"The state, in its criminal code, forbids citizens to have firearms or other weapons, but does not undertake to defend them."
-- Alexander Solzhenitsyn, _The Gulag Archipelago_ (1975)
A scientist friend is fond of saying, "Without data, we are just another schmuck with an opinion." He was arguing for common sense, and a scientific approach to learning, in some objective fashion, what is going on, before trying to decide what to do about it. Most of us are like Will Rogers: we know only what we read in the newspapers and learn from other news media. Much of what passes as "conventional wisdom," however, is not only wrong, but potentially dangerous. It takes only a little research of history, law, criminology, current trends in civil rights, and the Bill of Rights to learn the truth.
The dominant news media would have us believe the U.S. is experiencing a crisis of crime and "gun violence". The truth is that the per-capita rate of violent crime has been declining in recent decades. Much of the media have demonized inanimate objects -- guns -- and jumped on a current fiction created by Handgun Control, Inc. that "semi-automatic assault weapons" are evil and should be banned. The truth is that there is no functional definition for a semi-automatic assault weapon. The term was created by H.C.I. to mislead the public into believing they are trying to ban "machine guns." Even more telling is the statistical fact that such weapons are rarely misused for crime. The gun-banners' campaign is expressly part of a plan to deprive all Americans of their right of self-defense.
To do so the gun-banners would give more power to government agencies that already have a record of civil rights abuses. Even the A.C.L.U., a steadfastly anti-gun organization, is on record as believing H.C.I.'s proposals would deprive the law-abiding of their rights under the Constitution. Like Theodore Haas, survivor of Dachau and the Holocaust, the A.C.L.U. is seeing more examples of "creeping fascism in America," especially in recent years. Examples include -- but are clearly not limited to:
1. The April, 1993 Waco massacre: a B.A.T.F. paramilitary raid conducted with tanks, helicopter gunships, a form of tear gas that by treaty is illegal to use in war, fire, and ultimately bulldozers to destroy the evidence. Janet Reno, then the U.S. Attorney General said she took "full responsibility" at the same time she and the B.A.T.F. have been proven to have suppressed or destroyed evidence. The government has admitted they had no plan to simply walk up and serve a warrant peacefully. Prior to the raid, any reasonable person would have concluded that at least a dozen of the key decisions regarding how the raid would be conducted were calculated to increase the probability that innocent men, women, and children would be killed. Eighty-six people died. Scholars call this an act of "police terror." Reno has attempted to seal the records. No charges have ever been filed against any of the government employees who abused their authority.
2. On August 26, 1992, Donald Carlson, a 41-year old computer company executive in Poway, California, was shot twice after he had dropped the gun with which he had tried to defend his home from unidentified black-clad intruders. Local and federal law-enforcement agents were looking for drugs and firearms. Nothing illegal was found. The informant had lied. No charges have ever been filed against any of the government employees who abused their authority.
3. In Boston on March 25th, 1994, another bungled SWAT-team raid on the home of 75-year old retired Methodist minister, Reverend Accelynne Williams, led to the death of the minister. He had been strong-armed and left handcuffed in his bathroom for nearly an hour, where he died of a heart attack. Nothing illegal was found. The informant had lied. No charges have ever been filed against any of the government employees who abused their authority.
4. Among the most outrageous, 61-year old retired California rancher, Donald Scott, was shot in his own living room on the morning of October 2, 1992. A military-style raid was conducted by a 30-man task force made up of the Sheriff's department, the federal D.E.A., the Los Angeles police department, the California National Guard, and the National Park Service. The purported purpose of the raid? According to the warrant, to search for marijuana plants growing on Scott's ranch. A federal agent claimed he saw the marijuana plants, without the aid of binoculars, while flying 1,000 feet over the ranch.
Results? Nothing illegal was found. No explanation was offered for the shock-raid, when the alleged illegal substances were growing plants which could not have been flushed down a toilet or otherwise easily destroyed.
The true purpose? "A government plot to confiscate Mr. Scott's 200-acre Malibu ranch valued at $5 million, apparently because it adjoins National Park Service land," according to Ventura County District Attorney Michael Bradbury. "The smoking gun turned out to be a property appraisal of the Scott ranch prepared before the raid," indicated Mr. Bradbury. "Moreover, a state narcotics investigator and a federal forest ranger who participated in the raid indicated that seizure of Scott's ranch was mentioned in the sheriff's pre-raid briefing." According to Bradbury, this was "totally out of place in a purported pot bust." More police terror. No charges have ever been filed against any of the government employees who abused their authority.
5. In northern Idaho, an undercover B.A.T.F. agent persuaded Randy Weaver, a 44-year old former Green Beret, to shorten two shotguns to a quarter inch than the eighteen inches arbitrarily determined by Congress to be legal. The shotguns were a Harrington & Richardson single-barreled 12-gauge and Remington pump-action shotgun. The B.A.T.F.'s publicity releases characterized these common everyday shotguns as "weapons of drug dealers and terrorists" or "gangster weapons" that "had no sporting purpose."
