“A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
—The Second Amendment
Like a recidivist criminal free to strike at will, the United States Congress slashed the Bill of Rights last year, tearing through the widely ignored Second Amendment. By itself, the narrow victory in the House of Representatives for the Feinstein/Schumer ban on certain guns and high-capacity magazines was disturbing enough to gunowners. But if the debate that preceded the vote is any indication of the quality of people we send to Congress, all Americans—not just those who own guns—are in serious trouble.
The legislation, sponsored by Representative Charles Schumer (D-NY), was H.R. 4296, a clone of Senator Diane Feinstein’s (D-CA) rights-stripping bill that passed the Senate in 1993. It was later merged into the infamous “Crime Bill.” Except for guns already possessed, the bill strips Americans of the right to own semiautomatic military look-a-likes that have detachable magazines and at least two of the following accessories; a folding stock, a pistol grip that “protrudes conspicuously,” a flash suppressor, a bayonet mount, and a grenade launcher.
Ultimately the ban applies to more than 180 weapons. The bill also bans semiautomatic military-style handguns like the MAC 10, as well as all gun magazines that have a capacity of more than ten rounds, except for attached .22 caliber tube magazines. By a curious logic that only lawyers and politicians could take seriously, the bill defines ten-plus magazines as “firearms.”
If you ever thought members of Congress were intelligent, thoughtful, honest men and women who take seriously their responsibility to fashion the laws that govern us, take a look at the Congressional Record transcript of the debate on the bill. It shows that many members of Congress simply did not know what they were talking about. Others—the smarter, cleverer ones—pursued their antigun agenda based on fear, bigotry, and intimidation. Steeped in antigun prejudice and a profound disrespect for America’s people and traditions, many were dishonest enough to lie and distort the facts just to get their way.
Much of the ignorance displayed was preposterous. One member. Representative Jack Reed (D-RI), after bragging about his experience with weapons he attained during service in the Army, cited “portability” as a feature that makes military look-a-likes especially pernicious. Representative Michael Andrews (D-TX) said the ban was needed because it targeted “high-velocity weapons” (whatever those are), and Representative Constance Morella (R-MD) condemned the banned guns because they “fire rapidly with ease”—an apparent attempt to contrast them with nonmilitary semiautomatics, which she evidently believes fire slowly with difficulty.
Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) suggested that because they “spray a large number of rounds,” the banned rifles and pistols were useless for duck hunting. “These weapons and large capacity clips have no legitimate civilian use, period. They are useless to hunters—five rounds fired into a duck will only make duck soup,” he said.
But congressmen who denounce semiautomatics for being more portable than other guns (which of course they are not), and who think rifles and pistols are used to shoot ducks, are the least of our troubles. Representative Herbert Klein (D-NJ) denounced the banned guns because they were allegedly designed for killing people in “close quarters,” while Representative Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) condemned the same weapons for their supposed “long-range capabilities.” Representative Barbara Kennelly (D-CT) believed banning the guns will improve the aim of warring drug gangs. According to her, the ban would “end the insanity of innocent bystanders being caught in the crossfire.” Another member who imputed magic to law was Representative David Skaggs (D-CO), who claimed that banning guns with the specified military accessories will diminish fear and crime. “[T]hese five features . . . sure help criminals looking to intimidate, wound or kill,” he said. (Apparently, people with hunting rifles are less intimidating.) Anxious to get rid of what he does not understand. Representative Don Johnson (D-GA) concocted a fearsome image of weapons that do not even exist. “People . . . cannot understand what legitimate purpose guns that fire 150 rounds without reloading can possibly have,” he said. The fact that none of the banned semiautomatic weapons has the capacity he described seems not to have mattered.
Comparisons of semiautomatic rifles with high-tech military equipment like antitank and antiaircraft hardware were the scare tactics of choice. Representative Edward Markey (D-MA) asserted outright that the banned.rifles and pistols were in the same class as bazookas, while Representative James Traficant (D-OH) supported the bill because “the Constitution never intended for individuals to strap a Stinger missile on their back and then cite Second Amendment privilege.” Representative Reed compared semiautomatic rifles to Claymore mines.
Never mind that the Second Amendment is about a right, not a privilege; never mind that the issue under debate was rifles and pistols, not Stinger missiles, bazookas, or mines. The enemies of the Constitution and their blundering followers were determined to get their way.
During the shredding party, some House members appeared confused about even their own beliefs. Georgia’s Representative Johnson told Congress he supported the ban “because, very simply, I believe that it will save lives. Let me be clear, I do not think it will reduce crime in America. . . . What this bill does is to reduce the number of victims of violent crime.” Perhaps Mr. Johnson knows what he meant, but no one else does.
