The Great American Gun Grab

Source: The New American, Vol. 15, No. 02, January 18, 1999

The Great American Gun Grab

by Robert W. Lee

During the national debate over an early version of the Brady waiting-period gun control bill in 1992, the liberal Establishment’s most revered “conservative” mouthpiece, syndicated columnist and public television emcee William F. Buckley Jr., sarcastically scolded critics of the bill for using arguments “of the slippery-slope type: Give the gun control people an inch and pretty soon you will find a brawny FBI type coming in and confiscating your BB gun.” Fear of the slippery slope, Buckley claimed, was being “taken to fanatical lengths,” since it was “hard to know how an imposition of that nature seriously deprives us of the right guaranteed under the Second Amendment.” He advised that “it is time that conservatives gave up fanatical interpretations of the Second Amendment.”

Gradual Process

Actually, “slippery slope” intrigue, predicated on patient gradualism rather than all-out assault, has been the crux of gun control strategy for decades. In 1976, Nelson T. “Pete” Shields, then executive director of the National Council to Control Handguns (NCCH), told The New Yorker, “I’m convinced that we have to have federal legislation to build on. We’re going to have to take one step at a time, and the first step is necessarily — given the political realities — going to be very modest.” Then, “we’ll have to start working again to strengthen that law, and then again to strengthen the next law, and maybe again and again.” The first problem, Shields asserted, “is to slow down the increasing number of handguns being produced and sold in this country.” The second “is to get handguns registered.” And “the final problem is to make the possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition — except for the military, policemen, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs, and licensed gun collectors — totally illegal.”

In 1980, NCCH was renamed Handgun Control Inc. (HCI). Since 1989 its chairperson has been Sarah Brady, for whom the original Brady bill was named. Its agenda has predictably evolved to target rifles and shotguns as well.

The Brady bill was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in late 1993. Since then, further descent down the slope has included such measures as the 1994 “assault” weapons ban and the 1996 ex post facto gun ban for persons convicted of domestic-abuse misdemeanors. Mr. Clinton has announced that his anti-gun agenda for the 106th Congress will include such additional slippery measures as a permanent waiting period for handgun purchases; background checks for teens convicted of violent crimes, after they become adults, so they can be banned for life from purchasing firearms; and extending background checks to the few types of presently legal non-dealer transactions at gun shows. His arguments for the latter would, in principle, apply to all private firearms transactions, not simply those at guns shows. That the Administration has such a goal in mind was implied in a recent open letter from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF), which asserted that “the President expressed his concern about the numbers of firearms sold at gun shows and elsewhere without Brady background checks being conducted….” (Emphasis added.) In early December, Mr. Clinton gave Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and Attorney General Janet Reno until the first week of January to conjure up ways to close the alleged gun show “loophole.”

All sales of firearms at gun shows are currently subject to the same federal and state laws that apply in other situations.

The supposed “loophole” cited by the President allows individuals to sell guns on an “occasional” basis for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or to sell their collections, without background checks. Beyond that, the law requires that anyone “who devotes time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of firearms” must have a federal firearms license and abide by the Brady law.

The slippery slope strategy, then, is both real and obvious. Those who deny it are implying that there is some point at which gun control fanatics can be satiated short of outright confiscation of civilian firearms. Evidence to the contrary is abundant and convincing, especially when the goal of domestic disarmament is considered in the context of U.S. disarmament policy at the international level. The objective is not to abolish firearms or nuclear weapons, but to give national governments a monopoly over the former and the United Nations control of the latter. National governments would have the wherewithal to control their domestic populations, while the UN would have the means to coerce separate nations to do its bidding. That arrangement is the essence of the collectivist nightmare euphemistically termed the new world order.

Toward Total Control

On September 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy presented a disarmament plan to the UN, subsequently codified in State Department Publication 7277, that called for the “disbanding of all national armed forces … other than those required to preserve internal order and for contributions to a United Nations Peace Force.” It also called for the “elimination from national arsenals of all armaments … other than those required for a United Nations Peace Force and for managing internal order.” Ultimately, “no state would have the military power to challenge the progressively strengthened UN Peace Force.”

On April 18, 1962, the Kennedy Administration submitted an outline for a formal treaty reiterating that parties to the treaty “would progressively strengthen the United Nations Peace Force … until it had sufficient armed forces and armaments so that no state could challenge it.”

That ominous policy has never been repudiated by our government, and subsequent U.S. policy concerning UN “peacekeeping” authority, and its moves toward domestic disarmament via gun control, indicate that it remains a top priority.

