With more states passing stronger gun control laws, rural sheriffs across the country are taking their role as defenders of the Constitution to a new level by protesting such restrictions and, in some cases, refusing to enforce the laws. Sheriff Mike Lewis considers himself the last man standing for the people of Wicomico County, Maryland. “State police and highway patrol get their orders from the governor,” the sheriff said. “I get my orders from the citizens in this county.”
Lewis and other like-minded sheriffs have been joined by groups like Oath Keepers and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, both of which encourage law enforcement officers to take a stand against gun control laws.
The role of a sheriff
While the position of sheriff is not found in the U.S. Constitution, it is listed in state constitutions. Nearly all of America’s 3,080 sheriffs are elected to their positions, whereas state and city police officials are appointed.
Lewis and other sheriffs, and their supporters, say that puts them in the best position to stand up to gun laws they consider unconstitutional under the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to bear arms.
“The role of a sheriff is to be the interposer between the law and the citizen,” said Maryland Delegate Don Dwyer, an Anne Arundel County Republican. “He should stand between the government and citizen in every issue pertaining to the law.”
When Lewis was president of the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association, he testified with other sheriffs against the state’s Firearms Safety Act (FSA) before it was enacted in 2013. One of the strictest gun laws in the nation, the act requires gun applicants to supply fingerprints and complete training to obtain a handgun license online. It bans 45 types of firearms, limits magazines to 10 rounds and outlaws gun ownership for people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health facility.
After Lewis opposed the bill, he said he was inundated with emails, handwritten letters, phone calls and visits from people thanking him for standing up for gun rights.SYDNEY STAVINOHA / NEWS21
“Why are we being penalized? Why are we being crucified because we’re standing up for our Second Amendment right? Why does everybody look at us like we’re right-wing nuts because we’re standing up for our constitutional rights?” —Sheriff Mike Lewis, Wicomico County, Maryland.
“I knew this was a local issue, but I also knew it had serious ramifications on the U.S. Constitution, specifically for our Second Amendment right,” said Lewis, one of 24 sheriffs in the state. “It ignited fire among sheriffs throughout the state. Those in the rural areas all felt the way I did.”
In New York, the state sheriff’s association has publicly decried portions of the SAFE Act, state legislation that broadened the definition of a banned assault weapon, outlawed magazines holding more than 10 rounds and created harsher punishments for anyone who kills a first-responder in the line of duty.
A handful of the state’s 62 sheriffs have vowed not to enforce the high-capacity magazine and assault-weapon bans. One of the most vocal is Sheriff Tony Desmond of Schoharie County, population 32,000. He believes his refusal to enforce the SAFE Act won him re-election in 2013.
“If you have an (assault) weapon, which under the SAFE Act is considered illegal, I don’t look at it as being illegal just because someone said it was,” he said.
Colorado made national headlines when 55 of its 62 sheriffs attempted to sign on as plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of several 2013 gun control bills in the state. The most-controversial measures banned magazines of more than 15 rounds and established background checks for private gun sales.
“It’s not (the judge’s) job to tell me what I can and can’t enforce.”
A federal judge said the sheriffs couldn’t sue as elected officials, so Weld County Sheriff John Cooke and eight other sheriffs sued as private citizens. Cooke was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, which a federal district judge threw out in June. He and other plaintiffs are preparing an appeal.
“It’s not (the judge’s) job to tell me what I can and can’t enforce,” Cooke said. “I’m still the one that has to say where do I put my priorities and resources? And it’s not going to be there.”
Lewis, who is running for re-election in Maryland this year, said sheriffs have a responsibility to push against what he sees as the federal government’s continual encroachment on citizens’ lives and rights.
“I made a vow and a commitment that as long as I’m the sheriff of this county I will not allow the federal government to come in here and strip my law-abiding citizens of the right to bear arms,” he said. “If they attempt to do that it will be an all-out civil war. Because I will stand toe-to-toe with my people.”
“It’s not up to a sheriff to decide what’s constitutional and what isn’t. That’s what our courts are for.”
But Maryland Sen. Brian Frosh, a sponsor of the Firearms Safety Act and a gun-control advocate from suburban Montgomery County, said Lewis’ understanding of a sheriff’s role is flawed.
“If you are a sheriff in Maryland you must take an oath to uphold the law and the Constitution,” said Frosh, now the Democratic nominee for Maryland attorney general. “… It’s not up to a sheriff to decide what’s constitutional and what isn’t. That’s what our courts are for.”
Frosh also noted that sheriffs are generally not lawyers or judges, which means they often are following their convictions instead of the Constitution.EMILIE EATON / NEWS21
Edward Amelio, a deputy sheriff in rural Lewis County, New York, has to complete a lot of paperwork after responding to a call. Normally he only deals with guns when issuing an order of protection in which a judge orders someone’s firearm confiscated.
“We had lots of people come in (to testify against the bill) and without any basis say, ‘This violates the Second Amendment,’” Frosh said. “They can cite the Second Amendment, but they couldn’t explain why this violates it. And the simple fact is it does not. There is a provision of our Constitution that gives people rights with respect to firearms, but it’s not as expansive as many of these people think.”
Sheriffs do have the power to nullify, or ignore, a law if it is unconstitutional, Maryland Delegate Dwyer said. He said James Madison referred to nullification as the rightful remedy for the Constitution.
“The sheriffs coming to testify on the bill understood the issue enough and were brave enough to come to Annapolis and make the bold stand that on their watch, in their county, they would not enforce these laws even if they passed,” said Dwyer. “That is the true role and responsibility of what the sheriff is.”
Oath Keepers and CSPOA
If former Arizona Sheriff Richard Mack had it his way, there wouldn’t be a single gun control law in the U.S.
“I studied what the Founding Fathers meant about the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms, and the conclusion is inescapable,” said Mack, the founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA). “There’s no way around it. Gun control in America is against the law.”
Mack’s conviction is central to the ideology of CSPOA, which he founded in 2011 to “unite all public servants and sheriffs, to keep their word to uphold, defend, protect, preserve and obey” the Constitution, according to the association’s website.
CSPOA grabbed media attention in February with a growing list of sheriffs — 484 as of late July — professing opposition to federal gun control.JARED RAMSDELL / JOURNAL INQUIRER VIA AP, FILE
Stewart Rhodes, founder and president of the pro gun rights organization Oath Keepers speaks during a gun rights rally at the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford on April 20, 2013.
Mack and CSPOA also have ties to Oath Keepers, an organization founded in 2009 with a similar goal to unite veterans, law enforcement officers and first-responders who pledge to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
The website of the Oath Keepers, which has active chapters in 48 states and the District of Columbia, and an estimated membership of 40,000, features a declaration of “orders we will not obey,” including those to disarm Americans, impose martial law on a state and blockade cities.
“I want to have the image that I protect gun owners, but I’m not fanatical about it.”
Some sheriffs perceive Oath Keepers and CSPOA as too radical to associate with. Desmond, of Schoharie County, New York, is known around his state for openly not enforcing provisions of the SAFE Act that he considers unconstitutional. Still, he’s not a member of either organization.
“I don’t want to get involved with somebody that may be a bit more proactive when it comes to the SAFE Act,” Desmond said. “I want to have the image that I protect gun owners, but I’m not fanatical about it.”
Mack is familiar with that sentiment. He suspects it’s hindered the growth of CSPOA.
“This is such a new idea for so many sheriffs that it’s hard for them to swallow it,” Mack said. “They’ve fallen into the brainwashing and the mainstream ideas that you just have to go after the drug dealers and the DUIs and serve court papers — and that the federal government is the supreme law of the land.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights nonprofit that classifies and combats hate and extremist groups, included both CSPOA and Oath Keepers on its list of 1,096 anti-government “patriot” groups active in 2013. Both groups have faced criticism for their alleged connections to accused criminals, including individuals charged with possessing a live napalm bomb and a suspect in theshooting and killing of two Las Vegas police officers and a bystander in June.
Representatives from the law center did not return phone calls and emails requesting comment.
See the Entire News21 Project: GUN WARS: The Struggle Over Rights and Regulation in America
Franklin Shook, an Oath Keepers board member who goes by the pseudonym “Elias Alias,” said the organization doesn’t promote violence, but rather a message of peaceful noncompliance.
“What Oath Keepers is saying is … when you get an order to go to somebody’s house and collect one of these guns, just stand down,” Shook said. “Say peacefully, ‘I refuse to carry out an unlawful order,’ and we, the organization, will do everything in our power to keep public pressure on your side to keep you from getting in trouble for standing down. That makes Oath Keepers extremely dangerous to the system.”
