Jews, Republicans and Guns:

What is the Problem?

by Aaron Zelman © 2005



Second-Amendment advocates often ask me in frustration, why Jews don't vote Republican. And it's true; the "Jewish vote" belongs so solidly to the Democrats that the two parties don't even fight over it, as they fight for other minority votes.

When I hear this question, I can only shrug and answer: "Why should Jews vote Republican?"

When commentators analyze Jewish voting patterns, they usually point out that most Jews live in urban (and therefore Democrat) areas. Or they note that most American Jews are the descendants of Eastern European immigrants who brought socialistic traditions with them to this country. But there's another reason – a better reason, really – for the widespread refusal of my fellow Jews to put their check mark or touch that voting screen next to an R-candidate's name: Justice.

Jews have always been "the people of the book," the makers of law. From time immemorial, Jewish scholars have pondered questions of right and wrong, fairness and unfairness, truth and untruth. Even though you (and I) might disagree with many political positions my fellow Jews arrive at, the pursuit of law and justice have dominated Jewish culture since biblical days.

Recently, the two major American parties have moved closer together in their policies (if not in their rhetoric). In a pair of role switches, for example, Bill Clinton, a Democrat, presided over a very corporation-friendly administration, while George W. Bush, a Republican, is expanding social-service spending at a rate Clinton never dreamed of.

Since most Jews believe that justice implies providing more government services for the poor, the working class, and seniors, you'd think they might gradually shift loyalties to the Rs.

But there is precious little justice offered by today's Republican party. For most Jews, switching parties would entail nothing more than giving up the devil riding on the back of an ass for the devil riding on the back of an elephant.

Worse, the Republicans have also proved to be a devil that will stab its best friends in the back.

Let me give you some examples of injustice conducted under the reign of the Republicans. I'm taking these examples from the realm of gun ownership and Second-Amendment rights. Admittedly too many of my fellow Jews don't care anything about the rights of gun owners.

Nevertheless, it's logical for anyone concerned with justice to ask: "If this is how the Republican treat their friends, then how just and fair will they be to people about whom they care even less?"

Case in point: John Glover. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) decided to go after this innocent competition shooter, who had been assembling legal semi-automatic rifles from kits. BATFE agent Michael Cooney set out to "prove" that a malfunctioning rifle, built from old and defective parts, was an "illegal machine gun." Without even bothering to take the rifle apart to examine it, the BATFE got charges brought against Glover and cost him thousands of dollars in legal fees (and his sense of personal security) before being stopped. The current Republican administration made no effort to halt the injustice; that was done by a courageous gun-maker, Len Savage, and Glover's attorney, H.M. Whitesides, Jr. of Charlotte, NC, who caught the BATFE misdeeds on film. (See below.)

Case in point: Danny Peterson. Peterson, a federally licensed firearms dealer, had never had a single brush with the law until he set up a table at a Las Vegas gun show in January 2004. BATFE agents roaming the aisles that weekend decided Danny was their target – even though he had done nothing illegal and repeatedly refused to do anything illegal when they tried to get him too. BATFE agents were caught lying in court and Danny was found not-guilty – but only after spending a year of his life and thousands of dollars to defend himself against these predators.

The "firearm-friendly" Bush administration had been in power for three years by the time the BATFE descended on Peterson. BATFE entrapment and other abuses had been denounced by Congress more than 20 years earlier. But did anyone from the administration take a single step to curb the BATFE's injustice? No.

At this point, some readers will be defending the Republicans by saying that the administration can hardly be held responsible for the actions of a bureaucratic agency that "went rogue" decades ago. Nonsense. A "firearm friendly" leader could have halted the BATFE's worst work with a single executive order. (Giving directions to federal agencies on how to conduct themselves is one of the few valid uses of such orders.) But the Bush administration did the exact opposite ... which brings us to our next case.

Case in point: Project Safe Neighborhoods. Republican politicians postured and protested when the Clinton administration passed restrictive gun laws. Then George W. Bush and his first attorney general, John Ashcroft, came into office – and one of the first things they did was to create a program designed to place 700 state and federal prosecutors in jobs where their major responsibility would be to prosecute "gun crimes." Not crimes of violence, please note, but merely "gun crimes" -- including petty, technical violation of the Clinton-era laws they'd pretended to hate just a few years earlier. These Republican-established witch-hunters need the BATFE to feed them fresh victims. And the cases I outline here are, unfortunately, not unusual. These hundreds of prosecutors could make much better use of their time by going after government agents who abuse their powers, entrap innocents, and lie in court. But that's not what the Republicans want them to do.