Since 1995, the UN has itself become increasingly involved in the drive to disarm civilian populations. In that year its Commission on Crime Prevention launched an “International Study of Firearms Regulation.” Numerous UN confabs have dealt with the issue since. In May of 1997, for instance, the Commission approved a resolution entitled, “Firearms Regulation for the Purpose of Crime Prevention and Public Health and Safety.” In August of that year it adopted a Japanese proposal calling for a “Universal Declaration of Principles on Firearms Regulation” that would have all nations establish gun turn-in programs, license all gun owners, and require registration of all firearms. Such “universal declarations” are non-binding, but nevertheless serve as significant propaganda tools which are often followed by legally binding conventions or treaties.

The step-by-step erosion of the Second Amendment, as exemplified by such measures as the Brady law, has been abetted by powerful Republican leaders and gun-rights groups who have opted to compromise rather than stand firm on principle. In 1993, after a filibuster by pro-gun senators turned back two attempts to bring the Brady bill to a vote, the bill appeared to be dead for the year. Even its strongest backers were admitting defeat. But then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS), supposedly anxious to preclude the possibility of having the issue arise during the 1994 elections, offered a ludicrous compromise that served as the pretext for terminating the filibuster and enabling the bill to pass. When the final version came to a vote under a unanimous consent agreement with only three senators (including Dole) present, Dole could have blocked it single-handedly, but chose not to do so. He subsequently told reporters that he was “happy to have this issue behind us.”

Brady Specifics

The Brady law authorized a temporary five-day waiting period, applicable only to handgun purchases, for five years, to be superseded after November 30, 1998 by an “instant check” system that would cover rifles and shotguns as well. The chief proponent of the “instant check” compromise was the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has vigorously defended it since. During the heat of battle over the Brady bill, NRA lobbyists, rather than standing firm in opposition to the measure, became more concerned about modifications that would “improve” it, just as they are today attempting to make a silk purse out of the “instant check” sow’s ear, rather than seeking its outright repeal.

USA Today for October 26, 1993, quoted James Jay Baker, then executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), as saying, “We already support 65 percent of the Brady bill, because it moves to an instant check, which is what we want.” As Neal Knox, head of the Virginia-based Firearms Coalition and a former NRA vice president, recently recalled, “Baker, almost as much as [NRA Executive Director Wayne] LaPierre, is perceived as the father of the ‘Instant Check,’ which the ATF and FBI are attempting to implement as the heart of a national registration system on all firearms — as both NRA leaders were warned when they first proposed it as an alternative to the Brady waiting period on handguns.”

The Brady law specifically precludes the retention or transfer of records about applicants who pass a background check, but with “instant check” looming, Attorney General Janet Reno issued proposed regulations in May 1998 providing that “transactions relating to firearm transfer approvals in the Audit Log will be maintained for eighteen months.” Needless to say, the retention of such information is fraught with the potential for abuse, and amounts to a type of federal firearms registration that federal law also precludes.

In August, Reno issued further regulations calling for a tax (user fee) to be imposed on dealers holding federal firearms licenses, ostensibly to cover costs associated with federal processing of instant-check applications for states that did not have their own instant check systems. Understandably, in most instances the fee would have been passed along to customers. By raising the price of guns it would have served to deter a number of gun purchases, to the delight of the President, the Bradys, and other anti-gun zealots.

One apparent purpose of the scheme was to pressure states that have not yet adopted an instant-check system to do so. As Neal Knox noted at the time, “Strangely, if a state legislature has set up its own ‘instant check’ system … we’re told the FBI doesn’t plan to charge the state for conducting the check. Why? Obviously to get gun owners in 31 states to back a new state gun law. Why? Because there are federal laws against the Feds using sales information to create a national gun registration system, but the states can create the federally accessible gun registration systems that the Clinton Administration wants.”

The tax and record-keeping proposals espoused by the Attorney General and FBI led Senator Robert Smith (R-NH) to propose an amendment (to the fiscal 1999 appropriations bill for the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and related agencies) that sought to accomplish three commendable objectives:

• Require the immediate destruction of records for applicants “determined not to be prohibited from owning a firearm.”

• Scuttle the proposed user fee.

• Authorize aggrieved persons to sue in federal district court over violations of the amendment’s provisions by government officials and, if successful, to “receive damages, punitive damages, and such other remedies as the court may determine to be appropriate, including a reasonable attorney’s fee.”

The Smith amendment was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate on July 21st by a veto-proof super-majority of 69 to 31. It remained intact during early negotiations over the massive $500 billion omnibus spending bill in October. But it eventually fell victim to GOP betrayal when Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) threw in the towel during last-minute negotiations with the White House. The crucial qualifier “immediate” was stripped from the record-keeping provision, thereby giving the FBI substantial wiggle room to the time frame for record destruction. Its final decision, expected by February, will likely entail a record retention period of up to six months. The potential for using the data to construct a national gun registration system is obvious.