Self-proclaimed constitutional sheriffs hope that courts will overturn gun control measures in their states — but they recognize that may not happen. Lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of gun control legislation in Maryland, New York and Colorado have been, for the most part, unsuccessful.
“My hope is that the governor will look at it now that it’s been a year plus and say, ‘We’ve had some provisions that have failed. Let’s sit down and look at this and have a meaningful conversation,’” said Otsego County, New York, Sheriff Richard Devlin, who enforces the SAFE Act but doesn’t make it a priority. “I personally don’t see that happening, but I’d like to see that happen.”
Emilie Eaton is a News21 Hearst Fellow. Jacy Marmaduke is a News21 Peter Kiewet Fellow. Sydney Stavinoha is an Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation News21 Fellow.
This report is part of a project on gun rights and regulations in America produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 program.
One morning during the winter weeks after the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, the gun lobbyist Larry Pratt made the short drive from his offices in Springfield, Virginia, to the Arlington headquarters of the Leadership Institute, a training center for young conservatives. Pratt and the Institute’s founder, Morton Blackwell, share a history in conservative activism going back four decades, and Pratt had spoken there many times, providing legislative updates on the politics of guns. Today, there seemed to be a jauntiness to the oddly boyish-faced 71-year old, who’d found himself at the center of a national media story just beginning to fade. He opened with a joke.
"Piers Morgan sends his regrets he won’t be able to attend," Pratt deadpanned.
The audience chuckled at the reference. On December 18th, 2012, four days after Adam Lanza’s killing spree, the CNN host had invited Pratt to debate gun control, as most major networks have over the years. When Pratt stated that gun-free school zones — and, by extension, gun control advocates like Piers Morgan — were to blame for the tragedy in Newton, Morgan stuttered and seethed. “You’re an unbelievably stupid man, aren’t you?” said the host.
Pratt’s critics have called him many things over the years: extreme, radical, pernicious, creepy, dogged, effective. But no one who’s studied his multi-faceted career could describe him as stupid. On CNN, Pratt was smart enough not to tell Piers Morgan what he really thinks about the Second Amendment. Because what he really thinks resonates deeply with the theocratic tenets of Christian Reconstructionism, which holds that American government should be ordered according to events and dictates found in the Old and New Testaments. Nor is Pratt so stupid as to use his regular access to mainstream media to promote the “active measures” he believes American gun owners will one day be forced to unleash on a secular federal government. As he explained in his 1999 essay, “What does the Bible Say About Gun Control?” Pratt writes, “If Christ is not our King, we shall have a dictator to rule over us, just as Samuel warned.”
Pratt doesn’t talk like this when being interviewed by The New York Times or answering questions on C-SPAN. Instead, he uses the more familiar language of ensuring public safety and respecting constitutional rights. He has employed this two-track communications operation with admirable efficacy and consistency since launching Gun Owners of America as the Beltway’s first “no-compromise” gun-rights lobbying group in 1976. Over 40 years, Pratt has blazed the path and built the model for a gun-rights movement that has transformed the landscape of American gun politics.
Today, Pratt, who declined to be interviewed for this piece, holds the power to derail and delay gun legislation enjoying broad public support, and quickly inject falsehoods and amplify paranoia among a growing network of gun activists. With the rise of the Tea Party scene, Pratt has discovered new constituencies and new platforms for spreading his message of a Biblically mandated rollback of all gun regulation. He has also found new champions in the forms of his favorite senators: Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. He believes this November offers a chance to further grow the “Second Amendment Absolutist” bloc in Congress.Larry Pratt addresses about 500 demonstrators during a rally in support of the Second Amendment in Washington, DC.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
"Look forward to 2014 as a time when we get involved as never before," Pratt told an audience at the Leadership Institute. "Look for those candidates that deserve our support. The Rand Pauls. The Ted Cruzes. The Steve Stockmans of the House and try to multiply their number … The RINOS [Republicans in Name Only] need to be humiliated. They need to be driven out of public life."
By Pratt’s design, today’s gun movement has little room for RINOS, but accommodates extremists and sometimes adopts their language. As the director of an organization claiming 300,000 members, Pratt understands the gun movement’s role as that of a heavily armed guard, holding a cautionary gun to the head of America’s would-be dictators.
"The Second Amendment is not for hunting, it’s not even for self-defense," Pratt explained in his Leadership Institute talk. Rather, it is "for restraining tyrannical tendencies in government…Especially those in the liberal, tyrannical end of the spectrum. There is some restraint, and even if the voters of Brooklyn don’t hold them back, it may be there are other ways that their impulses are somewhat restrained. That’s the whole idea of the Second Amendment." He reiterated the point this March during an interview with conservative talk show host Bill Cunningham. Speaking of a New York Congresswoman who had expressed fear that one of Pratt’s members wanted to shoot her, Pratt said, "You know, I’m kind of glad that’s in the back of their minds. Hopefully they’ll behave."
And if they don’t? When speaking before smaller, conservative audiences, Pratt explains that it is necessary to both generate an undercurrent of fear and muster the organization and will to defeat the dictator prophesized in the Book of Samuel. When asked during a 2010 Q&A session, “Do we have the will to stand up to the government when they trample our rights?” Pratt replied, “That is an exceptionally important point to raise. We can have all the guns in the world, and if we don’t have the will to use them [against the government], then they are useless.”
This is the language found etched along the gun-movement’s aqueduct into the dark crosscurrents of the militia movement and the radical right. It is written in Pratt’s voice, because he has personally overseen engineering and construction of this aqueduct while building the larger gun-rights movement. This movement, considered as a whole, is not as conservative as Pratt. It is increasingly flavored with Libertarian ideas and language, building on outreach efforts designed to deflect attention from socially conservative politics that command ever fewer Americans. But it is no less zealous than Pratt on the question of gun reform. The gun-rights movement is distinct from, and often at odds with, the official gun “lobby” that is dominated by the National Rifle Association and its industry allies. The NRA remains the 500-pound gorilla of gun politics, with a budget and membership that dwarfs all other gun groups combined. But it is now surrounded, most heavily on its right, by a growing cluster of so-called “Second Amendment Absolutist” groups, from influential state-level activist networks like the Arizona Citizens Defense League, to ascendant fundraising dynamos like Dudley Brown’s National Association for Gun Rights.
Among the most pedigreed of these purist outfits is Pratt’s Gun Owners of America.
"The NRA describes itself as a religion, and Larry Pratt is the snake handler," says Tom Diaz, a former analyst at the Violence Policy Center, a Washington-based gun control group, and author of two books on the gun lobby. "The NRA debates using arguable premises of the American system: What is the meaning of the Second Amendment, of self-defense? Pratt unconnects from all that, and appeals to the least informed, most paranoid people." In parallel with his frequent national media appearances, Pratt aggressively pursues smaller radio audiences to peddle conspiracy theories and recycled John Birch Society propaganda from the 1960s. In recent years he has argued that the Aurora, Colorado, mass shooting was an inside job and that the Justice Department was pursuing charges against George Zimmerman to stir up racial animosity, trigger social chaos, and “build their own communist society.”
As the gun-rights movement grows into and with the new century, Pratt is seen as a dinosaur, yet one who still commands respect. “Larry’s a hardcore throwback and a bit of a weirdo — a black helicopter and Trilateral Commission kind of guy — but he has a certain brand and a namehe’s been around forever,” says a staffer in the office of a veteran GOP senator. Indeed, few figures have had a greater impact in the development of the pro-gun movement. Purist groups created on his “no compromise” model now lead the charges in the courts and the states to block new gun-control legislation and chip away at those that exist. Most make the NRA look moderate by comparison.
"The NRA is concerned about its right flank on purity from people like Larry," says Richard Feldman, a former gun industry lobbyist and president of the Independent Firearms Owners Association. "He has said things I thought were crazy at the time, but turned out to be right…Activists respect him for getting things done."Adds Josh Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center: "When NRA members stamp their feet over some rumored compromise, Pratt’s who they go to. When he says make the calls, the calls are made, and it has influence on the Hill."Larry Pratt speaks at a pro-gun rally organised by the ‘Restore the Constitution’ movement in Virginia park near Washington D.C.Sipa via AP Images
This influence has only recently caught the attention of media that have generally focused on the NRA and ignored the growth of group’s like Pratt’s. When Gun Owners of America helped lead the gun-rights charge against an expansion of background checks, the New York Times discovered this “influential force” capable of both “freezing” and “empowering” senators. This influence may help to explain the reluctance of elected officials and their staffs to discuss Pratt’s lobbying operation. When contacted, several current and former members of Congress and congressional staffers from both parties declined to comment on the experience of being on the receiving end of GOA’s lobbying fire. The list of those who shied away from talking included nine senators and congressman, such as Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, as well as Democratic Senators Jon Tester and Mark Begich.