In the same nonsensical vein, Representative Tim Penny (D-MN) confessed that the bill will have no effect on crimes involving guns. He then boldly proposed gutting the Bill of Rights by stripping Americans of their rights, all in order to send “a message.” To whom this strange “message” should be delivered. Penny did not say. Here are his exact words:
Will this bill make an appreciable difference in the incidence of gun crimes in America? Probably not. On the other hand, do the provisions of this bill represent a hardship for legitimate gun owners? Most certainly not. . . . This bill is not a solution to the bloody crime culture . . . and it may be true that this vote today is largely symbolic. But symbols can carry a message. I think the message is that any right carried to an extreme can create problems.
To Penny, stripping the Constitution is a message Congress should send, even though the legislation will achieve no beneficial effect.
Representative Marge Roukema (R-NJ) was so confused that she called for legislation to regulate which weapons murderers should use to kill people: “In our country, extensive state laws presently regulate the weapons hunters and sportsmen use for shooting deer, but we are afraid to give the same protection to human beings.” Would shorter seasons be in order, perhaps?
Another rights-stripper who revealed that the subject was over his head is Representative William Hughes (D-NJ). He argued that since government is helpless against crime, banning guns makes sense. In his words, “this issue is about common sense. It is not about eliminating crime because there is nothing we can do to eliminate crime.”
Hughes then lectured his colleagues on wound ballistics, a more technical subject on which he perhaps fancies himself something of an expert: “[Y]ou can survive a shot from a .38, but if you’re hit with five rounds from a military-type assault weapon, the chances of your survival are minimal,” he said. The trouble is, virtually every .38 holds five or six shots, not one; and five shots from a .38 can be far more devastating than shots from a smaller caliber semiautomatic rifle of the sort under discussion, because the latter shoots military full-metal jacket ammo designed not to expand. Besides bullet penetration, lethality depends mostly on where the bullet strikes and the size of the wound, not on where the bullet comes from. A victim’s prognosis does not depend on a gun’s styling.
Spicing the debate with unintentional comedy. Representative Gilchrest, a Vietnam War veteran, implied the opposite of his intended meaning when he said: “I took a bullet from an AK-47; I can attest to their deadliness.”
One member reasoned that because banning assault rifles did not work in the District of Columbia, the ban should be extended elsewhere. Representative Eleanor Norton of Washington, D.C., said, “your nation’s capital bans all guns. We nevertheless are drowning in assault weapons. Only a national ban . . . can stop the carnage.” The only problem with Representative Norton’s argument is the fact that of the 3,200 homicides committed between 1985 and 1993 in her city, none was committed by a rifle of any kind, according to D.C. police. But facts are irrelevant. For her, mere ownership of these guns by the law-abiding causes death among the young. “[C]hildren are being killed by the existence of these weapons,” she claimed.
In a spectacularly goofy moment not rare in congressional debate. Democratic Representative Butler Derrick of South Carolina’s embarrassed third district went so far as to predict doom for the republic if the ban did not pass: “Mr. Chairman, if this bill fails today, we are no longer a democracy.” So certain was he that the country could not endure another day with the Second Amendment intact, he said it again seconds later: “Mr. Speaker, if this bill does not pass, we are no longer a free nation.”
Representative Johnson, who thought the ban would protect people from crime while failing to reduce crime, dreamed up a ghoulish image: “I leave with this question: If a madman walks into a fast food restaurant where your wife and children are eating, would you rather he have a six-shooter or a weapon that can wipe out every person in the building? That’s what this bill is about.”
The obvious reply to this nonsense (and that is what it is, for any madman can have two six-shooters, or multiple lO-round magazines) is this: If a madman walks into a fast-food restaurant intent on shooting everyone, would you rather that the patrons be armed or unarmed? Or how about this: If, in the middle of a riot, the police abandon you and your family to face a murderous mob of several hundred people, would you feel safer with a small six-shooter or a semiautomatic with a 30-round magazine?
Not all of the ignorance was silly; some of it was pathetic. As if the Second Amendment were about the right to some kind of amusement, Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) claimed that “none [of the banned guns] are used for hunting or other sporting purposes,” a claim made by several others, including Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY) who said flatly that the banned guns “are not used . . . for target shooting.” That will no doubt come as news to the hundreds of thousands of gun owners who show up at target ranges every day with shooting-match models of AR-15’S and M1-A’s. But just to keep all the bases covered, Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) went further, implying no one should use them for target shooting: “[T]he weapons which we are attempting to ban are designed for military purposes and have no place in sport or recreational use.”