On December 1st, charging that the FBI’s stance on the record-keeping issue amounts to “an illegal national registration” that violates the privacy of gun owners, the NRA announced that it was filing suit over the matter. The NRA’s Wayne LaPierre told reporters that “Janet Reno has turned Congress’ intent to keep records of convicted felons into an Orwellian nightmare of keeping tabs on perfectly law-abiding Americans. The federal government has no business keeping lists of law-abiding Americans in their federal computers.”

Which is unquestionably true. We wish the NRA well, but such expensive and time-consuming legal action would likely not be necessary now had the organization stood firm on principle against the Brady bill from the start.

Buyer Beware

Another recent development on the slippery slope front is the spate of lawsuits filed (or contemplated) by cities against firearm manufacturers. The gun control lobby, having failed to win key cases involving private parties, is now striving to fuel its legal attack with local tax dollars. Since the plethora of existing gun control laws has predictably failed to keep guns out of criminal hands, flustered anti-gun politicians are venting their frustrations on law-abiding scapegoats. Most case law favors the manufacturers, but some could be seriously hamstrung or forced into bankruptcy by the mere expense of litigation.

In late October of last year the city of New Orleans filed the first such suit by a city against 15 gun manufacturers and sundry firearms trade groups. The suit claims that firearms are unreasonably dangerous because they lack certain mechanical safety devices, and that the firearms industry should therefore be held financially responsible for the medical bills, police expenditures, and other costs associated with handgun violence. Mayor Marc Morial readily acknowledged that the litigation is intended to entangle gun manufacturers in the same type of litigation that has cost the tobacco industry billions of dollars. Indeed, the suit was prepared by some of the same lawyers who have benefited handsomely from tobacco litigation. Another attorney in the case, Dennis Henigan of the Washington-based Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, bluntly asserted, “Guns must now become the next tobacco.”

On November 5th, Cook County and the city of Chicago followed suit with a $433 million action against 22 gun manufacturers, a dozen stores, and four distributors. The suit claims that the defendants are flooding the city with handguns that they know will be used in crime because Chicago has a virtual ban on handgun ownership.

In a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed piece, Dr. John Lott, a law and economics fellow at the University of Chicago School of Law and author of More Guns, Less Crime (1998), cited statistics showing that “30 children under 5 and 200 under 15 died from accidental gun deaths in 1996,” while “950 children under the age of 15 drowned in pools and while boating; 500 children died in bicycle accidents, and more than 1,000 children died from residential fires.” Nonetheless, he observed, “No one is yet proposing that state or city governments should recoup medical costs or police salaries by suing automobile or bicycle companies, pool builders or makers of home heaters.” Indeed, he contended, such suits would “make as little sense as pool builders suing the government to recoup the health benefits from exercise.”

Lott readily admitted the obvious, that “bad things happen with guns,” but he noted that suits against manufacturers “ignore that guns also prevent bad things by making it easier for victims to defend themselves. With fewer than one percent of all guns ever used in crimes or causing death or injury, many other products have much higher probabilities of causing harm.” Unlike the tobacco suits, “gun makers have powerful arguments about the benefits of gun ownership.” For instance, “More than 450,000 crimes, including 10,744 murders, are committed with guns each year,” but Americans “also use guns defensively about 2.5 million times a year.” Indeed, as research presented in Lott’s recent book confirms, “When criminals confront people, resistance with a gun is by far the safest course of action.”

Lott also found that “increased gun ownership rates are associated with lower crime rates,” and, “Poor people in the highest crime areas benefit the most from owning guns. Lawsuits against gun makers will raise the price of firearms, which will most severely reduce gun ownership among the law-abiding, much-victimized poor.” Lott suggested that if “mayors really believe that guns produce no benefits, there is one simple way they can demonstrate this: Disarm their bodyguards.” It is, he contended, hypocritical for mayors “to demand that poor people live in high crime areas without being able to own guns, while the mayors would never enter these areas without armed guards.”

Global Strategy

The slippery slope strategy for achieving domestic disarmament dovetails with globalist plans to construct a new world order based on the ultimate goal of UN über alles. Sadly, it has often been enhanced by the politics of compromise. The original Brady law, and the “instant check” travesty with which gun owners are now plagued, resulted from compromise of constitutional principle. It (and other supposedly “modest” infringements of the Second Amendment) should not be tweaked to make them more acceptable. They should, instead, be abolished. As Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, recently asserted, “The answer in some sectors of the pro-gun movement has been to work towards making the ‘trains run on time.’ Make the Instant ‘Registration’ Check work more efficiently, they say, so there won’t be any delays and interruptions.” In contrast, Pratt recalled, “Gun Owners of America was the only national gun lobby to oppose the Instant Registration Check in 1993, when the law first passed. And to this day, we continue to fight against this unconstitutional monstrosity with every ounce of our organizational being.”

Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) introduced legislation in the 105th Congress to repeal the entire Brady law, including its “instant check” provisions. He plans to do so again in the 106th.