Pratt enters his fifth decade of gun activism with ambitious plans for this influence. At an age when many lobbyists considering retiring, Pratt is working through GOA’s PAC, his membership, his allies, and a small team of fellow lobbyists to do what he’s been trying to do since the 1970s: defeat any Republican who does not share his absolutist understanding of Second Amendment freedom. And it is nothing if not absolute: GOA agitates against background checks, waiting periods, and fines for straw purchases (guns purchased legally for resale on the black market).
In his crusade to rollback every gun law on the books, Pratt likes his allies unalloyed with records and habits of compromise. Many of Pratt’s current targets in the primaries enjoy high or perfect ratings from the NRA. Some of them, like Mitch McConnell, have long enjoyed “B” or higher grades from the GOA. But only perfect grades like Rand Paul’s “A+” are truly acceptable in Pratt’s purist world. Unlike the NRA’s system, GOA counts votes on any bill that tangentially touches on gun rights as a “gun vote.” Sometimes no vote is required at all to arouse Pratt’s displeasure, merely inaction. In explaining GOA’s support for Mitch McConnell’s challenger, Matt Bevin, the group cites the senator’s failure to vigorously oppose The Affordable Care Act.
"Obamacare is allowing the medical profession to use information that people give their doctor against them, to take their guns," says Tim Macy, vice chairman of GOA. "McConnell hasn’t stopped it so far, and he’s been in a position to help stop it."
For much of today’s gun movement, the NRA’s more myopic rating system has never had much credibility. To understand why, it’s necessary to go back in time to the era of GOA’s founding, and imagine that the NRA has announced plans to sell it’s D.C.-area offices, abandon politics, move to New Mexico, and re-open as a crunchy nonprofit devoted to conservation and hiking.
What sounds like a piece of alternate-history science fiction is the starting point for understanding the rise of Larry Pratt and the current configuration of forces in the gun debate.
Among the many social convulsions of the 1960s was a public opinion turn in favor of gun control. The legislative expression of this turn, the 1968 Gun Control Act, established today’s regulatory framework for firearms, including a federal licensing system for dealers. It was the first major gun law since Prohibition-era violence and the advent of the “getaway car” transformed crime and led to the 1934 National Firearms Act, which brought machine guns, short-barreled rifles, and silencers under strict government regulation. Another federal law soon followed: the National Firearms Act of 1938, which required the licensing of interstate gun dealers.
In both the thirties and 1968, the NRA either accepted or collaborated in the writing and passing of the law. For the group’s hardline members, this was one compromise too many. Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Gun Control Act deepened a longstanding fissure inside the organization that widened into a full breach five years later. In 1973, the NRA board put its finger in the air and determined that its future depended on pivoting away from guns and toward conservation and outdoor sports. Plans were put in motion to sell its D.C. headquarters, relocate to Colorado Springs, and build a “National Outdoor Center” in New Mexico, where backpacking, hiking and wilderness survival classes would be taught alongside shooting sports. To help figure out how to finance the overhaul, the NRA commissioned the liberal New York consultant Harold Oram, whose clients included Greenpeace, McGovern for President, and the New York Civil Liberties Union. Oram’s report, issued in the summer of 1976, concluded that raising the $30 million needed for the NRA’s Outdoor Center would require de-emphasizing its past opposition to gun control and avoiding all mention of gun politics in NRA publications. If it renounced its past and promised to stay out of politics, Oram advised, foundations like Rockefeller, then and now a major source of non-profit grants, could be counted on for financing.During the years of the NRA’s slow careen left in search of Rockefeller money, Larry Pratt was making a name for himself in a movement where the Rockefeller name was synonymous with liberal Republicanism — and nearly synonymous with the Devil himself. In 1970, the 28-year-old Pratt became executive director of the American Conservative Union, founded six years prior by William F. Buckley to carry forward the flame of Barry Goldwater’s failed presidential campaign. It was in this capacity that Pratt attended the 1972 GOP Republican Convention in Miami Beach, where he joined fellow conservatives in battles over Nixon’s reelection platform. In Miami, Pratt forged a friendship with another young religious conservative on the make, Paul Weyrich. The two men were so similar, politically and physically, that they looked like a mirror image when they were talking to each other. At the time, Weyrich was raising funds for what would soon become the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. One of the men in Weyrich’s growing network was H.L. Richardson, a frustrated NRA board member, California State Senator, and member of the far-right John Birch Society. Weyrich introduced Pratt and Richardson, who became fast friends.
In 1975, Richardson founded Gun Owners of America on the model of his first group, Gun Owners of California, established earlier that year to (successfully) oppose a state handgun ban and (less successfully) the extension of ownership waiting periods from five to 15 days. That year also saw the establishment of one of the country’s first national gun control groups, the National Council to Control Handguns. Richardson wanted a full-time lobbyist near Washington and tapped Pratt to lead the group’s Northern Virginia office. In the fight against gun control, GOA would pick up the slack created by NRA drift.
"In 1975, we were the first folks on the street looking at races and the lobbying side," says Tim Macy, GOA’s vice chairman. "There was a lot of talk about gun legislation, in California and nationally. When we started, the NRA did not have a political arm."
Pratt had grown up in suburban Indiana and was relatively new to guns when he took GOA’s helm. He’d purchased his first firearm during the 1968 riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King. “There were some racial difficulties,” Pratt later recalled. “I heard on the radio that the police weren’t sure they could control the rioters coming north on 16th Street, so I went out and bought a shotgun.”
In his adult arrival to the world of guns, Pratt resembled another rising star emerging from the 1960s conservative firmament, one who would go on to rival Pratt’s influence in national gun politics. In 1971, Alan Gottlieb, a 24-year-old organizer for Young Americans for Freedom (another Buckley-founded group) founded the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Gottlieb nurtured the group on two key resources: mailing lists, and seed money from William Loeb, the conservative publisher of the Manchester Union Leader. Like GOA’s founder Richardson, Loeb sat on the NRA board. Sidelined by the liberal majority, he’d spent recent years fuming over the group’s direction and was eager to help nurture a new player.
Loeb and Richardson weren’t the only conservatives on the board, but it took a dramatic member insurgency for them to wrest power from the liberals. At the group’s 1977 annual meeting in Cincinnati, hundreds of rank-and-file from around the country staged what has become known in gun culture lore as “The Cincinnati Revolt.” During a long night of speeches and politicking, the membership voted in a new board drawn from the NRA’s fledgling lobbying division, the Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), and changed the by-laws in favor of strong political engagement and tighter member control. By morning, the NRA was controlled by a group of rough-edged conservatives committed to fierce political engagement. The NRA returned to Washington to find it was no longer the only gun game in town. There were now two young upstarts on the scene, Alan Gottlieb and Larry Pratt. Since Gottlieb was based in Seattle, and focused his work on direct mail, education and the courts, this left Pratt and the Gun Owners of America as the leading alternative to the NRA.
In the many legislative battle to come — handgun bans, armor-piercing bullets, background checks — the NRA would have to contend with GOA and its leader, who was neither temperamentally nor politically inclined to yield to an establishment power that had collaborated with the 1934 and 1968 gun control bills. The NRA may have undergone a radical course correction, but it was still a large institution with a deep sense of entitlement and turf.
"They’ve always wanted to be the only kid on the block," says Alan Gottlieb. "The NRA didn’t appreciate the growth of a gun rights movement, because a movement is much harder to control. What started in the mid-1970s with my group and GOA has flowered. Now there is all this pressure from the local and state grassroots level that the NRA has to deal with."
When the NRA re-launched its lobbying machine in 1977, it attempted to accommodate Pratt’s presence in D.C. by developing a good-cop, bad-cop routine.
"Where the NRA played an ‘inside game’, the GOA was about confrontational politics, more stick, less carrot," says Jeff Knox, director of the Firearms Coalition and a prominent gun journalist whose father, Neal Knox, headed the NRA’s lobbying arm between 1978 and 1982. "When dad was at ILA, he saw the GOA as an extension of his tool box. They were useful to him when he could point to a GOA mailing and tell [politicians], ‘See, we’re being reasonable, and if you don’t want us to go there, then you need to deal with us, or you’re going to have to deal with them.’ The relationship between the NRA and GOA has been a weird one over the years, at different times flourishing and failing. Now [they’re] dramatically butting heads." (The NRA did not respond to requests for comment.)
