Wednesday, January 31, 2007

101 Hours: Democrats should stick to the program

This past November certainly saw some sweeping changes in our federal and state congressional makeup, with Democrats making huge gains. Here in Oregon, we saw the legislature change control, as it did at the federal level. But what, specifically, caused voters to push Democrats into power? The easy reasons that come to mind are:

  • Iraq
  • Ethics and lobbying reform for politicians
  • Healthcare reform
  • Bush’s blatant disregard for science and the environment
  • The reduction of so many civil liberties during the last 12, and more specifically the last 6 years: Things like the PATRIOT act, warrantless spying, and reduction of Habeas Corpus rights.
Notably, voters did not mark gun control as a big reason for the change. They did not vote Democrats into power on a platform of gun control. There is no well-communicated mandate to politicians that gun control should be on the legislative agenda in either Oregon or the nation.

Most Democrats running for office realized this, and left "the gun issue" out of their rhetoric and platforms. Polls have shown that Democrats own guns at rates ranging from 31% to 41%. That's a high number, and is one of the reasons that guns are an easy swing issue for Republicans to “wedge” on. Beyond that, that the numbers don't tell the whole story. Guns are a swing issue in swing states, and swing states are where the Democratic Party made important gains in November '06. States like Oregon, Indiana, Montana, and West Virginia are all part of the new Democratic mandate, and are all states that can swing on this issue.

If Democrats go after the guns, an issue that is currently a non-issue becomes a swing issue. A lot of pro-gun Democrats, Independents, and Republicans believe that gun ownership IS a Constitutional right. These voters have a deep sense of history, often unique in its American perspective, that gun ownership is a right, a responsibility, or even a duty. They are tired of having to justify what they see as a right. When you say, "I don't like the Republican administration's awful handling of the Iraq war" you rarely feel the need to then defend the very ability to say such a thing, because it is assumed: It's a right well written into the first amendment.

Gun owners are constantly under attack for exercising their (and your) rights. They look back to English common-law, the Constitutional Conventions, and note that the right to bear arms is an important part of our history and democracy, as well as a check against tyranny. They are pointing to Constitutional Framers such as Theodore Sedgwick, Noah Webster, George Mason, James Monroe, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, and others. Other people do the same as they refer to other rights enumerated in the Constitution or Bill of Rights.

Please note, I am not attempting to debate history, Constitutional law, or whether the Second Amendment is an individual right. I’m trying to present how a large block of voters views the issue. These very voters helped change our political maps from Red to Blue.

Given these strong beliefs, attempts at further gun control will mitigate the value of the Democratic mandate. If Democrats force gun control, many centrist democrats, independents, and left-leaning Republicans will become one-issue voters. Iraq, healthcare, ethics and others become secondary. These swing voters believe that there is nothing more important than the Bill of Rights, and even that the Second Amendment protects the other nine. Whether right or not, these voters swing elections.

So, now that congress is done with its “100 hour” legislative agenda, don't lose sight of where this country should go. Don't lose a sense of direction over guns, when there is so much to be done elsewhere. Gun control has largely proved ineffective in a number of ways, starting with reducing crime. Nor should Democrats lose their legislative control by forcing voters to become one-issue voters (which I generally abhor). As we’ve seen over the last six years of George Bush, without at least a balanced government, everyone loses civil rights.

I've included a light vote from Jyte.com here, just to see where some readers might land on this one. Vote for/against it and let's where it goes.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Firearms Refresher Course

Somebody nice emailed me this "Firearms Refresher Course," which is travelling the web with a note at the bottom to send it along to your pro-RKBA friends. Seemed like a good post. I can't vouch for the attribution to Thomas Jefferson at the bottom, but it certainly seems in character for him. Enjoy!

Subject: FIREARMS REFRESHER COURSE

1. An armed man is a citizen. An unarmed man is a subject.
2. A gun in the hand is better than a cop on the phone.
3. Colt: The original point and click interface.
4. Gun control is not about guns; it's about control.
5. If guns are outlawed, can we use swords?
6. If guns cause crime, then pencils cause misspelled words.
7. "Free" men do not ask permission to bear arms.
8. If you don't know your rights you don't have any.
9. Those who trade liberty for security have neither.
10. The United States Constitution (c) 1791. All Rights reserved.
11. What part of "shall not be infringed" do you not understand?
12. The Second Amendment is in place in case the politicians ignore the others.
13. 64,999,987 firearms owners killed no one yesterday.
14. Guns only have two enemies: rust and politicians.
15. Know guns, know peace, know safety. No guns, no peace, no safety.
16. You don't shoot to kill; you shoot to stay alive.
17. 911 - government sponsored Dial-a-Wish.
18. Assault is a behavior, not a device.
19. Criminals love gun control -- it makes their jobs safer.
20. If guns cause crime, then matches cause arson.
21. Only a government that is afraid of its citizens tries to control them.
22. You only have the rights you are willing to fight for.
23. Enforce the "gun control laws" we ALREADY have, don't make more.
24. When you remove the people's right to bear arms, you create slaves.
25. The American Revolution would never have happened with gun control.
26. "A government of the people, by the people, for the people..."

