Skip to comments.Conservative values collide in feud over firearms bill
Posted on 06/11/2002 8:31:35 AM PDT by Sir Gawain
Washington - Amid the clamor for homeland security, here's a plan that sounds like a political cinch: Let off-duty and retired police officers carry their firearms anywhere in the country, giving antsy Americans a new, no-cost layer of protection.
A bipartisan House majority likes the idea. So do scores of law enforcement groups.
Yet it's going nowhere, thanks to one rather important opponent.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., a Republican from Menomonee Falls, not only objects to the measure, he won't take it up. He says his main beef has to do with states' rights, since the bill would override laws in the handful of states - including Wisconsin - that prohibit concealed weapons.
The result is an odd political tiff between Sensenbrenner and another conservative Republican who drafted the bill, Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California. In interviews last week, Cunningham called Sensenbrenner "vindictive" and said his objections were "donkey manure." Sensenbrenner called Cunningham a "real pest" who "says all kinds of bad things about me."
But the standoff also shows how one conservative value (maintaining law and order) can sometimes collide with another (limiting federal power over the states), even in the security-minded climate spawned by Sept. 11.
In another recent example, two prominent conservative activists complained to President Bush on May 31 about a plan under review by the Justice Department to empower local police officers to enforce immigration violations - a federal function.
"This to me was a remarkable change in the way local police and national police would be related, in a sense nationalizing (local officers), making them agents of the federal government," said David Keene, head of the American Conservative Union, a conservative lobbying organization.
While local police can enforce federal criminal offenses, Keene argued that using them to enforce federal civil violations would set an alarming precedent.
In the case of Cunningham's bill, Sensenbrenner is invoking federalism in a different way. Cunningham wants to exempt off-duty and retired police officers from state bans on carrying concealed handguns. Because the measure would supersede his own state's concealed weapons ban, Sensenbrenner says it "makes a decision that should properly be made by the Wisconsin Legislature." He notes that an effort to overturn that ban failed in the state Senate in March.
Cunningham claims the support of more than 80 national law enforcement groups. Some groups say they're surprised by Sensenbrenner's refusal even to hold a hearing, since the lawmaker is generally viewed as an ally.
The bill's supporters say off-duty police officers face a patchwork of state laws when they travel outside their own jurisdictions; some states allow them to carry firearms, others require them to seek permits, others simply prohibit them from carrying. Under the measure, retired officers would have to keep up their gun training to carry firearms.
"It's been a burning issue," according to Bradley DeBraska, president of the Milwaukee Police Association, who says off-duty officers worry about retaliation from criminals they've arrested. "We basically have 50 different state laws that regulate police officers and concealment when we cross state lines, and we simply don't know them all. We don't have a clue."
He said officers inevitably run afoul of state laws on vacation, whether they know it or not. DeBraska argues that local police should enjoy the same exemption from concealed weapon bans that federal agents do.
Cunningham first offered the measure years ago, saying it would protect officers from retaliation and help prevent crime. But since Sept. 11, he has added homeland security as a rationale and gained 73 new supporters on Capitol Hill.
"This fits right in with the president's homeland defense by putting more law enforcement agents on the street at no cost," Cunningham said.
There are now 264 House co-sponsors, including Wisconsin Democrat Jerry Kleczka and Republicans Paul Ryan, Mark Green and Tom Petri. Backers come from both parties and both ends of the political spectrum. A companion bill was introduced on May 8 by Sensenbrenner's counterpart in the Senate, Judiciary Chair Pat Leahy (D-Vt.).
Stymied in the House, Cunningham has resorted to a longshot guerrilla tactic, seeking the signatures of a majority of House members to force a vote against Sensenbrenner's wishes. Rarely do lawmakers seek such a discharge petition against a committee chair in their own party. So far, 42 lawmakers have signed, but Cunningham claims that Sensenbrenner has pressured his own committee members not to.
Republican committee member Chris Cannon of Utah signed the petition but later withdrew his name. Asked why, Cannon issued a statement Friday saying he took his name off after "conversations with Chairman Sensenbrenner about his and the committee's plans to protect the rights of gun owners." He added that Sensenbrenner is "great to work with," does "very thoughtful work" and is "a constant champion of constitutional rights."
Besides the conflict with state law - the Wisconsin statute does not exempt retired officers from the ban on concealed handguns - Sensenbrenner contends that the bill also poses a safety problem. He says an officer on duty might encounter a retired police officer with a gun with no way of knowing the armed man's identity.
"If I were a Wisconsin police officer, I wouldn't want to have somebody I was suspecting of carrying a gun fumbling around in his pockets (for an ID)," Sensenbrenner said.
Advocates for the proposal scoff at the states' rights objection.
"The federal government has been extensively involved in firearms issues. It has told the states who can sell a gun, who can buy a gun, what guns can be sold . . . . It's not as if this is some first and amazing precedent," said Kevin Watson of the Law Enforcement Alliance of America, a pro-gun group that is pushing the bill.