The most recent clash between GOA and the NRA occurred last winter, over the latter’s initial, qualified support for a bipartisan Senate bill that would have shored up the country’s background check system, while also relaxing restrictions on interstate gun sales. The gun community was split on the measure sponsored by Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), with even some purist leaders like Gottlieb calling the bill “more gains than anything.” But Pratt has never seen victory in anything that required giving an inch — especially an inch involving handing information to the federal government. The GOA sent out mailers claiming, “If your private gun transaction is covered by Toomey-Schumer-Manchin (and virtually all will be) … you can assume you will be part of a national gun registry.”
This was a lie. The text of the bill not only reiterated existing laws against the compiling of a national gun database, it went so far as to threaten a jail sentence of “up to 15 years” for breaking them. But the lie worked. There is a consensus that a grassroots backlash against the bill, sparked and sustained by GOA and other purist groups, forced the NRA to drop its support for the bill, helping doom it at the last hour.
Jeff Knox says the GOA played an important role, but that it was part of a swarm of limited power. “Something like 34 groups came together prior to the April vote on Manchin-Toomey. We did have an impact on NRA’s decision. But the bottom line is that all of us could swarm Congress, but if [NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris] Cox walked in and gave a wink and a nod, they’d go against us. NRA is the big dog. They are the ones with the direct, immediate clout, they have the politicians’ ears. That’s why we have to be members [of NRA] and keep them on the straight and narrow.”
According to Knox, Pratt’s biggest strength is being “right on top of what’s going on. The GOA is just faster. The NRA is hidebound and not on top of the news cycle at all. It takes them a week to respond to new information. After Newtown they waited too long, then delivered a tepid response. GOA sees the threats that others often miss.”
GOA has used similarly aggressive and dishonest tactics at the state level to defeat bills it does not like. In New Hampshire this winter, a group called Pro-Gun New Hampshire is backing a state bill that would create pathways for restoring gun rights to people disqualified by federal laws related to mental health problems. From his perch in Springfield, Pratt saw the bill as too weak, and attacked. Soon thousands of New Hampshire voters received anti-bill mailers with the words, “See a shrink, lose your guns” printed in red ink on the envelope. The letter attacked local groups supporting the bill as “anti-gun” — a funeral-serious charge in gun circles usually reserved for likes of Chuck Schumer.
Pro-Gun New Hampshire did not appreciate the epitaph, or Pratt’s meddling, which it described as either ignorant or mendacious.
"Pratt sent out this B.S. propaganda that falsely claimed the bill will disqualify gun buyers if they see a shrink," says the group’s vice president, Sam Cohen. "GOA and groups like it want to promote themselves as the premiere guardian of your rights. They feel in a competitive position with each other to be the ‘no compromise’ group and get members. It’s particularly egregious in this case because if you carefully read the law, you know they’re wrong."
In the months leading up to the 1977 “Revolt in Cincinnati,” Pratt, then 34, announced an insurgent candidacy to represent the suburbs of southern Fairfax County in the Virginia House of Delegates. Pratt was part of a slate of conservatives seeking to knock off the moderate Republicans that dominated the local party. Typical of this old guard was five-term Republican Warren E. Barry, who supported a proposed national ban on the cheap revolvers known as “Saturday Night Specials.” In announcing his candidacy, The Washington Post described Pratt as “a Washington representative for Gun Owners of America and an Amway distributor.”
Pratt lost the local race, but could comfort himself with a growing national reputation. Early the following year, the Post featured Pratt in a piece on “The New Right Network” that gathered weekly at the Capitol Hill Club to debate strategy and hatch initiatives. Among more than a dozen names listed in the paper’s group profile, Pratt is one of the last still active in public life. Sometimes these initiatives impacted gun rights; other times, Pratt found a gun angle to justify using GOA resources. In 1979, he devised a plan, in cooperation with the American Legislative Exchange Council, which he helped found, to throw up constitutional roadblocks to D.C. statehood. “The amendment would bring in two senators who would probably be minority, and would definitely be liberal on gun control,” Pratt said.
Pratt again contested a seat in the House of Delegates in 1979. Boosted by financing from his friend Jerry Falwell, the Lynchburg evangelist, and ties to what the Post called “Joseph Coors’ Heritage Foundation,” Pratt outspent other candidates nearly two to one. He won in a local GOP tide. But his colleagues in Richmond had never seen his breed of Republican before. “Larry was part of a small group of far-right ideologues who thought it was apostasy to vote for an MLK holiday,” remembers Wiley Mitchell, Republican floor leader in the Virginia Senate from 1976 to 1988. “He was strongly opposed to women’s rights. He was against everything.”
Pratt proved a divisive and an ineffectual politician. Seven of eight bills Pratt introduced his first year were defeated, including a ban on nude images on motor vehicles. (If passed, the law would have required modifying the Virginia state seal, anticipating by decades the order by Pratt’s friend John Ashcroft to cover the breast of a statue in the Department of Justice.) His one victory concerned a housekeeping procedural change. The national media noticed him just once, when he declared a war on bongs and fought to ban the sale of drug paraphernalia in Virginia.
The bong battle failed to win him many friends. On the eve of losing his reelection bid, a Norfolk Virginian-Pilot poll ranked Pratt “the least effective member of the House of Delegates.”
Elsewhere in the country, more conservative districts than Fairfax were electing social and religious conservatives like Pratt. What’s more, GOA, which Pratt claimed at the time was approaching 100,000 members, was in a position to help them. The year Ronald Reagan moved into the White House, Pratt told reporters his PAC was spending almost $1 million annually in support of pro-gun candidates. Closer to home, Pratt’s friends were taking over the reigns of government. The August 1981 issue of Life magazine included Pratt among the ten most influential “Young Turks of the Radical Right.” The spread featured a photo of Pratt cradling his first gun, the 12 gauge purchased during the 1968 riots, like a baby.
The defining gun battle of Reagan’s first term didn’t involve gunshot, but a new breed of armor-piercing bullet. It was a fight that would pit the GOA against the NRA, and in the process illuminate the radical anti-statism at the heart of Pratt’s worldview.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) on Saturday warned President Barack Obama was working on behalf of “anti-American globalists” in the United Nations who were plotting against the U.S. Constitution. In a fundraising email sent on behalf of the National Association on Gun Rights, Paul alleged the U.N. Arms…
The Political Freakshow: BREAKING: Voting ends today on the gun control amendments to the gun bill. 7 of the 9 amendments have failed. The final...
The Senate has ended voting on gun-related measures for Wednesday, but two additional votes are planned for Thursday at noon. Our graphics department has put together a guide to the bills, what they sought to accomplish and who voted for them.
Here’s how the votes broke down today:
1st Vote: Manchin-Toomey Background Checks Proposal - Failed 54-46
2nd Vote: GOP Alternative to Background Check Proposal - Failed 52-48
3rd Vote: Leahy Gun Trafficking Proposal - Failed 58-42
4th Vote: Concealed Carry Proposal - Failed 57-43
5th Vote: Assault Weapons Ban Proposal - Failed 40-60
6th Vote: Proposal to Allow Judges To Decide Whether Military Veterans With Mental Issues Would Be Able To Own Firearms - Failed 56-44
7th Vote: High-Capacity Magazines Limit Proposal - Failed 46-54
Today has been a historically shameful day in Washington, DC.
On Thursday, the senate will take-up a comprehensive gun bill that seeks to expand the background check system, enhance penalties for gun trafficking, and invest in school safety. The action will represent the first Congressional debate about firearm safety since the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
The vote to proceed to the measure will come just one day after Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) announced a bipartisan agreement to require background checks for gun sales at gun shows and online websites. Under their amendment, sales of firearms in these venues will be treated in the same way as gun purchases at federally licensed gun shops: individuals will have to undergo background checks that will be recorded with a federal licensed dealer. “All personal transfers are not touched whatsoever,” Manchin said.
h/t: Think Progress
Phony "Patriot" Ted Nugent Doubles Down On Claim He Will Be "Dead Or In Jail" Because Of Gun Laws | Blog | Media Matters for America
National Rifle Association board member Ted Nugent made several inflammatory remarks about the Obama administration during an interview on NRA News, including doubling down on his previous claim that he will be “dead or in jail” if the president was reelected.