Later, the B.A.T.F. gave Weaver a choice: spy on a white supremist group or go to jail. Weaver refused. No effort was made to arrest Weaver. Instead, months later, on August 24, 1992, a federal military- style task force surrounded Weavers' property. Weaver's son, 14 year old, 4' 11" Sammy, and family friend, Kevin Harris, went to investigate why the Weavers' dog Striker was barking. Without warning, the dog and Sammy were shot and killed by federal agents. Later, Randy Weaver was shot in the back, and his wife, Vicki, was shot in the face while holding her 10-month old daughter in the doorway of their home. She was dead before she and the baby hit the floor. The bullets were fired from 200 yards away by F.B.I. sniper Lon Horiuchi with a high-powered rifle equipped with a 10-power telescopic sight.
No negotiators were in place. No effort was made to contact the Weavers until after the killings. Law-enforcement agents are legally permitted to shoot only when facing death or grievous harm. The eleven snipers positioned around the Weaver cabin had very different orders: "If any adult in the compound is observed with a weapon after the surrender announcement is made, deadly force can and should be employed." The orders continued "If any adult male is observed with a weapon prior to the announcement, deadly force can and should be employed if the shot can be taken without endangering the children."
Under these orders according to his testimony in court, sniper Horiuchi attempted to shoot Randy Weaver in the spine from 200 yards away. He hit Weaver in the back of the arm. His next shot killed Vicki. The government told news media that Vicki had been killed in "an exchange of fire" or in a "gun battle." At trial the government put on 56 witnesses. The defense rested without calling a single witness. The jury found Harris and the Weavers not guilty. According to their attorney, Gerry Spence, "This is a murder case, but the people who committed the murder have not been charged."
Such abuses are not new. In February 1982 the Senate Committee On The Judiciary -- Subcommittee On The Constitution, the same Committee that confirmed that the Second Amendment does indeed protect an individual rights to keep and bear arms -- concluded after extensive fact-finding that the B.A.T.F. "has disregarded rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States." The Committee concluded the B.A.T.F. regularly violated many individual rights: "It has trampled upon the second amendment by chilling exercise of the right to keep and bear arms by law-abiding citizens ... It has offended the fourth amendment by unreasonable searching and seizing private property ... It has ignored the Fifth Amendment by taking private property without just compensation and by entrapping honest citizens without regard for their right to due process of law." The Committee found the B.A.T.F. prosecuted dealers for technical violations of unpublished B.A.T.F. regulations (admitting there was no criminal intent), while at the same time going on record to the Senate and gun dealers that such behavior was "completely lawful", violating "the dictates of common sense, and of 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552, which is intended to prevent 'secret lawmaking' by administrative bodies."
The Committee concluded the B.A.T.F. conducted the vast majority of their prosecutions against "ordinary citizens who had neither criminal intent nor knowledge, but were enticed by agents into unknowing technical violations ... In one case, in fact, the individual was being prosecuted for an act which the Bureau's acting Director had stated was perfectly lawful." For these technical violations, the B.A.T.F. has "a practice of confiscating entire collection of potential defendants, at times including rare antiques and custom shotguns valued at $7,000, upon the ground that he intended to use them in violation of the law, and then refusing to return the collection even after being acquitted by a jury." The "B.A.T.F. conceded only 9.8% of their firearms arrests were brought on felons in illicit possession charges" and that "the percentage of gun prosecutions aimed at felons had in fact fallen by a third." Members of the Illinois Judiciary indicated they had been totally unable to persuade B.A.T.F. to accept cases against felons.
All these Senate Committee findings took place in 1982. As a result Congress passed, over the strenuous objections of Senator Howard Metzenbaum, victim disarmament advocate Sarah Brady, and Handgun Control, Inc., laws intended to curb these abuses. Members of the Branch Davidians, the Donald Carlson family, and the families of Accelynne Williams, Donald Scott, and Randy Weaver have good reason to doubt the effectiveness of the laws intended to protect their individual rights.
Abuse continues. On January 10, 1994 a coalition of nine civil rights organizations as diverse as the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Friends Service Committee, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the National Rifle Association asked President Clinton for a national commission to review "policies and practices of all federal law enforcement agencies" because of "widespread abuses of civil liberties and human rights."
There are many more examples, enough that a recent headline "When Masked, Armed Men Kick In Your Door -- They Could Be Government Agents" is not amusing. It's especially alarming when one reviews "Brady II," the proposed new gun laws from H.C.I. and the gun-control politicians that could make felons of 35-50 million otherwise law-abiding citizens, and give those same federal agencies even more power than they had in 1982.
