Crimson Trace

April 17, 2013

Dangerous Times, Dangerous Games, High Stakes

There's not much we can add to the horrific story in Boston. It was a terrorist attack designed to deliver the message that terrorists are no longer afraid of reprisals. If our leaders are not preparing an unmistakable response to the contrary, we may be facing a long and dangerous summer.

Without sounding bloodthirsty, I'm not thinking many Americans are considering turning the other cheek. Unlike inexplicable attacks by unbalanced crazies, this was a planned attack by an organized group. And that group should be eliminated as an object lesson to others who are watching to see how the nation responds.

An unmistakable message was delivered yesterday to the outdoor industry and thousands of consumers by the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex & Expo Center: "We heard you. We understand."

After the major players in the firearms industry, hundreds of small businesses and tens of thousands of consumers sacrificed one of the country's top outdoor shows rather than be told by the show management the modern sporting rifle would not be permitted there last year, the former management company announced the show's "postponement". Reed Expositions, the UK-owned expo group was determined not to back down on their position. Now, they're out in favor of a decidedly pro-gun management team.

The newly named Great American Outdoor Show will be held February 1-9, 2014 and managed by: the National Rifle Association. Yes, that NRA.

That's quite a message. It should resonate with every outdoor enthusiasts in the region, not to mention the nearly 900,000 NRA members within 300 miles of Harrisburg. The NRA will be inviting it's entire membership (5,000,000 and counting) to support the event and the Harrisburg-area.

The Great American Outdoor Show will be open to all outdoor enthusiasts, and NRA insiders tell me there will be hunting, fishing, archery, camping, and boating sections, along with a new shooting section open to national firearm and accessory manufacturers. I'm thinking the most popular guns will be welcome at this event-especially the modern sporting rifle.

The NRA will be adding evening musical performances , speakers and educational and informational seminars. No firearms sales, but ammunition sales will be OK. Hopefully, that means there will be ammunition available to sell by then.

It's an unmistakable message to consumers, and a stinging rebuke to politicians who might think the modern sporting rifle is something consumers will give up easily.

And the question of giving up anything when it comes to gun rights is causing a lot of angry conversation among the ranks of gun enthusiasts. For the past few days, the Second Amendment Foundation has been feeling the heat from angry Second Amendment advocates who think the group has sold out to Washington political pressure.

The SAF says that just isn't so. "I knew I was going to get heat for it, but I'm convinced it's the right thing to do," says the Second Amendment Foundation's Alan Gottlieb, almost before I got "hello" out of my mouth in a phone conversation on Monday evening. "It's not like I didn't expect it, but there's been a lot of vitriol without any consideration of the situation."

The "situation" is the hornet's nest Gottlieb kicked over with the announcement that he and the SAF not only endorsed the controversial Manchin-Toomey amendment to a completely toxic bill proposed by New York Senator (and eternal anti-gun guy) Chuck Schumer, they helped draft it.

Say what? Said the gun community. Other responses were more colorful, but certainly more direct in the suggestion that Gottlieb and the SAF could, well, perform some highly unlikely anatomical maneuvers on their collective selves.

But Gottlieb's standing by his guns, saying the Manchin-Toomey proposal does more than modify Schumer's proposal- it effectively neuters the major intent of the bill- creation of universal background checks and a gun registry.

The Manchin-Toomey proposal does include some good points: interstate sales of handguns, restoration of veteran's gun rights, protection for traveling with firearms, civil and criminal immunity lawsuit protection should you sell a gun, and a clause that does call for background checks at gun shows, but really doesn't limit personal sales.

If that sounds confusing, it's because the provision says that two independent people conducting a transaction at a gun show must run a background check.

What it also says is that, should two people meet, consider a potential deal and not close it at the gun show, there's no need for the background check. Setting the table for a sale is not the same thing as making a sale. Consummating the deal elsewhere wipes out the gun show provision.

And there's the provision that says a concealed carry permit exempts you from a background check in a gun transaction.

But why dance with the devil, knowing you're going to catch hell for doing it?

