TTAG reader Dyspeptic Gunsmith writes:
I was involved hot and heavy in the RKBA battles in CA in 1989, in the battles leading up to 1994 and several others besides. In 1994, the political climate was far different. I get the distinct impression that most of you on TTAG were too young to be politically aware in the 80′s and early 90′s, so I’m going to fill you adorable tykes in on what went before. Pull up a lawn chair while Grampa Dyspeptic fills y’all in. School is now in session . . .
First, the meaning of the Second Amendment was up in the air at that time. There was only desultory debate among legal scholars; the “received wisdom” from on high was that it was a “collective” right. There was only the beginning of legal scholarship being published for the “individual right” ‘interpretation’ of the Second Amendment. About the only papers in law journals by 1994 discussing the individual rights interpretation were Sanford Levinson’s The Embarrassing Second Amendment and follow-up to same.
There were some papers published by Don Kates arguing for a right to keep and bear arms, and that even if the Second were found to be collective by the SCOTUS, there was still an argument to be put forth for ownership of handguns for self-defense under the Ninth Amendment. Remember, the “assault weapon” issue was new back then, and that the real animus was against handguns of all types.
The NRA didn’t want to take any Second Amendment case to court for fear that they would lose. Constitutional experts like Don Kates used to fume at the NRA back then, because the NRA back then was filled with hook-n-bullet OFWG’s who thought that “assault weapons” were evil and that if they could just give the anti’s the “bad black guns,” and maybe even strict licensing of handguns, the anti’s would leave the hook-n-bullet boys’ Parkers and Winchesters alone.
In other words, we had a fight on two fronts: We were fighting the likes of Feinstein and Schumer in Congress, and we were fighting our supposed allies who stabbed us in our backs more often than they’d just keep quiet. What most of you don’t realize is that post-1994, the NRA became a wholly different organization. The hook-n-bullet boys were effectively purged from the leadership of the organization. I’d like to think that my group of RKBA advocates had something to do with Chuck Heston and Ted Nugent getting into positions of leadership at the NRA – because we campaigned to them directly and to the NRA’s leadership group.
In early 1994, there was precious little study of guns as a deterrent to violence or armed criminals. Gary Kleck’s studies and books were just coming out in early 1994 – and they sold like hotcakes among us in the RKBA movement back then, but the information was so new, the studies were still being hotly debated and answered by Kleck in refereed journals, that they were of little use in the legislative debates in 1994.
In 1994, there were the Brady Bill, the Feinstein/Schumer AWB and the “Safe Schools Act” that were passed in rapid succession. The pro-RKBA side was on their heels. The new breed of urban Jewish Democrats in Congress had the bit in their teeth and were feeling quite smug about themselves – they had found a new issue that played well among their urban constituents and (more importantly) among the pundits in the press, who have always been the true enemies of all liberties.
If there were one freedom in the Bill of Rights that I would extirpate in the interests of all Americans, it would be the “freedom of the press.” But that’s a subject for another time. Let us just say that without “the press,” the people are ignorant. With the press, they’re misinformed. I’ll take honest ignorance over misinformation every time.
In debates I had with people after their passage, I predicted that the Brady Bill would be found to be an unconstitutional mandate upon the states because it required action(s) by the states without money to fund these required actions by the states, based on the court case New York v. US and the disposition of Chief Justice Rhenquist against unfunded mandates and towards the doctrine of federalism.
This turned out to be true. I predicted that the AWB would eventually expire, because the AWB required a study of it’s efficacy as a condition for renewal in 2004. That turned out to be true. And I predicted (based on what Don Kates told me) that we’d see a true Second Amendment case and that it would be affirmed as an individual right.
Don Kates turned out to be right. I take no credit for that prediction. It did, per Don’s prediction, take someone else other than the NRA bringing the case to court.
I also predicted that the 1994 elections would surprise a lot of people. Liberals scoffed at me. They saw the upcoming election as a re-affirmation of the Clinton administration and the DNC in general, based upon accolades being heaped upon all these urban Jewish legislators ramming through their gun control agenda by a fawning urban media. Liberals didn’t realize that there were 535 seats in the US Congress and that liberal urban Jews didn’t fit and would never fit more than a handful of those seats.
The political climate in early 1994 was one of the GOP being the permanent minority party, with a few exceptions such as the Senate early in Reagan’s first term. The GOP basically never really got their way on anything. The Democrats had controlled the House non-stop since the start of WWII. There were pro-gun Democrats of the old stripe, but they were dying off rapidly and being replaced by self-promoting clowns like Schumer: lawyers who had never served in the military, parasites who are professional politicians since they graduate from law school.
Newt Gingrich set out to “nationalize” the election based on the idea of a “contract” with America, that if the voters voted for the GOP in their Congressional election, the GOP would bring a set of issues to a vote in their first 100 days in Congress. This played well, but by August 1994, the polling made it look as if the GOP was going to win only a slight majority in both houses of Congress.
After the rapid slam-dunks on gun control by the Democratic Congress, I predicted by September of 1994 to all my liberal friends (I was living in California at the time) that the GOP could take the Congress, and they’d take it in a big way.
They laughed in my face and told me that I, like every other gun owner, had my head up my ass.
In the week after the election of November 1994, I just smiled at these liberals. I think the most uncharitable I ever got was to say “Well, there are, in fact, several people at this lunch table with their heads deeply embedded in their rectums. I, however, having predicted this outcome and having erred only in that my predictions of the number of seats lost by the DNC were low, cannot be counted among them.”
