23rd Annual Gun Rights Policy Conference
by Dave Workman
Stand Your Ground
“...the Second Amendment doesn’t have anything to do with sport shooting.”
Something of a shift in social philosophy has occurred in recent years with the adoption of so-called “castle doctrine” and “stand-your-ground” laws that strengthen the self-defense rights of private citizens.
The next panel took up that subject, with Gun Week Senior Editor Dave Workman, co-author with Alan Gottlieb of America Fights Back: Armed Self-Defense in a Violent Age, leading the discussion. He recalled the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre when he and Gottlieb were bombarded with interview requests, oddly from the BBC. One conversation struck him as indicative of the culture gap that exists regarding self-defense.
One BBC commentator demanded to know whether Workman would “murder him” for breaking into his home.
“Where I come from,” the editor shot back, “that’s not murder. It’s sort of a public service.”
But it opened the door to a discussion of self-defense and defense of family and property. The pendulum in recent years has been swinging back in favor of citizens’ rights. Workman recalled how his and Gottlieb’s book had “hit a raw nerve with people.”
“I think the reason…is that Americans are tired of having to tuck tail and run,” he observed. “They are fighting back and that’s what stand-your-ground is all about.”
He said self-defense critics “have forgotten about self-reliance.”
“They have forgotten what it means to stand up and be a human being and have the right of self-preservation,” Workman said.
Former Arizona Attorney General Bob Corbin, who served as president of the National Rifle Association, discussed the history of self-defense in his state. For a while, he recalled, the burden of proof in a self-defense shooting was on the victim who defended himself or herself.
In one case, he remembered how a police investigator had approached him to advise that the bad guy in a shooting had wanted to file a charge of assault with a deadly weapon against a homeowner who had shot him with a shotgun, but only wounded the thug because he tried to fire over the crook’s head.
Corbin told the officer, “We’re not going to file, you go back and buy that guy a box of shotgun shells and tell him to aim lower next time.”
After explaining how the self-defense statute was reversed in Arizona, putting the burden back on the state to prove that a self-defense shooting might be a criminal act, Corbin wrapped up his presentation with a history of the right to keep and bear arms provision in the state’s constitution. He also encouraged people to contribute to the NRA’s Firearms Legal Defense Fund.
Author and historian David Young (The Founders’ View of the Right to Bear Arms) finished up the panel discussion, explaining the roots of the Second Amendment. The text comes from various state constitutional provisions, and he said that modern discussion of the amendment has “gotten off track.”
“It is a politicized subject,” he lamented. “Everyone calls each other liars.”
The Supreme Court ruling in the Heller case, Young noted, contains a textual analysis of the Second Amendment’s language, using historical meanings of the terms.
Blasting the ATF
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) came in for heavy criticism from the next panel, which opened the program on the second day of the conference.
Author and constitutional scholar David Hardy was joined by Jeff Knox, operations manager of the Firearms Coalition, and John Velleco, federal affairs director for Gun Owners of America.
Hardy told the audience that the ATF had, for years, enforced forfeiture laws when making arrests. Years ago, he said, the agency was “going hog wild” with its enforcement of the 1968 Gun Control Act, at times seizing the entire inventory from a gun dealer on the grounds that some of those guns might be “intended” for use in a crime.
“Acquittal was no defense,” Hardy recalled, noting that forfeited property often was not returned.
This philosophy stems from Customs procedures, he explained. For example, if Customs agents found a boat loaded with smuggled goods, they would seize not only the goods, but the boat. Such laws have been expanded over the years to allow various agencies to seize automobiles, firearms and other property that might be somehow related to an alleged criminal act.
He said the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986 was designed to address this problem, so that now people who are acquitted of charges have a mechanism to get their guns returned. Hardy cautioned people to always check the history of a firearm to make sure that it is not listed somewhere as a stolen gun.
Velleco discussed the case of Wisconsin gunowner David Olofson, who had loaned an AR-15 rifle to another shooter, only to have the gun malfunction and fire multiple times with a single squeeze of the trigger. Olofson was convicted for transferring a machinegun, when in Velleco’s opinion he had a firearm that malfunctioned.
“If the jury had been able to see the malfunction,” Velleco contended, “he might not be in prison today.”
He criticized the ATF for revoking federal firearms licenses over minor paperwork violations, and predicted that Acting ATF Director Michael Sullivan will never be confirmed because his nomination has been “tied up in knots” over questions about how the agency conducts investigations.
Yet another concern regards the so-called “sporting purpose test” of GCA ’68.
“I’m not an attorney I’m just a dumb lobbyist,” Velleco said, “but the Second Amendment doesn’t have anything to do with sport shooting, and as much as I like sport shooting, the sporting purposes test just needs to be repealed.”
The lobbyist also contended that it makes no sense for the agency to oppose interstate handgun sales, even with the advent of the National Instant Check System.
“If you drove here from California and you stop at a gun store in Phoenix, you go through the same background check in Arizona as you do in California,” he said. “This is an impingement on the Second Amendment and also on interstate commerce.”
“Finally,” he concluded, there’s a lot of talk about ATF reform….We support reforming the agency in an effort to protect gunowners, but let’s not lose sight of something. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right, yet we have an agency dedicated to its regulation. Can you imagine an agency called the Bureau of Books, Newspapers and Periodicals? This is an agency that at least with regards to firearms doesn’t need to exist.”
Knox, son of the late gun rights powerhouse Neal Knox, recalled the elder Knox’s introduction to the gun rights battle in the late 1960s. He was hired, Jeff Knox said, by the NRA to “disassemble the 1968 Gun Control Act and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.”
He paid tribute to members of the military who are “fighting for freedom, fighting for liberty, fighting for human rights, and we have an obligation to them to be here fighting for liberty and human rights.”
“The .45 on my hip at this moment,” said Knox, who was openly carrying a Model 1911 pistol, “is not about sporting purpose, it’s about human rights, and we must never forget that.”
Calling the ATF a “rogue agency,” Knox said that the ATF could be reassembled and changed, but it would do no good, “because any agency that is enforcing bad law is going to be a bad agency, it’s as simple as that.” He also said GCA ’68 is “a thorn in our side and it must be removed.”
Knox encouraged the audience to elect gun-friendly politicians, which means that they must vote “and vote smart.”
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