During an April 8 interview on NRA News, Nugent also accused the Obama administration of engaging in “jack-booted thuggery” and complained that not enough was done to stop the reelection of Obama, asking, “When I kick the door down in the enemy’s camp, would you help me shoot somebody?” Nugent clarified that his reference to shooting people was “a metaphor” and that he’s “not recommending shooting anybody.”
Nugent told a gathered crowd at the NRA’s annual meeting in April 2012 that, “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year. Why are you laughing? Do you think that’s funny? That’s not funny at all. I’m serious as a heart attack.” He concluded his remarks with a call for the audience to “ride into that battlefield and chop [Democrats] heads off in November.”
Nugent, who is also a columnist for birther website WND, brought up those past comments after NRA News host Cam Edwards falsely claimed that proposed background check legislation would make it so “any time somebody went to your ranch and you loaned them a gun to do some hunting or to do some plinking that would be a five year felony.” According to Nugent, those who laughed at him for saying that “if this America-hater, if this freedom-hater, if this enemy of America becomes the president again I’ll either be dead or in jail” were ignoring the threat of “draconian felonies”:
EDWARDS: You look at what is going on now with the U.S. Senate. They still don’t have the votes for the so-called universal background check bill and that’s a very good thing because this bill is awful. I mean we might as well call this the Ban Ted Nugent Act of 2013. Do you realize, Ted, that under the language right now, any time somebody went to your ranch and you loaned them a gun to do some hunting or to do some plinking that would be a five year felony?
NUGENT: Sure. Well that’s why. I mean come on. And I know that the moderates, by the way if you are a moderate we’d like to thank you for standing up for nothing. If you’re a moderate I suppose you would have been playing poker while Davy Crockett was on the wall of the Alamo. It’s time to take a side.
That’s why I said almost a year ago, Cam, and people recoiled in horror. And I know it caught a lot of my friends off guard, when I said if this America-hater, if this freedom-hater, if this enemy of America becomes the president again I’ll either be dead or in jail. And remember when I was on the stage with you and some people chuckled?
NUGENT: So we find humor in a disastrous statement from a guy who is on the frontlines, who has been in the frontlines of the war against gun ownership for at least forty-plus years. So it’s funny that I might be dead or in jail. And that is so indicative of how callous and disconnected some are, because you are talking about arbitrary, punitive, capricious draconian felonies.
Edwards’ characterization of the proposal to expand background checks is incorrect. While the legislation would require a criminal background check on almost all gun sales, there would be exemptions to the requirement, including gifts between family members and firearms loaned for lawful hunting or target shooting purposes.
Furthermore, the legislation would allow an individual to temporarily transfer a firearm to another individual without a check so long as the firearm does not leave the transferor’s “home or curtilage.”
Warning of government firearm confiscation, Nugent suggested that the federal government was engaged in “jack-booted thuggery,” a term used in the infamous 1995 comparison by NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre between federal law enforcement agents and Nazi stormtroopers:
A lot of people, Cam, I’m afraid, listen to the outrageous examples, the freedom-stomping and jack-booted thuggery. And they wince a bit and they furrow their brow and they shake their heads. But then they still don’t do anything.
Nugent also blamed the reelection of President Obama, who he refers to as the “Chicago gangster, ACORN rip-off scam-artist-in-chief,” on the alleged silence of Obama’s critics. He went on to ask, "When I kick the door down in the enemy’s camp, would you help me shoot somebody?"
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has announced that he will begin to move gun safety legislation Thursday night that includes a variety of items including mandatory background checks, which said will be included in “any bill that passes the Senate.”
“Later tonight, I will start the process of bringing a bill to reduce gun violence to the Senate floor,” he said in a statement. “This bill will include the provisions on background checks, school safety and gun trafficking reported by the Judiciary Committee.”
The move serves to begin the process of debating the legislation, which isn’t expected to come up for a vote until after Easter. Earlier this week, Reid decided to eliminate from the bill a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, saying they lacked the votes to pass. But he promises they will also receive votes separately.
As for the assault weapons ban, limits to high-capacity clips and mental health provisions, Reid said, “In his State of the Union address, President Obama called for all of these provisions to receive votes, and I will ensure that they do.”
The United States Senate will now consider gun control legislation that does not include an assault weapons ban, because the Republicans in the U.S. Senate are a bunch of feckless, indifferent cowards.
And Harry Reid, too.
Previously unreported tapes of Richard Nixon reveal the president once called for a ban on handguns.
The Associated Press reports Nixon took a hard stand during an exchange on May 16, 1972, the day after an attempted assassination on George Wallace:
“I don’t know why any individual should have a right to have a revolver in his house,” Nixon said in a taped conversation with aides. “The kids usually kill themselves with it and so forth.” He asked why “can’t we go after handguns, period?”
Nixon went on: “I know the rifle association will be against it, the gun makers will be against it.” But “people should not have handguns.”
Publicly, Nixon never called for this measure, though Nixon said he would sign a bill that banned on “Saturday Night Specials” — cheaply made and easily concealed guns. Beyond that Nixon took no further action, seemingly advised not to pursue the issue. At the time, Attorney General John Mitchell told Nixon, “the gun lobby’s against any incursion into the elimination of firearms.”
Pro-gun interests are only more powerful today through the National Rifle Association. Meanwhile, the debate on gun violence is a different conversation on what commonsense federal reforms could pass, such as a ban on assault weapons, large-capacity ammunition magazines, and universal background checks. Even if Nixon’s handgun ban were part of our political conversation today, it would not survive contact with the Roberts Court.
Republicans, including Nixon and Ronald Reagan, have backed anti-gun violence measures, and yet President Obama’s commonsense, widely supported proposals have only met blanket resistance from the NRA.
Out for Blood: NRA President David Keefe Tells GOP Senators And Representatives To Vote Against Universal Background Checks
The powerful National Rifle Association will urge lawmakers to vote against mandating universal background checks for gun buyers, NRA President David Keene told USA TODAY on Wednesday. That raises questions about the enactment of many gun-control measures in the wake of last month’s shootings in Newtown, Conn.
The gun-show loophole allows some sales at gun shows to go forward without checking the buyer’s name against a federal database of convicted felons and the mentally ill. Closing it has emerged as one of the most widely supported proposals among Democrats and some Republicans. In a Pew Research Center poll, 85% of Americans backed the idea.
FULL COVERAGE: Debate over guns in America
But Keene, in an interview, and NRA Executive Director Wayne LaPierre, appearing earlier before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the background checks would do little to stop criminals from getting guns and would burden law-aiding citizens.
Asked if the NRA would encourage members of Congress to vote against universal background checks, Keene said, “If it came up today, yes.” He assessed the odds the proposal would pass Congress at less than 50-50.
“But it has a better chance (than an assault-weapons ban) because it sounds reasonable,” Keene said. He called the odds for a new assault-weapons ban “very, very small.” Keene was interviewed for USA TODAY’s Capital Download video series.
“I would suggest at the end of the day it’s not going to pass, but let me give you one caveat,” Keene said.
“In the 1990s, when Bill Clinton wanted an assault-weapons ban … when we went into that battle we were clear winners,” he said. “But then the president did what presidents can do — a few dams, an ambassadorship here, you know, a library there — and that changes things. When you get in a battle with the president of the United States, if he’s willing to spend political capital, you’d be foolish to … bet against him.”
An assault-weapons ban was enacted in 1994 and expired in 2004.
Keene said he doubted that President Obama, who is also pursuing other priorities such as an immigration overhaul, was going to make a similar effort. “I don’t think he’s going to,” Keene said. “I don’t think he’s in a position to do that.”
Gun advocate tells Senate: "AR-15 is the ‘weapon of choice’ for women with crying babies" | The Raw Story
A senior fellow from the conservative Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) on Wednesday told a Senate committee that assault weapons should not be outlawed because they were the “weapon of choice” for young mothers who need a “scary-looking gun.” At Senate Judiciary Hearing on gun violence, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) asked IWF’s Gayle Trotter, who also writes for The Daily Caller, if it would “disproportionately burden women” to ban assault rifles like the Bushmaster AR-15 used to slaughter 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut.
There is something happening with the debate over guns in this country. It seems to me that people on both sides have stopped listening. They have entrenched and, excuse the pun, started readying for battle. That, in my opinion, is a recipe for further division, despair and anger. This country doesn’t need any more of that right now.