"It's just Sensenbrenner being Sensenbrenner," said Cunningham, who points to the Judiciary chairman's support years ago for the Brady Bill. "I think he supports gun control."
"One man's keeping it from coming to the floor," Cunningham said. "If he's a man, let him at least let it come to the floor for a vote."
Can't have the cops obeying the same laws as the peons have to. Might interfere with their protected class status.
So more is better?
We can only wonder what 9/11 would have been like if the Federal government had not been so "proactive" with firearms restrictions to begin with.
Realize that you are not special, and join the club. What a self-important jerk.
Um, you suspect everybody of carrying until you know otherwise. Here the antigunners are once again conjuring phantoms when real fears aren't enough - kind of reminds me of the same folks in Great Britain on a similar issue - we don't want to arm officers because bad guys might react the wrong way and be more armed themselves. What's wrong with this picture?
So, "shall not be infringed" only applies to the federal government, but not states? Please clear me up on this.
But notice that the other representative is not questioning that assertion. He is only saying that cops should be above the law that everyone else is subject to.
"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms
disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man."
Thomas Jefferson quoting Cesare Beccaria in On Crimes and punishment - (1764).
"Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are ruined."
Patrick Henry during Virginia's Convention to Ratify the Constitution (1788)
"...if circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist."
"If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin."
Samuel Adams (1780)
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."
"I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials."
George Mason, 3 Eliot, Debates at 425-426.
"And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the right of resistance? Let them take arms...The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."
"Arms in the hands of individual citizens may be used at individual discretion in private self-defense."
John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787-1788).
"A militia when properly formed are in fact the people themselves and include all men capable of bearing arms To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms . . . "
Richard Henry Lee, Additional Letters From the Federal Farmer 53 (1788).
"I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them."
George Mason, during Virginia's Convention to Ratify the Constitution (1788)
"The said Constitution be never construed to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms."
Samuel Adams, during Massachusetts's Convention to Ratify the Constitution (1788).
"Are we at last brought to such a humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our own defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in our own possession and under our own direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?"
'To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them . . . . The mind that aims at a select militia [note: like the National Guard], must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle.'
Richard Henry Lee, Letters from the Federal Farmer to the Republican, ed. Walter Hartwell Bennett
"If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no recourse left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense...." Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers No.28
"Who are the militia? are they not ourselves?...Congress has no power to disarm the militia....Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth right of an American. The unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people."
Tench Coxe, Pennsylvania Gazette February 20, 1788
"The constitution ought to secure a genuine militia and guard against a select militia. .... all regulations tending to render this general militia useless and defenseless, by establishing select corps of militia, or distinct bodies of military men, not having permanent interests and attachments to the community ought to be avoided."
Richard Henry Lee
"Whereas civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as military forces, which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms."
Tench Coxe in Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution
"The Constitution preserves "the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation. . .(where) the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms."
James Madison of Virginia, The Federalist, No. 46
"The defense of one's self, justly called the primary law of nature, is not, nor can it be abrogated by any regulation of municipal law."
James Wilson, The Works of James Wilson 335 (J.D. Andrews ed. 1896).
"Resistance to sudden violence, for the preservation not only of my person, my limbs, and life, but of my property, is an indisputable right of nature which I have never surrendered to the public by the compact of society, and which perhaps, I could not surrender if I would."
John Adams, Boston Gazette, Sept. 5, 1763,reprinted in The Works of John Adams 438 (Charles F. Adams ed., 1851).
"What plan for the regulation of the militia may be pursued by the national government is impossible to be foreseen...The project of disciplining all the militia of the United States is as futile as it would be injurious if it were capable of being carried into execution... Little more can reasonably be aimed at with the respect to the people at large than to have them properly armed and equipped ; and in order to see that this be not neglected, it will be necessary to assemble them once or twice in the course of a year."
Alexander Hamilton The Federalist Papers, No. 29.
Nor do any other natural rights! That's what makes them natural rights. Natural rights, are for all Americans, however, not just the protected cop class.
What has bothered me for years is that a private citizen cannot possibly know the state and Federal gun laws covering him. Call up a local lawyer and ask him a firearm related question. New York State is doubly great because what is legal in the state is not legal in New York City. How is that for jurisprudence BS?
What is the solution? This country already solved it for the drivers license years ago. Retroprocity. A license in one state is valid in another state. States rights does not enter into the question at all.
Federal guidelines have been used in many instances to make the states comply. Do the same things with firearms.
Recall that the US Constitition does not give us rights. The right of self defense is God given. What the Constitution does is to limet the power of the Federal government. IMHO.
Keep your powder dry and readily at hand. We are going to need it.
How about we let citizens in good standing carry their firearms anywhere in the country, giving antsy Americans a new, no-cost layer of protection. Oh, we can't do that!