self-defense. Yale scholar John Lott found that mandatory gun storage laws fail to reduce unintentional gun deaths yet they increase the rates of murder, rape, assault, and robbery.
Besides, I argued, child abuse is already against the law: CRS 18-6-401(1)(a) states, "A person commits child abuse if such person causes an injury to a child's life or health, or permits a child to be unreasonably placed in a situation that poses a threat of injury to the child's life or health... " Will the mere repetition of law make us safer, I asked? We don't need laws that discriminate against one class of citizen.
State Senator Ken Gordon, sponsor of the bill, chose not to address the points I raised. Gordon was amiable, however, and he offered an amendment to his bill to make it somewhat less onerous.
Another Libertarian told the committee she relied on her gun for self-defense: "I'm not very strong, and I'm not very fast." She continued, "Keep the government out of my bedroom. Do not take away my right to choose -- how to defend myself."
Fortunately, even though Judiciary passed the bill on a party-line vote, the senate body rejected the proposal.
The next day, prior to the hearing on Senator Penfield Tate's sentencing reform bill, the committee also heard a bill to further restrict late-term abortions. Democratic Senator Sue Windels argued that the bill would not solve any problem, because late-term abortions are pursued to protect the life of the mother or for other medical reasons. The only impact of the bill would be to increase medical costs and interfere with privacy between doctors and their patients.
I complimented Windels for her astute points, and I asked her why she was unable to follow the same line of reasoning the previous day relative to Gordon's bill. She asked, "You mean the argument that there are extra costs? What are the costs of the storage law?" I replied that the costs are the increased rates of violent crime. To that, Windels replied, "I don't believe that."
Has Windels ever read Lott's work? Has she ever read ANY study on the subject? Apparently it doesn't matter. If Windels chooses not to believe something, then that's good enough for government work.
During discussion of Tate's sentencing reform bill, Windels again regained her ability to think logically and examine evidence, while the Republicans forgot all about their previous opposition to intrusive government.
Although Republican Senator Jim F. Dyer argued eloquently for the privacy rights of gun owners, he apparently has no compunctions about the gestapo tactics of the drug war. He told me after the hearing, "We should put all drug users in prison and leave them there." That's exactly the sentiment expressed by the bigot Rosie O'Donnell, only in reference to "gun users."
Ken Gordon cut a deal with Governor Bill Owens to kill Tate's bill -- he was the only Democrat to vote against it. He said he wants to pursue reforms in the future.
Why do both Republicans and Democrats suffer from pathological hysterias and advocate absurdly contradictory platforms? Part of the reason lies in the interest groups of the respective parties. Both parties consist of a disconnected and arbitrary grouping of ideological interests. The Republicans under Nixon, Reagan, and Bush used drug war hysteria to gain power, and recently Democrats tried to use gun war hysteria to gain power.
Thus, both Republicans and Democrats tend to defend civil liberties -- when it is expedient for them. And they increase the power of the state at the expense of individual rights when that gets them more power. Power has a strange effect on some people's ability to think rationally. Of course, most successful politicians are people who can stuff the disparate elements of contradictory ideologies into a single package with enough votes to win.
It's always easier to increase the power of the state than it is to increase the power of individuals. Thus, with Democrats warring against civil liberties half the time Republicans warring against them the rest of the time, the only clear winner is the state.
Yet the principles of individual liberty and voluntary social groups are alive and well in Colorado. One of the ways to influence political outcomes is to educate the voting public. Maybe someday a Libertarian will sit on a legislative committee in Colorado and vote for liberty day in and day out.
Even though my two days at the capitol were often frustrating, they were also encouraging. I met a lot of people who testified on behalf of liberty. My self-conscious goal is to help foster new coalitions between civil libertarians of the left and the right. The era of left-right politics is drawing to a close. The new division lies between those who love liberty and those who love state power.
There are signs of hope. For instance, even though Senator Mark Hillman voted against Tate's bill, he expressed an openness to the ideas of Milton Friedman, the free market economist who favors repealing drug prohibition.
On my way out of the capitol, I met another legislator and asked him about asset forfeiture reform. He said, "Some people claim to be Constitutionalists, but they are selectively so. They can read the Second Amendment, and believe it means what it says, but they can't read the Fourth Amendment."
The struggle to regain and extend our liberties is only beginning. With the resolve of libertarians, Lady Liberty will never again be shut out of a legislative hearing. Her torch will again light the way to a free society.