April hasn’t been a kind month to Oregon State Senator Chuck Riley (D-Hillsboro). The freshman Beaver State senator — whose campaign last year received $75,000 from Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety civilian disarmament organization — gained internet notoriety when video surfaced of him calling the Supreme Court’s pre-Civil War decisions upholding the constitutionality of slavery as “right for the time” while talking with constituents . . .
The conversation concerned gun control and the Senator’s support for Senate Bill 941. Riley supports the bill which would eliminate private transfers of firearms in the Beaver State by requiring background checks through an FFL for all firearms transactions. During the conversation, Riley said that the Supreme Court had held that background checks were Constitutional. (Note: to my knowledge the court has not actually held this, but the dicta in District of Columbia v. Heller — where Justice Scalia says that the decision shouldn’t cast doubt on “laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms” — leaves the door open pretty wider.)
The Senator’s interlocutor objected, stating that the Supreme Court’s decisions on slavery were morally wrong. Riley then said, “…they [the Court] were right for the time until they changed it [the Constitution].” This, of course, caused a stir at the coffee shop and a bit of a headache for the Senator when online media caught wind of the story.
“For the record, I am opposed to slavery,” the Senator (who also says he’s a gun owner) told me in a telephone conversation yesterday.
My answer was meant to be, the Supreme Court doesn’t judge morals, they judge constitutionality. Before the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, it was constitutional. There’s still in the Constitution a section–Article 4 Section 2–about returning runaway slaves. It’s just overridden by the 13th Amendment.
The Supreme Court decision of Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), however, did more than just confirm the (pre-13th Amendment) constitutionality of slavery. In the decision, Chief Justice Roger Taney called African-Americans “so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect….” (Id. at 407.) He replied: “Obviously, they went farther than they should have gone. I think slavery was an abomination. But it was in our Constitution.” Mr. Riley reiterated that he simply making an argument about what was constitutional at the time, not what was morally right.
The Senator isn’t the only advocate of tighter gun restrictions to have made a gaffe concerning race in recent months. In February, billionaire plutocrat Michael Bloomberg proclaimed during comments at the Aspen Institute that since 95% percent of murders are committed by 15-25 year old male minorities, “[c]ities need to get guns out of this group’s hands,” implying a campaign to deprive minorities of their constitutionally-protected right to keep and bear arms. Despite the rather large contribution from Bloomberg’s Everytown group (which Mr. Riley confirmed,) the Senator appeared to be surprised about these comments.
I hadn’t heard that. That’s a crazy statement. I only want to get guns out of the hands of criminals, and to characterize any subgroup — any group at all — as being people who should be targeted is wrong . . . When Everytown came and contributed money I didn’t realize they were associated with him.
He further stated that he otherwise has “no relationship” with Bloomberg and that he’s never even met the former New York City mayor.
The Senator also talked a bit about the background check bill pending before the Oregon legislature. Was there any evidence that made him think it would actually reduce crime? He gets at least a half-point for honesty by admitting that he doesn’t know.
I think it will it will have an impact, how significant I’m not sure. No one knows when we pass a law. When we passed a seat-belt law a few years ago, we didn’t know for sure what impact it would have, but it’s made a huge difference.
Uncertainty about the long-term effects sounds more like an argument against passing a law, but maybe that’s just me. Currently, private transfers in Oregon are the only ones that don’t require an FFL to conduct a background check. New transfers at dealers and at gun shows have this requirement. These laws were enacted piecemeal over the years, perhaps showing the benefits to gun control advocates of playing the long game, being willing to accept half or a third of a loaf (I’m looking at you, Coloradans).
Mr. Riley has already earned the ire of gun rights activists in Oregon; he defeated incumbent Republican Bruce Starr by a narrow margin last year and after casting a decisive vote on Senate Bill 941, a Hillsboro man submitted paperwork for a recall election against him. Representative Susan McLain and House Majority Leader Val Hoyle are facing similar petitions. The otherwise talkative Senator was rather terse when asked about this.
Obviously it’s their right and part of the process. I accept whatever the voters decide.
DISCLAIMER: The above is an opinion piece; it is not legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship in any sense. If you need legal advice in any matter, you are strongly urged to hire and consult your own counsel. This post is entirely my own, and does not represent the positions, opinions, or strategies of my firm or clients.