Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Education Begins at Home

"My position for many years has been that just as a motorist must have a license, a gun owner should be required to have one as well. Anyone wanting to own a gun should have to pass a written exam that shows that they know how to use a gun, that they’re intelligent enough and responsible enough to handle a gun. Should both handgun and rifle owners be licensed...we’re talking about all dangerous weapons."

-REPUBLICAN Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, as quoted in the Boston Globe, declaring you should have to pass a written exam before you can exercise your Constitutional rights. (Didn't we used to do that with voting, too?)
The Gun Owners Caucus of the Democratic Party of Oregon has several overlapping objectives concerning education. To be most effective, our education efforts need to occur both outside and inside the Democratic Party.

Outside the party our goals are two-fold:
  1. "Win over" and "win back" people who have stayed outside of the Democratic Party because they don't think the Democrats support the Second Amendment
  2. Give back choice to voters who would never register as Democrats by convincing them to take a close look at individual Democratic candidates who may have more in common with them (a rural background, healthy 2nd Amendment support, fiscal sanity) than they may have realized.
From a gun owners' rights position, both of these goals should be attainable because Democratic support for the Second Amendment is clearly more of a regional issue than a national issue. I'd much rather trust my civil rights to own and bear arms to any number of southern or western Democrats than I would trust it to Republicans like Rudy Guiliani (NY), George Pataki (NY), George Deukmejian (CA), or especially presidential hopeful Mitt Romney (MA). So sure, Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Ted Kennedy are outspoken in favoring abrogations of the 2nd Amendment, but where are they from? The same states of some of the anti-2nd Amendment Republicans just listed. Given that Republicans and Democrats from the same states tend to be weak on 2nd Amendment protections, one has to assume they are representing the wishes of their local constituents and not a national party consensus.

All I can say to Republicans, Independents, or minor party candidates is--don't assume the "D" on the ticket means anti-gun or that the "R" means pro-Seocond Amendment. It tain't necessarily so. Learn what the CANDIDATE says and stands for (good advice in all cases.) Chances are that in many regions (like Oregon's 2nd Congressional district for instance) the Democrat is as much if not more of a supporter of the Second Amendment than the other candidates.

Inside the party, we also have two primary goals:
  1. Educate non-gun owners about firearms
  2. Educate non-gun owners--including elected Democrats charged with setting public policy--of the benefits of living in an armed society
People fear the unknown. If you don't know anything about guns, then guns are scary. Some weapons are intentionally designed to LOOK scary, so why wouldn't the uninformed judge a book by its cover? When you don't know the difference, you may not realize that automatic weapons have been banned for 70+ years or that any high-powered hunting rifle capable of taking down an elk or bison is also going to go right through most body-armor.

Dan G.'s earlier post urging gun owners to take their non-owning friends out for a shooting experience is a good place to start in this education. And open-minded people should be and probably will be willing to go--honest people recognize their own ignorance, and generally look for education when it's offered. Let's face it, if you've gone your whole life without being around firearms, making the decision to own one or even to respect the rights of those who do may require a sea-change in one's self-image and your view of your place in a civil society. It all starts with realizing that a gun is a tool that serves its master like any other.

Which brings us to the crux of the matter with education--educating people about the benefits of living in an armed society. Aside from the political benefits of an armed society, there are tangible benefits from living in an armed society that gun owners need to make sure non-owners understand. To list one example, the presence of guns in America makes the incidence of home invasions or robberies of occupied homes relatively rare. In supposedly peaceful (read: low gun violence) societies like the U.K. or Holland, the rate of at-home burglaries is about 50%. People who are at home when burglars strike--especially when the victims don't have weapons--are very likely to be assaulted. Guns being in the hands of the public turn at-home burglaries into a game of literal Russian roulette for would-be burglars because they have no way of knowing which home owners are armed and which are not. Consequentially, they don't happen very often because burglars fear being shot. So the non-owners get a free ride--lower at-home burglary rates--as a result of guns they don't even own. Of course, for this formula to work, burglars need to know that at least some portion of the public will have guns "at the ready," that is, in the bedside table and not locked in a safe. Let non-gun owners know about things like this which they may not have considered.