This, combined with the current status of civil-forfeiture laws, gives government agencies more power to seize the property of totally innocent persons without compensation. There is a chilling account of abuses by the government of forfeiture laws against innocent people in the February 22, 1993 issue of _Insight_, "Property Seizures On Trial," (page 10). Because forfeiture is a civil remedy, "the guilt or innocence of the property owner is irrelevant," according to E. E. "Bo" Edwards, chairman of the forfeiture Abuse Task Force of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Are these abuses isolated incidents, or a trend to be concerned about? Consider the chilling research by Jews For The Preservation Of Firearms Ownership. Their most attention-getting logo is a drawing of Adolph Hitler in a Nazi salute, with a caption reading, "All In Favor Of 'Gun Control' Raise Your Right Hand." It may be a bit offensive -- by design -- but J.P.F.O. has documented that:
1. Conservatively, over 100-million unarmed civilians have been murdered by their governments in the 20th century alone. Virtually all these government genocides were preceded by gun registrations and gun bans which left the victims defenseless.
2. The 1968 Gun Control Act was modeled after the Nazi Weapons Act of March 18, 1938 by the late Senator Thomas Dodd. They have a lot of evidence on this. It is this law which gives the B.A.T.F. jurisdiction over firearms, and which made felonies of many technical violations committed by people with no criminal intent or knowledge of the violation.
3. The December 1993 top secret "5 Year Plan" of Handgun Control, Inc. to totally disarm the law-abiding in the U.S., very closely parallels the actual loss of freedoms in Nazi Germany that led to the Holocaust. H.C.I.'s plan includes public statements that they are not "anti-gun;" use of the Nazi "sporting purpose" distinction to divide-and-conquer and disarm the law-abiding; demonizing and banning of so-called "bad-guns" ("assault weapons, junk guns, cop-killer bullets, sniper rifles, " etc.); and increasing regulation, taxation, and registration of firearms for the purpose of "desensitizing Americans to gun regulation in preparation for ultimate confiscation."
4. Most telling from J.P.F.O. is an interview of Theodore Haas, survivor of the Holocaust and Dachau. It is a long interview, well worth reading in its entirety. According to Haas, "I see creeping fascism in America, just as in Germany, a drip at a time; a law here, a law there, all supposedly passed to protect the public ... The German people really believed that only hoodlums owned such (unregistered) guns. What fools we were! It truly frightens me to see how the government, media , and some police groups in America are pushing for the same mindset. Vote only for politicians who trust the people to own all types of firearms, and who have a strong pro-Second Amendment voting record."
Historically, we know that so-called "gun control" laws do not reduce crime. Scientific data and common sense show just the opposite is likely. George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Theodore Haas would agree.
One might also consider this, from Thomas Jefferson: "Men by their constitutions are naturally divided into two parties: One, those who fear and distrust the people ... and two, those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them as the most honest and safe ... depositary of the public interests." This illustrates one of the most fundamental values on which this country was founded, a belief that ultimate power should reside in the citizens, not the government.
James Madison, who penned the words of the second amendment, also wrote," Americans have the advantage of being armed that other nations lack, where the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms." He also expressed another traditional American value, a distrust of government's incremental taking of power, saying, "There are more instances of abridgment of freedoms of the people by gradual and silent encroachments ... than by violent and sudden usurpations."
The record is inarguably clear that "reasonable" gun-control plans for now are intended as a foundation for total gun bans in the future. Senator Metzenbaum admitted it. H.C.I.'s 5-year plan proves it.
The U.S. is the first country -- and possibly the last -- in the world to guarantee in a single written Constitution that no person shall be "deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law." The Founders were learned men. They believed without the G-d-given right of self-defense that other rights are ultimately meaningless. Even the leaders of the A.C.L.U., who rarely support the Second Amendment and right of Americans to defend themselves, concedes that gun bans will cause more harm to individual rights (government searches of homes, cars, and individuals without probable cause; loss of property without just compensation; loss of the right against self-incrimination, etc.) than any other measure being contemplated.
So-called "gun control" laws -- which limit the freedom of law-abiding citizens rather than punishing the misuse of guns by criminals -- threaten civil rights and the safety of everyone, including those who dislike and would never own guns. Such laws challenge the most basic American assumption concerning who is more trustworthy, the government or the people. The founders, and the courts for the first century of existence of the U.S., had no doubts.
To quote Samuel Adams, " ... the said Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress ... to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms ... "
Bob Heinritz is an honors graduate in management, economics, and law, and a member of the Bar of the states of Arizona, Illinois, and Missouri. He is a former trial lawyer, and now a business attorney and management consultant, specializing in strategic planning, productivity, business turnarounds, and preventive-law. This article, which first appeared in its original form in 1994, is even more urgent today.