In general, the haters of gun sports seemed unable to decide whether the guns were used for target shooting. Typical were the comments of Representative Michael Castle (R-DE), who simply dismissed the subject because it was something he had not personally noticed: “Well, we hear they are used in target practice. I do not know of a lot of target practice, frankly, in which these are used.” Since he does not know anyone who uses these guns for target shooting, why should he care if they are banned?
Despite its extent, this Grand Canyon of ignorance was easily overshadowed by the dark clouds of lies and deception generated by the rights-stripping forces. The biggest lie, repeated ad nauseam, was that these guns are in general use by the military. Remarks by Representative Thomas Andrews (D-ME) were typical. He said the issue before Congress was “a vote to ban from our streets military assault weapons that were designed to kill on-rushing enemy troops in close combat. killing machines designed to kill large numbers of people in very short periods of time.” But no military on the face of the globe undertakes an assault by troops armed with semiautomatic weapons. As every weapons manufacturer knows, these semiautomatic sporting versions, unlike the full-auto military weapons, were designed under the ever-watchful eyes of the BATE, not for the military but for the consumer shooting sports market.
Mr. Andrews and his pals simply lied.
Representative Schumer, the mastermind behind the gun ban in the House, confidently leaped beyond credibility with his claim that semiautomatics have no lawful uses: “[L]et us not fool anybody, we know that these guns are not used for hunting, we know that these guns are not used for self-defense, and we know in only very limited cases are they used for target shooting.” Korean shopowners in Los Angeles know full well how useful they are for self-defense, as does anyone who saw these besieged people on television brandishing AR-15’s during riots when the government’s well-armed police abandoned the taxpayers to looting, murdering mobs. It is questionable, to say the least, for policymakers or anyone else to suggest that manual-loading hunting rifles are somehow appropriate for self-defense and target shooting, but that semiautomatics are not.
The lie that semiautomatic rifles with largely cosmetic military accessories have no “legitimate” use was a recurring theme, accompanied by insults to gun owners. Typical was the slur voiced by Representative John Porter (R-IL), who described Americans who own any of the banned weapons as felons plotting their next crime: “These are weapons with no hunting, sporting, or other legitimate purposes and for which there is no reason for anyone to own except to aid in the commission of a crime.”
Fanning hatred by depicting gun owners as thugs was an important tactic to lure support from undecided members ignorant about guns. Representative Klein, for example, invented his own statistic to legitimize his bigotry. “Ninety percent of these weapons are in the hands of criminals,” he claimed. His “statistic” is a pure fabrication that even the most rabid antigun bigots do not claim.
Many members of Congress preferred direct attacks on gun owners and their advocates. Representative Derrick, for example, smeared gun owners as well as his own colleagues as the pawns of spidery gun manufacturers: “This debate is not being controlled by our constituents, it is not being controlled by the 80 percent out there [who support the ban]. It is being controlled by a minority here . . . that are again controlled by gun dealers and gun manufacturers primarily.” Since the leadership on both sides agreed to provide one hour for each side to present arguments. Derrick’s tantrum about who “controlled” the debate made no sense. Its only purpose was to smear sportsmen with outdated Marxist imagery about 19th-century arms barons.
Others in Congress, as if in some schoolyard shouting match, smeared the National Rifle Association with juvenile epithets. Representative Cardiss Collins (D-IL) called NRA members “John Wayne wannabes,” adding, “nobody really agrees with their views because Americans know that the NRA stands for Not Really Aware, or in Need of a Reality Adjustment. They must be stopped.” “We are tired of their manly mantras,” said Representative Norton. “Let’s stand up to the NRA,” echoed Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY). Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) claimed, “The ‘R’ in NRA no longer stands for ‘Rifle.’ I say it stands for ‘Reprehensible.'” With a viciousness toward the citizenry rarely exhibited by public officials, Maloney charged the NRA with endorsing the murder of schoolchildren: “[T]he NRA argument [is] that the Second Amendment should allow some screwball with a ‘streetsweeper’ to blow away whole playgrounds full of [children].”