This is only the first of many examples of how guns, rather than causing violence, actually have a profound effect on the dynamics of crime and public safety (not to mention politics) in this country. And it's only one of many conversations gun owners need to have in their efforts to win the hearts and minds of their political detractors.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Gun Owners Caucus on BlueOregon.com

A guest column I wrote about the Gun Owners Caucus of the DPO for BlueOregon.com, one of the leading liberal blog forums in Oregon has generated a wide range of feedback worth looking at. Here's the link: http://www.blueoregon.com/2006/09/democrats_and_t.html

The most gratifying result of all the feedback was that in the first two days and 30+ comments from people with views from across the political spectrum, not one commentator challenged my assertions that: "The Bush administration daily violates the 1st, 4th, and 5th amendments (unless you consider confessions under torture not to be self-incrimination). Tom Delay's cronies continue to violate the 13th amendment in the U.S. Mariannas."

I think the silence about THAT speaks volumes about our current political crisis.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Confessions of a Former Gun Grabber

"Certainly one of the chief guarantees of freedom under any government, no matter how popular and respected, is the right of citizens to keep and bear arms. This is not to say that firearms should not be very carefully used, and that definite safety rules of precaution should not be taught and enforced. But the right of citizens to keep and bear arms is just one more guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard against a tyranny which now appears remote in America, but which historically has proved to be always possible."
That was Hubert H. Humphrey, liberal icon and failed Democratic presidential candidate in a 1960 interview with Guns magazine. I wasn't born when he uttered those lines which is appropriate; they belong to an age before mine, when guns weren't a wedge issue and the Party of justice and civil liberties accepted more diversity of opinion.

What do we know about the Democratic Party and the RKBA? To begin with, it cost us the Senate, the House and the Presidency. Tom Foley's ill-considered ramming-through of the Assault Weapons Ban is directly credited with confirming the worst fears of gun owners, causing them to jump ship for the Republicans. This isn't just the paranoid ravings of a gun-nut. It's the considered opinion of the former Speaker and former President Clinton. John Kerry should have taken West Virginia. It's pro-union and doesn't have much reason to love George Bush. It is also home to a lot of firearms owners who may have - a tip of the hat to Zak for pointing this out - provided the crucial margin to the current occupant of the White House.

When the Democrats were the dominant force in American politics they relied on the old Franklin Roosevelt coalition of the industrial heartland, the Northeast and the solid South. As it broke up and the Boll-Weevils underwent metamorphosis into elephants the Party was more in the hands of people from areas where gun rights were alien. South of Mason-Dixon and West of the Mississippi became increasingly important in national politics. A core freedom cherished by people in those areas became absolutely identified with the Republicans. Now gun prohibition is a solid plank in the platform. Obligatory shots of Presidential candidates awkwardly handling over-and-under shotguns at duck-killing photo ops do nothing to convince the formerly Democratic otherwise.

My Party can not regain anything like its former stature until it comes to term with political reality and changes its position significantly.

How is this a former gun-grabbers confession and not just a gun-owning Democrat's screed? Well now, that is a story.

I grew up in a liberal Jewish Democratic household. My grandparents, all immigrants, never owned guns. My father was qualified as a marksman and sharpshooter during WWII but never touched a firearm before or after. He was from New York City where such things are rarer than an honest fisherman. It was a matter of unarticulated faith that guns were strange bad things that good people didn't own. They belonged to people who kill things for fun, political extremists, criminals and the paranoid. They were incompatible with the values of justice and liberty that decent folks supported. By the time I was in my mid 20s I had seldom seen and never handled a firearm and knew almost nothing about them except that they were dangerous things to be feared.

There was a crack that admitted some light. I've been a martial arts student and self defense teacher for quite a while. The idea of using force in legitimate self protection, even deadly force, was not all that novel. Hands, yes. Sticks, yes. Knives, yes. Archaic Oriental weapons, yes. Guns, no.