The gun issue is a very sensitive and personal one for many Americans, which will always be the case when talking about constitutional rights. If a person can name the amendment that guarantees a freedom, chances are they really care about it. Can you tell me what the 17th Amendment details? I had to look it up, but I bet there are 100 people here in Washington, DC, who can recite it word for word.
Still, there is an overwhelming fear that I keep hearing on the airwaves that “the government is going to take my guns”. I put much of the blame for that mistaken belief on the mainstream media. I watched the network coverage and read much of what was written in the newspapers the day President Barack Obama announced his “gun control plan”. I didn’t see anyone describe it as anything other than a “ban on assault weapons”. It isn’t. It wasn’t until the next day that a reporter in the White House briefing asked which guns would be banned.
Here is the bottom line: the assault weapons ban that is being proposed by the president and Senator Diane Feinstein does not “go after the guns”. To use a quote from the senator’s press release, “the assault weapons ban includes a grandfather clause that specifically exempts all assault weapons lawfully possessed at the date of enactment from the ban”. Of course that isn’t the lead line. The beginning of the release stresses “the bill bans dangerous military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition feeding devices capable of holding more than 10 rounds”.
I believe that politicians should tell Americans exactly what they are trying to do. They shouldn’t be allowed to have it both ways. In order for them to be held to account, the journalists need to understand the legislation enough to ask about it. This is not about the 10 additional seconds of precious TV time it would take to actually explain what this ban is — a fact this important should not be cut for time. It is an important point and the absence of a clear description has created unnecessary fear and helped paralyse the discussion. Perhaps that is what the interest groups on both sides of the issue are hoping for. Americans should demand better. It is an important debate, one that people should discuss honestly and with all the facts.
The pillars of the Right Wing are “forgotten” when trying to attack Obama.
When Dana Loesch appeared on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight to discuss efforts to strengthen gun laws, Piers Morgan introduced her as a “conservative radio talk-show host,” but didn’t identify her as a CNN contributor. CNN hired Loesch as a political contributor in early 2011, but has been absent from the network in recent months.
Without any official announcement, CNN reportedly suspended Loesch soon after she defended U.S. Marines accused of urinating on the dead bodies of Taliban forces, saying, “I’d drop trou and do it too.” Her comment was widely condemned, including by CNN journalists. (By coincidence, one of the Marines involved in the incident pleaded guilty at a court-martial on Wednesday.)
In the interview, Loesch and Hughes both got smacked down by Piers Morgan.
In the past few weeks, Piers Morgan has brought on a number of pro-gun advocates to argue with over gun control, and with each argument Morgan appears to get exponentially more frustrated with their arguments. Case in point, on his program tonight, after repeatedly grilling Dana Loesch on her opposition to restrictions on gun ownership, he told her that listening to her argue so vigorously against gun control “makes me sick.”
Morgan asked Loesch why any American would need large magazine drums. Loesch brought up a big news story about a New York man critically injured after being beaten to argue that having a gun would be useful for self-defense. Morgan pointed out that no one died in the brawl, and pushed her to explain why she thinks a gun would have helped the situation.
Loesch argued that the Founding Fathers would have put limits on gun rights in the Constitution if they wanted any. She asked Morgan if he’s ever fired an AR-15. Morgan said he has not, and Loesch told her that it is much easier to fire than other rifles.
She and Hughes said they do not support a single one of Obama’s proposed executive orders, which led Morgan to go off on a rant against them.
“The pair of you would like the right to have a tank and you don’t agree with a single–a single one of President Obama’s proposals for gun control. And you know what? It makes me sick when I hear people say that kind of stuff.”
And Mrs. Loesch, there IS such thing as an “assault weapon.”
Transcript of the segment between Hughes and Loesch:
MORGAN: Let’s turn to the other side of the gun debate now. Dana Loesch is a conservative radio talk show host of “The Dana Show,” and Scottie Hughes is the news director for Tea Party News Network. Her young brother was a victim of gun violence.
Welcome to you both.
Scottie, what was your reaction to what the president said today? And what did you agree with him about?
SCOTTIE HUGHES, BROTHER WAS MURDERED BY NANNY’S SON: Nothing. Because it was propaganda. From the second he opened his mouth, I thought the Golden Globes were done a couple of days ago. But from the second he opened his mouth to when he went over and high-fived those kids, exploited the kids —
MORGAN: Right. So let me just get this clear.
HUGHES: Nothing — sure.
MORGAN: You don’t agree with universal background checks for gun sales?
HUGHES: In French, back to the Bill of Rights. Strict constitutional.
MORGAN: You don’t agree with that?
HUGHES: Infringe on my rights. I think there is a certain thing to be said. But let’s point this out here.
MORGAN: Well, hang on, hang on.
HUGHES: You’re sitting — hold on.
MORGAN: How can it possibly infringe anybody’s rights to have a background check for a potentially lethal firearm given that gun owners, the people that — sorry, gun store owners have to have them? What possible infringement of your rights is it as a member of the American society if you want to buy a gun that are background checked?
HUGHES: Well, here’s the deal. I’m a legal gun owner. So I’m going to have it. I’m not going to object. You might find a stolen Oreo cookie in kindergarten in my background but I’m going to be cleared, and I got cleared. The criminals, though, are not going to do it. That’s the key to this. If you think the criminals are going to say, hallelujah, and they’re going to have a complete come to Jesus meeting and go get a background check, that’s completely false. If the criminals —
MORGAN: But that is about people planning to break the law. That’s down to law enforcement people to enforce the law. It’s a different issue.
HUGHES: Well, the key is, though, that once again, you’re doing a federal mandate.
MORGAN: You don’t agree with any of this? You don’t agree with —
HUGHES: I really don’t. I think he totally exploited —
MORGAN: What you — what —
HUGHES: — the situation.
MORGAN: Never mind — never mind your view about his exploitation skills. Would you cap ammunition magazines to a 10-round limit?
HUGHES: Because it doesn’t say so in the Constitution. Where do you bullet points the Constitution?
MORGAN: Where does it say you can have an assault weapon that can fire 100 bullets in a minute in your Constitution?
HUGHES: Piers, more importantly where does it say I cannot?
MORGAN: Right. So where’s the limit?
HUGHES: Well, there is not because it doesn’t say it. It does not say it.
MORGAN: But there — but there are limits. There are more than 50 gun control limits already. There a reason for it.
HUGHES: Because I don’t agree with those.
MORGAN: You don’t?
HUGHES: They shouldn’t matter —
MORGAN: So you want a tank?
HUGHES: You know what? When is the last time you saw a terrorist attack? Let’s be realistic —
MORGAN: Do you want the right to have a tank? Do you believe the Second Amendment gives you, Scottie Hughes, the right to have a tank?
HUGHES: You know what, honestly, I don’t see bullet points in the Constitution, sure. I don’t want one. MORGAN: Well —
HUGHES: I think my mayor would be upset.
MORGAN: OK. Dana Loesch, do you think that Scottie is right? Do you feel you have the right to have a tank?
DANA LOESCH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, “THE DANA SHOW”: That’s an interesting question, Piers. I want to explain something just very briefly.
MORGAN: That is the question. How can this be a sensible conversation?
LOESCH: No — listen, listen, listen, listen — no, listen.
MORGAN: Dana, you represent a lot of people —
MORGAN: — who believe what you say and trust you. How can you possibly —
LOESCH: I want to answer your question.
MORGAN: — say you want the right to a tank?
LOESCH: I haven’t even said anything yet. You’ve just presupposed what my answer is going to be.
MORGAN: Well, tell me you don’t want the right to a tank.
LOESCH: The interesting thing about the writing of our Constitution is that, Piers, our founding fathers were very specific on what was and was not mentioned in terms of the Second Amendment. Musket is not mentioned in the Second Amendment. Firearms is what’s mentioned. Arms, period, is what is mentioned in the Second Amendment.
And there are two reasons why we were successful in the Revolutionary War. Number one, guerrilla tactics. Number two, we had the same weapons capability as those against whom we were fighting. And I think that that — if you can’t glean my answer from that, I think it’s pretty definitive.
MORGAN: Your country, America, has 5,000 nuclear warheads. I’d say you’re pretty covered on the threat of an overseas tyrannical regime.
I come back to this question, though, because Scottie wants the right to have a tank. She says there are no limits in terms of the firearms that she can have. By your answer just now, the logical assumption from that is that you also believe there should be no limitation of firearms if a potential enemy has the same thing.
So let me ask you again, Dana. Do you think you should have the right to have a tank under the Second Amendment?