"To knock out the horrible Schumer bill," Gottlieb said, "and establish a 15-year prison term for anyone trying to build a federal gun registry."

Gottlieb says he has made it clear that if amendments added to Manchin-Toomey, didn't strengthen gun rights protections, "we'll walk away from the whole deal."

Now, the Second Amendment Foundation and the NRA once again find themselves in conflicting positions. Over the past 40 years of fighting for the Second Amendment in courtrooms and law schools across the country, that's not a position Gottlieb's not faced before.

"I know we don't agree on this one," he said, "but I'm not certain an all-or-nothing position is workable in this set of circumstances. The country -including gun owners- think some changes -especially expanded backgound checks- aren't a bad thing."

"In that sort of climate," he continued, "it's unreasonable to believe that nothing will pass through Congress. So, we decided to step out and take the lead on creating provisions that actually strengthen the rights of gun owners."

That argument, however, isn't carrying the weight with other Second Amendment advocates, including David Codrea.

"And while Gottlieb claims "the gun-grabbers have stepped into our trap" and some of my colleagues haven't quite figured it out yet," Codrea wrote, "early reactions from some of those colleagues are not boding well for their conversion and acceptance.

"Unlike some of my friends, I'll disagree with them and say I don't think Gottlieb is doing this because he wants to sell anybody out. I've been wrong about people before, and can't say I know the man well, but I like and respect what I've seen of him in personal interactions, acknowledge the significant and creative contributions he's made to the cause of the right to keep and bear arms, believe he's sincere (and probably a genius to boot), and believe he's also pretty damned gutsy to risk so much knowing in advance he'd incur a severe backlash and that some may never forgive him for this perceived betrayal.

That said, my right to buy and sell my property to whomever I damn well please is not his to bargain with. I do not authorize CCRKBA to negotiate deals on my behalf for that, and don't recognize any such bargains agreed to."

As usual, Codrea raises a valid point. It's splitting a hair pretty finely to talk about negotiating any part of a "right". After all, rights aren't granted, they are recognized by the government as having originated from a "higher authority".

Of course, for statists like Schumer, Bloomberg and President Obama, the idea of a "higher power" just might be what's sticking in their collective craw, despite the idea of the United Nations telling them what is or is not acceptable for the United States apparently doesn't give them much heartburn.

But the idea that "God" - of any flavor- could presume to tell them what's best for man is apparently heresy. If I'm not struck down by lightning for writing this, I'm going to presume that God has no problem with my characterization. And that aforementioned trio may be able to call out the dogs if angered, but they can't command the weather.

Gottlieb wouldn't confirm or deny it, but I have it on good authority that there were other groups present in the sessions when Manchin-Toomey was being assembled. At least one of those other groups would be in very hot water with its most ardent supporters if their presence were confirmed. It was NOT a group on the pro-gun side of the issue.

In the meantime, the NRA seems to represent the majority position when writing "Expanding background checks at gun shows will not prevent the next shooting, will not solve violent crime, and will not keep our kids safe in schools.....we have a broken mental health system that is not going to be fixed with more background checks at gun shows. The said truth is that no background check would have prevented the tragedies in Newtown, Aurora, or Tucson. We need a serious and meaningful solution that addresses crime in cities like Chicago, addresses mental health deficiencies, while at the same time protecting the rights of those of us who are not a danger to anyone,

That isn't the ranting of a bunch of right-wing crazies. Instead, it sounds like an overture to open serious dialog about finally trying to address the core problems indicated by violence.

But I'm no politician and lack the political skills necessary to discern what really motivates the continued belief that an inanimate object can spur living, thinking beings (that would be US) into committing violent acts on each other.

There are entirely too many wild cards in play to say definitively that anything is really off the boards in the Senate. The House of Representatives will have a vote on whatever the Senate ultimately proposes. And their decision will be the determining factor in the fight -I hope.

But this one's far from over - especially less than one day into the debate and on the heels of a national tragedy.

Watch, read and study this one along with the rest of us. It is important to everyone.

--Jim Shepherd