"Those who hammer their guns into plows will plow for those who do not."
Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Felon for Life?

From the Oregon statutes:

"166.250 Unlawful possession of firearms. (1) Except as otherwise provided in this section or ORS 166.260, 166.270, 166.274, 166.291, 166.292 or 166.410 to 166.470, a person commits the crime of unlawful possession of a firearm if the person . . . (C) Has been convicted of a felony or found guilty, except for insanity under ORS 161.295, of a felony;"

I recently met a politically active Democrat who also happens to be a strong 2nd Amendment supporter, but who no longer has the legal right to keep a firearm in the state of Oregon due to a felony conviction ten years ago. In the intervening time he has not re-offended, and by all appearances has gotten his life on the straight and narrow. But he can't hunt with a rifle or do anything else involving Second Amendment rights, because his are forfeit. He would, naturally, like to have those rights restored.

I didn't ask what his felony was (it's not polite and I wasn't interviewing him for a job) but he said it was a non-violent offense. That could be burglary, but given the statistics of who is in American prisons, it probably means a felony drug offense. Just guessing.

In some states, a person can lose his voting rights for life over a felony conviction. It has been pointed out that the definitions of which amounts of which drugs constitute a felony are often written with heavy bias toward drugs favored in minority communities; e.g. crack vs. powder cocaine. The resulting ethnic skew of drug felonies resulting in the loss of voting rights in many instances looks a lot like a vestige of Jim Crow laws, which it is. This is doubly so when you consider the not-quite-Johnny-Cochran-level legal representation and pressure to plea bargain that is put on low-income arrestees. Thus many in the liberal camp correctly oppose life-long forfeiture of voting rights as the penalty for a felony. I agree with them--it's ridiculous.

Then come 2nd Amendment rights. These can also be taken away as a result of a felony conviction. There is some apparent logic to this, especially if the crime in question was violent. Considering how few domestic assaults actually get reported, it isn't a bad reaction to say someone convicted of a single instance of a domestic assault should lose ready access to weapons (knives? bats? lighter fluid?). But it isn't a compelling argument either, not an open and shut case. Obviously most assaults--especially spousal abuse--don't involve a gun. Most crimes, even felonies, also do not involve guns. Drug sales are not predominantly violent. Even in the case of violent crimes, if someone goes to prison, does his time, then passes a reasonable period without re-offending, there seems a double standard of treating 2nd Amendment rights as less important than voting rights as something that should be restored to a fellow citizen. Both denials of basic rights affirm the view that a felon is a felon for life. After all, aren't prisons supposed to be about reform? If they aren't, why do we keep pretending so?

I don't have a clear answer for what the correct policy ought to be--I hadn't considered the issue before--but a blanket ban against ever owning a firearm as a result of a felony conviction seems an over-reaction. I'd be interested to hear what you have to say.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Money Talks: Grassroots Democrats

As the Democratic Party of Oregon puts it on their website: "It takes money to get progressive candidates elected to office."

In an effort to empower itself and "We the People," the DPO has instituted a fundraising program known as "Grassroots Democrats." This is an effort to raise $10 - $25 dollars a month from each member of the Democratic Party of Oregon. The program is "the 'bricks and mortar' fund that helps pay the rent, the phones, the power and basic operating expenses. Gifts of $10 to $25 each month produce total yearly gifts of $120 to $300 and keep us running year round."

Gun owners, as a growing special interest group in the party, should do what we can to empower the party by becoming as Grassroots Democrats. When we do, we should also let the party know who we are and that it is partly our concern for preserving the 2nd Amendment that has led us to get involved. When you join or donate money to the DPO, make sure you let them know you are a gun owner or active member of the GOC. You can do this by marking "Gun Owners Caucus" right on any donation envelope you fill out for the DPO or by putting the same in the "comment" field if you donate online. A follow-up email to the DPO to make sure they know where the money came from is also a good idea--let them know where the money is coming from. (The DPO has let me know they will be keeping track of donations made on behalf of special communities such as ours if we are sure to let them know.)

Money is part of politics and there's just no getting around this. But the Grassroots Democrats is a way that lets the party members (read: people with regular income levels) contribute, show their support, and make their voices heard. Best of all, it's tax deductible.

Become a Grassroots Democrat today. And tell them the GOC sent you.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Oregon State Senate Bill 283: Get burgled, go to jail?

The Oregon State Senate, newly under our control, has introduced Senate Bill 283 which:

"Creates crime of unlawful storage of firearm.
Punishes by maximum of one year's imprisonment, $6,250 fine, or both.
Punishes second and subsequent convictions by maximum of five years' imprisonment, $125,000 fine, or both."

