November 1, 2001
The Judges Have Spoken, But Whos Spinning Their Words
by Joseph P. Tartaro
The long-awaited appellate court decision in the case of the US v. Emerson was handed down in mid-October (click to read). Both sides of the gun issue can claim victory and, while they wont admit it, both sides also experienced defeat.
Depending on which spinmeisters the media are listening to at any given time, the headlines and lead paragraphs for stories about the 5th Circuit Court decision, vary widely.
Some newspapers ran balanced and objective stories with such headlines as The Tampa Tribunes Unprecedented Federal Court Decision On Gun Ownership, and the following from Texas Lawyer: 5th Circuit Gives Ammo to Both Sides in Gun Control Debate; Court says individuals have right to firearms but Congress may place limits.
But then there are the headlines that are heavily influenced by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence (BCPGV), formerly Handgun Control Inc. Those stories have headlines like the following used by Associated Press: Court restricts right to bear arms; Domestic violence restraining order can prevent arms sale.
The VPC and Brady bunch figured out how to make the decision a triumph for the gun controllers, with the BCPGV actually going so far as to criticize the two judges who wrote the majority opinion, claiming they were influenced by the National Rifle Associations brief in the Emerson case appeal.
Few stories, however, focused much on the comments of Dr. Timothy Joe Emersons original public defender lawyer, David Guinn.
Legally, its a huge victory in the quest to prove that the Second Amendment is indeed an individual right, said Guinn. More importantly for Dr. Emerson, its a very, very sad day. The consequences of fighting unsuccessfully with the federal government are usually pretty harsh.
The courts ruling said the restrictions on Emersons gun ownership were valid for as long as the restraining order was valid, and sent the case back to the lower court to decide that question.
Guinn said he would request a hearing before the entire appeals court and might ask that the case be heard by the US Supreme Court.
While others may cheer or boo the appellate courts decision with respect to the Second Amendment, Emerson is far from out of the woods. He is the man who is most personally affected by the case. Pro-gunners may applaud his willingness to stand up in court and test the Second Amendment, but Emerson still could lose his case and be sent to jail. For him the decision is particularly bittersweet. His philosophy may have been upheld, but his future freedom still hangs in the balance.
The Texas case goes back to 1998 when Emersons wife, Sacha, filed for divorce and was granted a temporary restraining order to prevent her husband from threatening or harming her or the couples daughter.
Emerson was arrested and charged by federal agents after he bought a pistol. He was prosecuted on grounds that purchasing the gun was a violation of the order and of the Lautenberg law that prohibits people convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors and people under restraining orders from acquiring or possessing firearms.
District Judge Sam Cummings of Lubbock, TX, granted Emersons motions to dismiss the indictment on both Second Amendment and Fifth Amendment grounds, writing a strong individual rights interpretation of the Second Amendment into his decision. The government appealed to the 5th Circuit, which heard arguments in the case last year, along with a number of amicus briefs filed by pro- and anti-gun organizations.
Emerson and his attorney, Guinn, have a number of options besides appeal, and the government can pursue the case or move for dismissal. But whatever the players do, the 5th Circuit Courts ruling is still one of historic importance that will reverberate for years to comeperhaps as far as the US Supreme Court.
Terrorism, Guns & TV
While many gunowners and their opponents were parsing the Emerson decision, USA Today reported on Oct. 16 that a new study showed that gun violence was unattractive to movie and TV viewers these days.
The study found that gun violence is low on the list of what viewers say they want to see in a movie or television show. According to the survey by the Entertainment Industry Council, 85% of people say they would be more likely to watch a humorous movie or television show.
Other top vote-getters in attracting viewers were: special effects, 76%; adventure, 75%; mystery/suspense, 67%; non-violent action, 62%; sex/romance, 55%; physical conflict, 40%, and non-physical conflict, 40%. Only 21% of respondents were interested in watching violence in general, and 19% favored gun violence.
You would think, from just the prevalence of guns on the screen, that the entertainment industry must think theyre filling some kind of need. But audiences dont want that kind of bang for their buckliterally, said Barbara Lurie, the councils director of programs and research.
(A copy of the survey is available on-line now or in print by contacting the Entertainment Industries Council, 500 S. Buena Vista Street, Burbank, CA 91521; phone: 818-955-6845.)
Blind Mans Application
David Gordon believes he meets all the requirements to be granted a Michigan concealed firearms license, even if he is blind, according to Associated Press.
The Portage, MI, man is over the age of 21, has completed a gun-safety course, and doesnt have a criminal record or history of mental illness.
Gordons application for a concealed firearms license in Kalamazoo County has touched off debate over the rights of the blind to carry guns. Michigans new right-to-carry law does not specifically exclude people with disabilities or include any shooting accuracy requirements.
Gordon said he is not an activist for gun rights, but he has been mugged twiceonce at gunpointand knew a blind man who was beaten in the late 1980s.
Ive been in situations where Ive experienced fear. I have the right to protect myself if Im in danger, said Gordon, 52, who has been certified by a veteran gun instructor.
County gun board members were expected to consider Gordons application in late October, after this issue of Gun Week went to press.
On the surface of it, I think its highly unlikely Gordon will receive a permit, said gun board Chairman Phillip Reames, a firearms instructor.
Reames said Gordon would probably fall under a section of the law denying permits to those considered a danger to themselves or others.
The gun board plans to discuss the application with Gordon.
Gun rights advocates say Gordon deserves to be treated like anyone else.
But Joy Livingston, president of the Southwest Michigan Million Mom March/Brady Campaign, argued its an issue of public safety overriding individual rights.
While the previously cited surveys results showed a majority of the American public is cool to the idea of more gun violence in TV and movies, Gordons story and the dilemma facing the Kalamazoo County board would make a great TV show.
A television writer of my acquaintance asked me about blind people and their ability to use guns for a possible script a number of years ago. I explained that specialized sound-engineered target equipment was available for blind shooters, and that at extremely close range it wouldnt matter if an armed person was blind or not if their life was in danger.
Now, it seems, a script based on Gordons application in Michigan would satisfy a lot of viewers. It could include special effects, non-violent conflict, physical challenge, non-violent conflict resolution, and non-physical conflictespecially with the Kalamazoo County licensing authorities.
Who knows? Maybe a good script writer would include some sex and romance.
One thing is sure: since the CCW issue came to a head in Michigan, theres been one good story line after another.
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