Eventually I drifted into the orbit of a Colorado redneck Silat teacher. He thought I was absolutely wrong on this subject but didn't push the point. He did insist that I learn basic firearms safety which went a long way to demystifying them. Later there was a trip to the range. I was able to see guns as potentially dangerous special purpose tools. When the emotional ground had been prepared things that addressed the intellect like Point Blank and The Samurai, the Mountie and the Cowboy could be viewed and their message accepted with an open mind. From there it was a pretty small jump to being pro Second Ammendment.

That's the key to this, really. As long as firearms are something that Those People use they will be mysterious and frightening. Let your friends see firearms as something that normal folks have and use. Remove the superstitious fear. If you take just two hoplophobic Democratic friends out shooting (.22 only, no human silhouette targets) you will go further towards reuniting the Party with its natural constituents than any number of pictures of candidates looking uncomfortable in Mossy Oak camo and blaze orange.

Friday, September 15, 2006

GOC Getting Early Press!

Having just gotten the official nod from the DPO on Sept 9, the GOC is already getting good press both in the papers and in at least one RKBA website with a national audience.

Here's a sampling:
The discussion thread in The HighRoad is especially useful to read because it shows the depth of the belief that Democrats just can't possibly be pro-2nd Amendment. It's worth taking a look at what people on there had to say from across the political spectrum.

A lot of "Democratic activists" (the Trib's term) have been coming up to me lately or getting in touch on the web and asking what they can do to take the message forward that the Democrats are THE PARTY that supports the WHOLE Constitution--all of it, as written.

And they aren't talking about hunting. I think we just may turn out to be in the majority.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Gun Owners Caucus Approved by the Democratic Party of Oregon!

GOC is now official!

On Saturday, September 10, the Gun Owners Caucus of the Democratic Party of Oregon (GOC - DPO) was overwhelmingly APPROVED by a floor voice vote of the State Central Committee (SCC) meeting at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, Oregon. Two other new caucuses--the Faith Caucus and the College Democrats--were also santioned at that time by the SCC. (Good luck to their members!)

The support given the diverse group of caucuses by the DPO is testimony to the breadth and dedication of the Democratic Party's membership. In an eloquent explanation of the function of caucuses, DNC Committeeman Wayne Kinney noted that they serve to conduct outreach to special interest communities who may not realize how the Democratic Party supports their rights and promotes their interests. This is certainly the purpose of the Gun Owners Caucus. Roughly half the households in the country own a gun(1), and there's not a reason in the world every one of those households shouldn't vote Democrat.

At the SCC meeting, I had an opportunity to speak with Jason Brown, the energetic computer professional and small farmer running as the Democratic candidate for House District 23. Brown typified the attitude of many Democrats at the meeting with his assessment of the need to support for Gun Owners' rights:

"I'm a Quaker and would never personally own a gun," said Brown. "But it's [the right to bear arms] in the Constitution and there's a reason it's in there. It's what supports the right of the people to change their government."

I couldn't agree more--the Second Amendment isn't about hunting, it's not even about crime prevention. It's about being the safety valve that supports the rest of the Constitution by making tyranny in America impossible. Thank you, Jason Brown.

And now the work begins. The Gun Owners Caucus needs a board, a bank account (just wait till you see our buttons), and most of all members to go to gun shows, shooting clubs, sporting events, and other venues that attract gun owners and let them know the Democratic Party is with them. If you're interested and like a good debate with strangers in a public setting, send me an email right away and we'll get you set up to canvas in your area.

Can't spare the time? Then talk to your friends, relatives, and coworkers about the Democratic vision for a just America. If they say the Democratic Party doesn't support gun owners' rights, refer them to the GOC.

We're here! We're armed! We're Democrats! Get used to it!

(1) Kleck, Gary. 1991. Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America. Paperback edition published 2005 by Aldine Transaction, New Jersey.