Next case: Ulrich Weigand and Inter Ordnance of America. Weigand came to the U.S. from Germany seeking greater freedom. Instead, he ended up having to spend more than $1,000,000 in legal fees to fight BATFE's typically selective, nonsensical prosecution. His is an all-too-typical story: arbitrary seizure of legal, properly permitted firearms worth $1.5 million; false statements by agents; refusal to return legal property ... yet another attempt to destroy a firearms dealer by committing an Economic Waco against him and his employees. And so far, the BATFE is succeeding. Weigand has made a direct plea for help to the White House (see below). But is anybody listening? It seems not.

Case in point: Len Savage. I mentioned above that a gun maker, Len Savage of Historic Arms, LLC was instrumental in saving John Glover from the crushing jaws of the BATFE. He's one of the few people in the firearms manufacturing industry who retains the courage to stand up to the BATFE when he knows it's in the wrong. On January 3, 2005, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership sent out an alert that mentioned Len Savage's heroic role in the Glover case. On January 5 – fulfilling a threat the BATFE had made earlier – Sterling Nixon, chief of the BATFE's Technical Branch – send a memo declaring Len's latest semi-automatic rifle to be an "illegal machine gun" -- even though the very same letter admits that the rifle is semi-automatic, and even though functionally identical guns received BATFE scrutiny.

At that moment, things looked very bad for Len Savage. Economic ruin? Arrest? With the BATFE, that's often the next step. But in Len's case, something very interesting happened: Len Savage kept fighting back. Not merely defending himself, but fighting aggressively to expose even more BATFE abuses (which should come to light soon). And the BATFE backed off. Len's property was properly reclassified as a semi-automatic firearm and shipped back to him.

But did the Bush administration help any of these people? Did the Justice Department investigate? Not one bit. And what about Congress? For years, we've heard the Republicans say that they're limited in what they can accomplish because they don't control both the White House and Congress. Well, now they do – and they hold Congress by a strong margin.

So what's stopping them from halting the abuse of gun owners?

Where are the repeals of those unjust gun laws? Only one, the so-called "assault-weapons" ban, was allowed to sunset, over George W. Bush's objections. Where are the attempts to curb or disband the rogue BATFE? Where are the laws cutting back federal power over us all?

Nowhere. Gun owners are as vulnerable to federal abuse as ever – more than ever, under Project Safe Neighborhoods. As they have for decades, U.S. gun owners don't live under the rule of law. Instead we continue to live under lex talionis – the law of retaliation and revenge.

If this is what passes for "justice" under Republican rule ... if this is the "fairness" Republicans offer some of their best friends and most dedicated supporters, then what kind of "justice" can others expect?

And these abuses of gun owners are just one part of a whopping, punitive Big Brother package the Republicans have been laying upon us all. They've advocated and perpetrated torture. They've turned constitutional protections into a joke by holding people in detention without charges or trial. They've increased social welfare spending at about three times the rate the Clinton administration did. They've initiated and passed new laws to encourage federal snooping into everything from our bank accounts to our reading habits. They're pushing as hard as they can for biometric national ID (while making it look only like federally enforced "improvements" in drivers licenses). The Bush administration has also called for a substantial budget increase to boost IRS enforcement. That's a strange request from a president who talks about tax reform.

What the Republicans are doing, or allowing to be done, to gun owners is just part of one enormous, and very, very ugly, police state package.

No, it's sadly true that too many Jews don't care about the rights of gun owners. Perhaps many of my fellow Jews even think that Len Savage, Danny Peterson, Ulrich Weigand, and John Glover deserve even worse than they're getting. But once again, if even the most liberal Jew were to look at this situation he might ask himself, "If this is how they treat their friends and supporters, then how will they treat me? Or the poor? Or blacks? Or any other group?"

I can't speak for anyone else, but for myself I can say if this is how the Republicans perceive "justice," then I can't blame my fellow Jews for recoiling in horror – all the way to the voting booth.

Additional resources:

"BATFE Fails the Test" -- documentary video showing attempted frame-up of John Glover
Media coverage of Danny Peterson's entrapment -- (news article)   (editorial)
Ulrich Weigand's unanswered letter to President George W. Bush
Len Savage and the BATFE


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