Shawn Vestal: Gun hearing draws NRA, familiar attitudes
Surely you’ve heard. The government wants to take your guns.
The government may act like it doesn’t want to take your guns, but you definitely should not believe that, because the government wants to keep a list of all your guns in a massive government database, and it wants to use that massive government database to come to your front door, possibly in the middle of the night and wearing vintage Nazi footwear, and barge in without a warrant or probable cause and take your guns.
Somehow, this attitude rules our gun laws and wins our gun debates. It is always the elephant in the room, even when people are trying to talk about other things.
Gabby Giffords got the lion’s share of the media coverage last week for appearing at a crowded legislative hearing on Washington’s two gun initiatives. But if we are anything like the nation at large, it will not be her arguments that carry the day, but those of the National Rifle Association and fellow paranoiacs who are convinced that the government wants to take your guns.
Washington has a chance to enshrine a different set of values in law with Initiative 594, which would close the nonsensical loophole in which some types of gun purchases do not require background checks.
NRA lobbyist Brian Judy testified against I-594, naturally. He argued that it would have no effect on criminal gun sales. (He is seemingly not familiar with the fact that some 2 million gun sales have been blocked through Brady law background checks since 1994.) He expressed his deep concern that tragedies were being exploited by opportunistic gun controllers. He noted that background checks would not have prevented some tragedies. He extrapolated, at length, about the ways that the new requirement would prevent him from lending a gun to his cousin or his son. But don’t worry: He did not stray far from the main course.
“Initiative 594 will create a massive government database of law-abiding handgun owners,” he told the members of the House Judiciary Committee. “The people of Washington should ask: Why does a small group of billionaires who are bankrolling 594 want a government database of law-abiding handgun owners?”
This is what’s known as a rhetorical question, because the answer is obvious: The government wants to take your guns.
Rep. Jay Rodne, R-Snoqualmie, sussed out Judy’s suggestion. Rodne mentioned a piece of proposed legislation from last year – a proposal so overreaching that it was changed before the ink on the bill was dry – that would have allowed law enforcement officers to check people’s homes for compliance with a proposed ban on assault rifles that did not pass.
Rodne asked Judy, “Is the concern of your members that perhaps this registry that’s created by 594 would be an incremental first step to giving local law enforcement or the county sheriff information on which homes to enter without probable cause?”
“Representative Rodne, absolutely,” Judy answered. “To our members, other than a firearms prohibition, registration proposals are the next most dangerous proposal.”
Dangerous, indeed. Alan Gottlieb is chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and the main proponent of Initiative 591, which bans any background check that is tougher than the federal system and which prohibits confiscation of guns. He said this week that it is not paranoid to fear government confiscation of guns, because it’s already happening.
In California, for example, people whose criminal convictions or mental health problems disqualify them from gun ownership have had their guns taken away as the state has toughened its gun laws. Law enforcement, you might call it. Gottlieb and company like to fuzz this up so it sounds like law-abiding gun owners are losing their guns to tyrannical cops.
Gottlieb says he does not oppose universal background checks but he very much opposes the database.
“The only purpose it serves is the future confiscation of firearms,” he said.
Just to be clear, this massive new database of handgun owners that I-594 would supposedly create is … the current database of handgun owners who went through registered firearms dealers, expanded to include private sales and transfers. In other words, it’s not massive and it’s not new.
There may be glitches in I-594 – it may be that the sharing of guns between cousins over the back fence must indeed be granted more protection than this initiative grants – but there is only one reason to believe they could not be addressed through the public processes by which we make and refine our laws, and that reason is this: The government wants to take your guns.
Interestingly, four members of the clergy took the microphone last week, all apparently more concerned about the safety of people than the safety of guns. One of them, the Rt. Rev. James Waggoner Jr., bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Spokane, was particularly eloquent. He noted that no law prevents all crime, and yet we know that background checks do catch some sales: This is a checkable fact. He pointed out that background checks have been associated with reduced gun trafficking and gun suicide and domestic violence related to guns in 14 states with stricter background checks.
And then he spoke to the elephant in the room.
“I-594 is not a radical step,” he said. “It is not about taking away anyone’s guns or firearms. It is a reasonable and timely call to community responsibility.”