After smearing gun owners and the NRA, the rights-strippers lied about the bill itself, falsely moderating the extent of the ban in another attempt to sway fence-sitting congressmen. Although the bill outlaws all ten-plus magazines and roughly 180 guns, only 19 of which are named by the bill, here is how the supporters depicted the legislation:
Representative Morella: “It bans only 19 assault weapons . . . ”
Representative Gilchrest: This is “a bill to ban the manufacture and sale of 19 specific types of assault weapons . . . “
Representative Cynthia McKinney (D-GA): The bill is a “ban of 19 specific guns . . . “
Representative Lowey: “[T]hese 19 specific weapons are used disproportionately in crime . . . “
Representative Hughes: “It will eliminate 19 weapons, not as many as has been suggested . . . “
Representative Penny: “Today’s measure is tighter and more defensible, listing 19 specific weapons . . . “
Representative Eric Fingerhut (D-OH): The bill “will ban the manufacture and possession of 19 semiautomatic assault weapons . . . “
The list goes on and on. At least a dozen more congressmen made the same false claim. Not only did they lie about the effect of the legislation, they failed to tell the truth about use of the banned guns in crimes. After “assault weapons” showed up more frequently among BATF gun traces requested by police agencies, antigun advocates distorted the reality that gun traces represent in order to bludgeon the Second Amendment. I’he Congressional Research Service (CRS), an arm of Congress, quoted BATF itself in a report: “BATF does not always know if a firearm being traced has been used in a crime . . . sometimes a firearm is traced simply to determine the rightful owner after it is found by a law enforcement agency.” CRS added, “firearms selected for tracing do not constitute a random sample [of guns used in crime] and cannot be considered representative of the larger universe of all firearms used by criminals or any subset of that universe.” CRS reminded Congress that BATF “noted it is not possible to determine if traced firearms are related to criminal activity.” (Emphases added.) BATF itself cautioned, “concluding that assault weapons are used in I of 10 firearms-related crimes is tenuous at best since our traces . . . may not be truly representative of all crimes.”
All this information was delivered to Congress long before the debate on the gun ban. Now take a look at how BATF gun traces were described by the men and women who have been elected with the public trust to make our laws:
Representative Derrick: “From 1990 to 1993, the percent of firearms traced [lay BATF] that were assault weapons rose from 5.9 to 8.1 percent. Since studies show that assault weapons make up only one percent of the firearms in circulation, assault weapons are in proportion used more often to commit crimes.”
Representative Slaughter: “[W]hen a firearm is used for crime, it is 19 times more likely to be an assault weapon than some other type of gun.”
Representative Timothy Roemer (D-IN): “[T]his one percent is used for over eight percent of criminal activity.”
Representative Klein: “Although they are only one percent of all guns, they account for nearly ten percent of violent crimes.”
Representative Morella: “After all, although semiautomatic assault weapons are less than one percent of this nation’s privately owned guns, they accounted for 8.4 percent of all violence traced to crime from 1988 to 1991.”
Representative John Conyers (D-MI): “An assault weapon is 20 times more likely to be used in crime . . . “
Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT): “Assault weapons comprise less than one percent of the guns in circulation . . . yet they account for eight percent of the guns traced in the investigation of criminal activity.”
Representative Lowey: “The ATF has compiled tracing data that shows that these 19 specific weapons are used disproportionately in violent crimes.” Representative Vic Fazio (D-CA): “[T]he ATF reports in 1989, assault weapons made up ten percent of guns traced in crimes.”
Representative Schumer: “[T]hey are one percent of the weapons with eight percent of the killing.”
Representative Skaggs: “Assault weapons . . . account for somewhere between .5 and one percent of all guns . . . but they’re 10 to 20 times more likely to be involved in a crime.”
The truth is that less than four percent of all homicides in the United States are committed with rifles of any type and less than one percent of homicides involve rifles of a military caliber, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports for 1990. By contrast, fists and feet are used to kill five percent of victims, and knives account for 14.5 percent of murder weapons.
Although this information is widely available, and indeed was made available to Congress, the bill passed the Mouse on May 5, 1994, by a vote of 216 to 214, ensuring its consideration by a conference committee on the so-called “Crime Bill.”
The House debate and passage of the bill painfully confirm what many Americans already suspect about their elected representatives—namely, that these men and women, despite their carefully crafted media images, make decisions on laws that affect the lives of millions of people based less on careful, honest reasoning than on blind prejudice and mendacity. If, through stupidity, lies, ignorance, and hate, Congress can strip gun owners of rights explicitly protected by the Second Amendment, the rights of all Americans are in jeopardy.
For gun owners, the worst may be yet to come. During the debate. Representative Sidney Yates (D-IL) summarized the views of many of his colleagues and other public officials when he claimed, “Nowhere in the basic document of the United States is there a Constitutional right, written or implied, giving an individual a separate right to bear arms.”
No one rose to refute him.
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