I lost a bunch of people who had called themselves my “friends” at that point. They were beside themselves that we gun owners were, in fact, more in tune with America than they were.
Liberals were shell-shocked. The press was shell shocked. They walked around in a daze. They had literally no clue what just hit them. In conversations, they’d just splutter with incoherent rage, which has been largely their mode of conversation ever since. They were still riding high from electing a POTUS who had admitted to smoking reefer. That’s what passed for a qualification for office at that time for liberals: being a Baby Boomer who was “hip.”
They had been able to comfortably assume that the Democrats would control Congress at nearly every election, and that all they had to win was the Presidency so they could implement a huge laundry list of legislative mischief they’d wanted, but could not effect in the 12 years of Reagan & Bush Sr. A huge list. Here we were, only two years into liberal control of the White House, and it was all snatched away from them… by stump-jumpin’ rednecks with guns.
Yes, kids, it was a Real Big Deal. If you weren’t watching TV the night of the election in November, 1994, then you didn’t see the faces of all these idiots from the news networks as the results came in. By midnight PST, the prognosticators and commentators on the Big Three networks looked like someone had just stomped a litter of kittens to death right in front of them.
They were horrified that the American electorate was so far “out of touch” with all the “good” that had been done by Clinton in the first two years of his first term. But that night in November, 1994, the press was still thinking that this was the American electorate having a hissy about Hillary’s health care plan and Clinton’s various social issues such as gays in the military and the ensuing “don’t ask, don’t tell” nonsense. There was some credit given to the NRA and gun owners, but it was grudging and small.
But then, in the weeks after the election, more and more political prognosticators and polling groups who completely missed the anger of the electorate went combing through the exit polling, the pre-election polling, the individual races for the Congress… and they all came to the same conclusion:
Gun owners had power. Real political power. Political power like no one in Congress had seen since the days before the Civil War when the Abolition movement swept the Whigs out of power.
There were several out-going Democratic members of the House who, in the aftermath of losing their seats, went up to Schumer and screamed in his face that “you did this to us! You and your stupid obsession with guns!”
Oh, and for our Jewish readers, allow me to remind you that there’s always been a strain of anti-semitism in the DNC… and it started to float to the surface after all these comfy white, well-to-do academic socialists in the think tanks and the DNC fumed about the “the Jewish obsession with guns…” – because then, as now, we saw that the vast majority of the members of Congress carrying these bills forward were Jewish – and from safe districts where they didn’t care about how this issue hit everyone else who might have been a Democrat.
That about wraps up my trip down memory lane of 1994 for you youngsters. Now let’s talk about the current situation.
We now have a Supreme Court case as well as constitutional scholarship that the Second Amendment recognizes an individual right to own weapons. Period, end of discussion, done deal. The Heller decision is significant in that all nine justices agreed that the Second Amendment recognizes an individual right. The overall decision was 5-4, yes, but the issue of individual vs. “the militia” was not 5-4. It was a slam-dunk done deal.
We now have decisions on the books incorporating this right upon the states, ala the “incorporation doctrine” of the 14th Amendment. We have many more studies, stats etc. We have the election of 1994 as a cautionary tale for Democrats in heavily pro-gun districts – and trust me, the Democrats now know that gun owners don’t forget and never forgive. There is NO OTHER ISSUE in American politics that causes a political hack to lose their seat as fast as voting against gun owners in districts where there are a significant number of gun owners.
We had none of those things in 1994. NONE. We were arguing that the Second Amendment recognized an individual right in the face of Supreme Court decisions that were rarely clear on the topic, or touched the topic only as a tangent.
Prior to Heller, the clearest case that could provide precedent for arguing that the Second recognized an individual right was the Dred Scott decision, and legal scholars don’t like to cite Dred Scott v. Sanford because it says that black people are not people, they’re property, and as such, property doesn’t have rights. One of the rights that the Dred Scott decision says that blacks could not be afforded as property was the right to keep and bear arms – making it clear that Justice Taney saw the Second Amendment as an individual right.
We’re now in a much stronger position. The only people arguing that the Second Amendment applies to only “the militia” are loons or the very highly uninformed. They can be put down very rapidly with Heller. It’s the law of the land, period, done deal.
Then we have the abundance of statistical information developed since 1994. We had very scant information and much of it cherry-picked on the uses of guns for self-defense. The anti’s were promulgating their “studies,” which were invariably statistically invalid for one reason or another and there were so many bits of “conventional wisdom” floating around about guns that people actually believed that you were 12 times as likely to die in your own home if you owned one gun than if you owned none.
That’s now all well-discredited nonsense and Kleck’s work has gone on to inspire more and more solid statistical work by criminologists and social sciences statisticians than we ever had going into 1994.
There is no need to panic. There is a need to buckle down and get to work. We have court decisions, statistics, criminology studies and public opinion on our side. We must, as we did in 1994, discredit and humiliate the editors and reporters in the press when they pull stunts or publish falsehoods and propaganda, as is their habit, but that’s old hat for guys like me now. If I can make a journalist cry or look like a lying sack of crap in public, then I’ve had a good day indeed. But that’s a goal I keep to every day – not just when there’s a need.
In short, this is nothing like 1994.
Now, get off my lawn and get to work.