LOESCH: I think the Constitution is clear and it says that we have a right to bear arms under the definition of arms. We have the right to firearms.
MORGAN: Does that include a tank?
LOESCH: If that is how arms is defined, I’m going to let you draw your conclusions on that.
MORGAN: No, no, no. Because I’d be following —
LOESCH: Our founding fathers are clear.
MORGAN: I’d be following this very carefully.
LOESCH: Piers, the founding fathers are clear.
MORGAN: On your Twitter feed you’ve been espousing yourself —
LOESCH: Yes. So have you started using the term — have you stopped using the term assault rifle?
MORGAN: Dana, Dana, Dana — I’ll come to that in a moment.
MORGAN: But you have been espousing very strongly your interpretation of the Second Amendment.
LOESCH: I’ve been quoting the Second Amendment.
MORGAN: So — this is not a time to be shy. Do you believe —
LOESCH: Oh, I’m not.
MORGAN: The Second Amendment gives you, as Scottie believes, the right to have a tank?
LOESCH: I believe that the Second Amendment gives us all the right to bear arms. That’s how I — that’s how I see it.
MORGAN: Does that include a tank?
LOESCH: If that’s how — if it falls under the definition of firearms.
MORGAN: Do you think it does?
LOESCH: I — if it falls under the definition of firearms.
MORGAN: Do you think it does, Dana?
LOESCH: If I say so, you’re going to — you’re going to fire back.
MORGAN: Do you think it does?
LOESCH: And accuse me about my interpretation.
MORGAN: No, I’m asking you — you’ve been interpreting it all week. I’ve been reading your Twitter feed. Do you think —
LOESCH: No, I’ve been quoting the Constitution.
MORGAN: Does your —
LOESCH: What I think —
MORGAN: Does your personal interpretation —
LOESCH: What I think is more of interest is your use of the term assault rifle.
MORGAN: Does your personal — Dana, answer my question.
LOESCH: It’s your use of the terms assault rifle. I have twice.
MORGAN: Does the — does your personal interpretation of the Second Amendment include your right to have a tank?
LOESCH: My personal interpretation of the Second Amendment isn’t a personal interpretation. It is what it is, and it states what it states. We have the right to own firearms. We have the right to bear arms.
LOESCH: Now all of that which falls under the definition of firearms, that is what is guaranteed to us.
MORGAN: Does that include a tank?
LOESCH: If it falls under the definition of firearms, Piers.
MORGAN: Scottie has —
HUGHES: When is the last time you heard somebody want a tank and buy a tank?
MORGAN: Scottie has —
HUGHES: When is the last time you —
MORGAN: Scottie, with respect, with respect, you’ve already said that you think it does. Dana won’t answer the question. And —
LOESCH: I have answered the question. You just don’t like my answer.
MORGAN: I don’t understand why. Well, my question is — LOESCH: So now you —
MORGAN: It’s your personal interpretation that you want —
MORGAN: That’s not funny.
LOESCH: No, no.
MORGAN: Because actually —
HUGHES: It’s ludicrous. This question is ludicrous.
LOESCH: Piers. Piers, with all due respect, I find it so interesting that you’re trying to nail down this definition when you can’t even accurately talk about what is or is not an assault rifle.
MORGAN: I will come to that. But here’s why — here’s why it’s such an important question. Because it’s precisely the definition and interpretation of the Second Amendment that has got America into this horrific mess, as I see it, in terms of —
LOESCH: We disagree on that.
MORGAN: In terms of the right to bear arms and what those arms are. I have no —
LOESCH: We disagree on that.
MORGAN: I know. But I have no problem with Americans who defend themselves in their homes with a handgun or a pistol or a shotgun. I have a major problem, as you know, with the more military-style assault weapons.
Now you say that the weapon used in Aurora and the weapon used at Sandy Hook was not an assault weapon. I ask you what is an assault weapon? If it’s not a weapon that can kill 20 children in a few seconds or unload 100 bullets in a movie theater in 90 seconds, what do you term that kind of weapon if it’s not an assault weapon?
And the reason I put it to you is that the last time there was an assault weapon ban, that particular weapon was included in the ban. And people got rounded by modifying it. But it was included. So it’s defined in 1994 as an assault weapon.
LOESCH: Actually, it was — it also discussed the cosmetics that you could add on to such a weapon. First of all, let me address your initial question. There is no such thing as an assault weapon no more than there is such a thing as an assault unicorn. And if there is one that exists, I would love to capture it.
As for assault rifle, you like to use the term military-style assault rifle.
MORGAN: Yes. LOESCH: I’m not quite sure what constitutes to you military style, but I will tell you this. As a —
MORGAN: Well, let me — let me —
LOESCH: Well, let me — let me explain.
MORGAN: Well, let me make it easy for you.
LOESCH: Let me explain.
MORGAN: Let me make it easy for you.
LOESCH: OK. Go right ahead.
MORGAN: My brother is a British — my brother is a British army colonel.
MORGAN: And he says that from his testing —
LOESCH: So you’re an expert?
MORGAN: Well, my brother is, yes. He’s fought alongside American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
MORGAN: He says he’s only belonged as does General McChrystal and General Colin Powell on a military field because they perform in a military-style capability.
MORGAN: When a young deranged man —
MORGAN: Well, it’s not funny. Stop laughing, Dana.
LOESCH: I’m not —
MORGAN: I don’t like anybody laughing in this conversation. These are —
LOESCH: I want to answer your question. You just — you won’t let me answer.
MORGAN: These are — these are fundamental — I am letting you answer. I’m telling you that in my view —
LOESCH: I know what the answer is.
MORGAN: Any rifle that can unload 90 bullets or 100 bullets in 90 seconds has to be an assault weapon.
LOESCH: Well, again, assault — when you use the term military- style assault rifle, you do realize that you’re trying to conflate the terms, and you’re giving the impression that Adam Lanza and these other individuals actually owned military standard rifles. An assault rifle, if you want to use this term for the sake of argument. You’re talking about either a weapon or a firearm that’s capable of select fire, which I’m sure you know what that means.
MORGAN: I do, yes.
LOESCH: Being that you’re discussing it. Or it’s semiautomatic, automatic, or it’s capable of select fire.
MORGAN: Now you see —
I’m actually not, though. I’m actually not. I’ll talk to you about it —
LOESCH: Citizens — but let me tell you.
MORGAN: I’m talking about it — no, no, Dana.
LOESCH: As a firearm owner, as a member of the NRA.
MORGAN: Dana. Dana.
LOESCH: As someone who has shot fully automatic weapons and who owns semiautomatic weapons.
MORGAN: Yes. Yes.
LOESCH: Let me tell you that a citizen cannot go out and purchase a fully automatic weapon.
LOESCH: They are regulated to ban. So when you use this terminology, it is from this knowledge base that you were using to cast aspersions on to our second amendment rights.
MORGAN: You don’t — you don’t dispute — you don’t dispute that the AR-15 was banned under the last assault weapons ban?
Excuse me, Scottie, wait a minute.
MORGAN: You don’t dispute that?
LOESCH: And Columbine happened, and Columbine happened after that. MORGAN: No, no. That wasn’t the question, Dana. Do you dispute that it was banned?
LOESCH: And Columbine happened after that.
MORGAN: Dana, you’re having trouble tonight answering any of my questions.
LOESCH: No, I’m not. I’m answering all of your question.
MORGAN: Just clarify and tell me this one second.
LOESCH: You not liking my answers does not constitute me not answering.
MORGAN: You say — you say the AR-15 is an assault weapon. Why was it banned then under the 1994 assault weapons ban?
LOESCH: Because people don’t like scary-looking guns. Do you realize you can get a pellet gun that looks like a military-style assault weapon —
MORGAN: OK. You don’t want to answer the question. OK.
HUGHES: And because — it’s because Joe Biden was at the lead of it. Joe Biden was the one.
MORGAN: Let’s take a break. Let’s take a break, come back. I’ll try some more questions. Why don’t we see if we can get some answers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Obama uses kids as human shields. The Democrats use kids as human shields. He brings these kids supposedly who wrote letters to the White House after Newtown, bring them up there to present a picture of support among the children.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Rush Limbaugh today. Back with me now, Dana Loesch and Scottie Hughes.
Scottie Hughes, why shouldn’t President Obama bring these children to the White House to illustrate a point that he is making these proposals now in direct relation to the slaughter of children?