This law is not aimed at punishing criminals who sell or give guns to minors. Good laws banning that are already on the books. Instead, this law makes a criminal out of anyone who is robbed if the burglars are under 16 (or 18, depending on which section of the current posting you read.)

Here is the complete first section of the bill, emphasis added:

SECTION 1. { + (1) A person commits the crime of unlawful
storage of a firearm if:
(a) The person, with criminal negligence, stores or leaves a
firearm in a location where the person knows, or reasonably
should know,
that a minor who is younger than 16 years of age is
likely to gain access to the firearm;
(b) A minor who is younger than 16 years of age gains access to
the firearm;
and
(c) The minor:
(A) Possesses the firearm in a public place;
(B) Exhibits the firearm in a careless, angry or threatening
manner;
or
(C) Injures or kills a person by means of the firearm.
(2)(a) Unlawful storage of a firearm is a Class A misdemeanor.
(b) Notwithstanding paragraph (a) of this subsection, unlawful
storage of a firearm is a Class C felony if the defendant has at
least one prior conviction under this section.
(3) Subsection (1) of this section, does not apply if:
(a) The minor obtains and possesses the firearm while under the
direct supervision of the minor's parent or guardian;
(b) The minor obtains possession of the firearm:
(A) In a lawful act of self-defense or defense of another; or

(B) Through the illegal act of any person other than the person
referred to in subsection (1)(a) of this section;
(c) The firearm is equipped with a trigger lock or other safe
storage device;
(d) The firearm is stored in a securely locked container or in
a location that a reasonable person would believe to be secure;
(e) The firearm is rendered inoperable by the removal of an
essential component of the firing mechanism;
or
(f) The person is a peace officer or member of the military
forces of this state or the United States and the minor obtained
the firearm during, or incidental to, the performance of the
person's duties.
(4) As used in this section:
(a) 'Firearm' has the meaning given that term in ORS 166.210.
(b) 'Public place' has the meaning given that term in ORS
161.015. + }

So, the law punishes a gun owner for being robbed if the thief is a minor who exhibits the gun in public, UNLESS the thief uses the firearm in legitimate self-defense, which the bill's authors seem to recognize is a possibility if the "thief" is someone who lives in your home and who uses a firearm belonging to someone else--like his or her parent--to protect the home.

One might assume that such a law would only be used in extraordinary cases where a child got possession of a parent's firearm and committed a crime with it. Such an incident happened recently in Vancouver, Washington where a suicidal young man took one of his parents' rifles in the middle of the night and drove around until he provoked an encounter with the local police, who the child goaded into shooting him. This law would now make you a criminal if a neighbor kid snuck into your house and took a weapon for the same purpose. I suspect also that this law would not long remain a "passive law" that was only enforced in the wake of a tragedy in order to make an example of someone--it could also be used as a basis of getting warrants or become a way to prove otherwise unjustified warrants were valid merely by demonstrating the presence of unlocked firearms in your home.

Yes, gun owners should lock their guns up and make reasonable efforts to keep firearms out of the reach of children. If you go to work in the morning and leave guns lying around without trigger locks or outside your safe, you're playing the odds in hopes that you don't get burglarized while you're away.

But a law insisting that all firearms not being used must therefore be locked up if there is any chance that minors--including burglars--will find them goes too far. Senate Bill 283 fundamentally misunderstands the benefits that all of us--gun owners and non-gun owners alike--receive from living in an armed society. We are safer in our homes in this country than we would be otherwise because the presence of guns--loaded guns kept under pillows and in nightstand drawers--in so many houses turns the act of burglary while people are home into a suicidal act of Russian roulette for would-be thieves. (The same benefit is derived against potential robbery or assault victims by the presence of many concealed weapon carriers around us--criminals are more cautious when they know their victims and good Samaritans are likely to be armed.)

A bill that makes the presence of loaded, accessible firearms in a home a crime in itself would fundamentally alter the balance of power between criminals and the general public and make us all less secure in our homes.

I urge readers in Oregon to contact their respective representatives in the Oregon Senate and Oregon House, especially Judiciary Committee members and urge they vote against this perhaps well-meaning but ultimately misguided bill that will give criminals license to attack us in our homes at without fear and will make Oregonians, including the children it purports to protect, more at risk.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Brady Bunch

There's a good discussion of the Brady Bunch and their statistics-bending antics over at "Chuck for . . ."

Check it out. It's a good blog run by a GOC-DPO member that frequently covers the RKBA issues.

-Z.J.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

GOC Quarterly Meeting: March 10, Salem

For the time being, Gun Owners Caucus (GOC) meetings are being scheduled to coincide with DPO State Central Committee (SCC) meetings.

The next SCC meeting, and therefore the next GOC meeting, has been scheduled for:
March 10, 2007 in Salem, Oregon.

Check this space for details about time & place as the date approaches.

Also, please submit your agenda items either to me or as a post/comment on this site so that we can be sure to cover your topics in the meeting. Thanks.