HUGHES: Why sit here and say to these — to bring these children up on stage and give them high-fives and then sit there and your White House claims that the NRA ad exploits his own children? I mean, across the board, he is exploiting children. He sat there and is complaining double standard completely. He brought his children on every chance he could during the campaign. And now his White House is coming and saying this new NRA ad is actually attacking his children and that’s just wrong? Hands off my kids?
The same thing he did today with those four. And to you point, I’ll be honest to you, people own tanks. People own cannons. Hey, people own jet fighters. When is the last time you heard a crime done by one of those people?
MORGAN: OK, Dana Loesch, let’s ask you that question which is about the magazine clips. Do you think that there is any reason why any civilian needs a magazine — or magazine drums at it is now, over 10-round limit or more?
LOESCH: I think that there exist reasons that exactly why we should have more than. I know what — New York bans seven. I can think of a story just a headline that just hit the papers today in New York. There was a man who was attacked by a gang of men with bats and tire irons. There were I believe more than seven of those individuals that attacked him. I can’t think of that —
MORGAN: What is the point of that anecdote?
LOESCH: And also, and also, Piers —
MORGAN: But Dana, why do you tell that story?
LOESCH: Well, because it’s to highlight that if someone has a firearm and they’re able to defend themselves —
MORGAN: Have you seen that video? Have you seen the video?
LOESCH: Or — I’ve seen — I actually have screen shots of it.
MORGAN: OK. I bet you — I bet you you’ve —
LOESCH: But Piers — but Piers —
MORGAN: Well, hang on. Hang on. You can’t just say these things. I took the trouble to watch that whole video.
LOESCH: Yes, OK.
MORGAN: An unfortunate man involved in a pizza argument at 5:00 a.m. in the street gets attacked by a group of people who were clutching a bar of some sort.
LOESCH: A tire iron.
MORGAN: But he is a live. He didn’t get killed. He wasn’t shot. Is your solution to that fight in a street —
LOESCH: I made a suggestion.
MORGAN: And we don’t know who caused or what.
LOESCH: I didn’t say it was the solution.
MORGAN: It’s your suggestion that somebody pull a gun out and shot somebody.
LOESCH: If you have to defend yourself against more than one attacker, then absolutely. And, Piers, you also have — have you ever fired a — have a fired a weapon?
MORGAN: So that young man should have shot those people?
LOESCH: I’m not saying that. I’m saying that if someone has —
MORGAN: What are you saying then?
LOESCH: There are instances where there is more than one people, more than one person coming at you. There is an instance where you have —
MORGAN: Let me ask you. OK. Let me ask you.
LOESCH: But, Piers, here’s the thing.
MORGAN: Let me ask you this.
LOESCH: It’s the founding fathers —
MORGAN: What do —
LOESCH: — wanted this limit that would have enumerated that and the Second Amendment.
MORGAN: OK. We’ve already stopped as you don’t believe there are limitations. So that’s fine. So every one can have a tank.
Why would anybody — why would anybody need an AR-15?
LOESCH: Have you ever fired one?
MORGAN: I haven’t fired one. No. Why would anyone need an AR —
LOESCH: OK. Let me tell you right now. Let me —
MORGAN: Dana, let me just finish my question.
LOESCH: I want to answer this because —
MORGAN: Let me finish my question.
LOESCH: Piers, this will help so much. This helps so much.
MORGAN: Nobody — nobody — let me —
(CROSSTALK) MORGAN: Let me ask the question.
LOESCH: OK, go ahead.
MORGAN: Why would anybody need an AR-15 that has a magazine with 100 bullets in it, as with the shooter at Aurora? Why would anybody need that?
LOESCH: Well, first and foremost, if you’ve never fired an AR- 15, as a woman, who also has self-defense — has — uses guns for self-defense and likes to know that I have that security they’re a lot easier to fire than other rifles simply because of the recoil.
MORGAN: So you think all women should all be armed with AR-15s?
LOESCH: My goodness, now are you going to go off on a tangent every single time I say one thing? You just go off to make up another —
MORGAN: I’m trying to clarify what you actually believe.
LOESCH: Come on, now, Piers. Stay with me here. Stay here with me.
MORGAN: I’m trying to clarify what you believe.
LOESCH: Well, I’m trying to explain it to you, but you keep putting words in my mouth every time I try. So stop, let me finish, and we’ll get somewhere with this. No, an AR-15 is — honestly, it’s just like any other rifle. I don’t understand why some individuals can become so scared of this, because they think it’s a scary-looking weapon. It’s not. This is not like the military-style assault rifle that, you know, fully automatic or capable of select fire.
MORGAN: It shot 17 Americans — it shot 17 Americans in a movie heater in 90 seconds. It murdered a group of New York state firemen.
LOESCH: Do you know there are — there are pistols —
MORGAN: And killed 20 schoolchildren in an elementary school.
LOESCH: There are pistols made by Armalite.
MORGAN: Yes. But this particular weapon has been used in the last four mass shootings and still nobody can explain to me why any civilian —
LOESCH: How are law-abiding Americans responsible for that, Piers?
MORGAN: — need that? Or one of these high-capacity magazines?
LOESCH: Piers, how are law-abiding —
MORGAN: I don’t get what their need is.
LOESCH: How are law-abiding citizens like me responsible for that? I follow the law. And I’ll admit it. I own an AR-15. I follow the law.
MORGAN: James Holmes was a law-abiding —
LOESCH: I went through my background checks. I’ve taken the classes.
MORGAN: Dana —
LOESCH: I’m a responsible owner.
MORGAN: James Holmes —
LOESCH: Why should I be punished?
MORGAN: James Holmes was a law-abiding citizen. He bought his guns legally. He bought the ammunition over the Internet. And he went in and shot 17 Americans in a movie theater. So I’m afraid when the NRA —
MORGAN: When the NRA says taking our guns, attacking our guns today —
LOESCH: No. No.
MORGAN: Wait. The NRA said today attacking our guns will only hurt law-abiding gun owners like —
LOESCH: I want to focus on something for a second, Piers.
MORGAN: Do I presume then — do I presume —
LOESCH: I want to focus on that. He was —
MORGAN: Let me finish, Dana.
LOESCH: He was on medication and he was seeing a psychiatrist.
MORGAN: Do I presume — Dana, I don’t dispute that.
LOESCH: No, let me answer this. I want to bring this up. This is an important point, Piers.
MORGAN: I’m telling you, though, that he was a legal gun owner.
LOESCH: And it needs to be made.
MORGAN: As was Adam Lanza’s mother.
LOESCH: No, here’s the thing. This is where people who are —
MORGAN: Adam Lanza’s mother was a legal gun owner.
LOESCH: Piers, Piers —
HUGHES: But Adam Lanza’s mother did not shoot people up, Piers. You have to realize that.
LOESCH: And Piers, you need to realize, too, that this is where the people who are supposed to be telling — see, look. I’m going to use the case of Jared Loughner as an example. Do you realize that that — he could have been reported in terms of being mentally unfit, reported to NICS when they did the background check they would have determined that he was mentally unfit. He would have been unable to purchase a firearm.
The same thing with Holmes. But you have these laws in place.
Piers, what good are laws if they — if no one wants to follow them.
MORGAN: Scottie —
LOESCH: Do you realize —
MORGAN: Scottie said earlier —
LOESCH: No. Do you realize that there are laws that have been passed to incentivize states recording these people?
MORGAN: Scottie said early that she —
MORGAN: OK. I hear you. Scottie said earlier she doesn’t agree with a single thing that President Obama said today. What’s your view? Is there anything there you agreed with?
LOESCH: You know, I’m really — because I think that he was moved by what happened at Newtown, which I think anybody would have been. And at the same time —
MORGAN: Was there anything you agreed within the president’s proposals?
HUGHES: And instead of — today instead of having those four children —
MORGAN: You know that’s it. You know something?
HUGHES: — I would have liked to have the mother from Georgia that sat there.
MORGAN: The pair of you would like to have the right to have a tank and you don’t agree with a single —
LOESCH: Why are you making — now you’re committing —
MORGAN: With a single one of President Obama’s proposals.
LOESCH: Now you’re committing the straw man, Piers. Now you’re committing the straw man.
HUGHES: Because all you’re doing —
MORGAN: And you know something? It makes me sick when I hear people say that kind of thing.
HUGHES: Piers. Do we need to —
LOESCH: Piers, when did they say that, Piers? It makes me sick when I hear people —
MORGAN: Coming up, (INAUDIBLE) the gun debate and the president’s sweeping proposal.