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Roses and Guns: New Directions for the Gun Rights Movement

by Dave Kopel

Speech delivered at the Gun Rights Policy Conference, San Francisco, Oct. 1, 1994.

Let's talk a little about the most misnamed President in American history: William Jefferson Clinton.

Bill Clinton calls our Constitution "radical," and he claims that we can no longer afford to obey the Fourth Amendment, because people today are no longer as responsible as they were 200 years. Well Mr. Clinton, in case you haven't noticed, the federal government is no longer as responsible as it was 200 years ago, and we need the Bill of Rights more than ever.

Take a look, Mr. President, at the events in Waco.

Mr. President, if you think that the Colt Sporter represents the intolerable presence of weapons of war in American life, then what do you call the use of machineguns, grenades, cyclone bullets, and helicopters to assault a home with 25 children? Mr. President and General Reno, if you're so concerned about the use of weapons of war against innocent people, then why did you let the FBI use a chemical warfare agent against the American people that is banned from civilized warfare by international law?

You, William Jefferson Clinton, let the FBI use CS chemical warfare agent against women and children that would be illegal to use against Iraqi troops.

But it gets worse.

You see, the CS particulate is highly flammable in enclosed spaces, just like coal dust. And when CS burns, it creates cyanide, and when water is added to the mixture, hydrogen cyanide. Hydrogen cyanide is highly lethal; it'sthe active ingredient in Zyklon B, which was used by the Nazis to murder Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals in the extermination camps. The autopsies of the Branch Davidians showed that dozens of them had cyanide in their bodies. They didn't commit suicide. But they couldn't flee the fire because the United States government had dosed them with the same nerve gas that was used to kill the Jews.

Bill Clinton, if you're so upset about the radical right, then tell your federal police to stop acting like the Gestapo!

No more Wacos! Never again! Never again!

How can we make sure that never again will Americans be murdered in the name of gun control?

The NRA is right that America has a crime problem, not a gun problem. But the ultimate problem something far broader than crime control. And it is no solution to crime or to the assault on the Second Amendment to push for laws which infringe on the rest of the Bill of Rights. It would be a dangerous victory to defeat either criminals or Sarah Brady at the expense of making ourselves the wards of a Big Brother government with an Iron Fist.

You must be true patriots. Not the false and superficial patriotism of Yankee Doodle, of treating the flag as some kind of fetish, of the blind nationalism of my country right or wrong. Your flag isn't just any flag. Not the flag that the BATF mounted over Mount Carmel over the dead children's ashes. Your flag is the flag of Fort McHenry and Omaha Beach. The flag that is not a symbol of strong government, but a symbol of strong and determined resistance to tyranny.

What kind of society do we want? We want a society where women can walk freely day and night. We want a society where criminals are more afraid of armed victims than victims are afraid of armed criminals.

We want an end to anarcho-tyranny, our current system of government in which the government does not protect crime victims, but instead vigorously prosecutes people who defend themselves, and people who commit non-violent thought crimes.

So we must all be politically active, and right now. We have just five weeks left to save the Second Amendment. Because unless we defeat dozens of Representatives and Senators who voted for the Brady Bill and the prohibition on semi-automatic weapons, we will get Brady II inflicted on us, and gun ownership will be changed from a right into a privilege. We must make similar gains in the state legislatures and city councils, where already the gun ban movement is working to implement the worst provisions of Brady II.

But as the Old Testament warns, put not your "confidence in princes." (Psalms 118:9.) Our problem will not be solved by big-government insiders like Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich. Nor will our problems end when Mr. and Mrs. Clinton are sent back to Arkansas.

We face a long twilight struggle for freedom. Winning our war for freedom is entirely within our power. Whether we win our lose is up to us. Indeed, whether we can win depends in large part on the people in this room, the leading gun rights activists in our country. You are the leaders and the role models for all the activists. And if you aren't yet, I hope this conference will help make you a gun rights leader.

What do we need to do to win?

First of all, there has to be a major improvement in the tactics of some people. Late-night phone calls to legislators' homes, verbal abuse of legislative aides, and general immaturity-are the tactics of too many gun-owners. These obnoxious tactics are the secret weapon of the anti-gun lobbies.

We have to always remember that what we want is the freedom to own and carry deadly weapons. If you can't use a telephone responsibly, it's awfully difficult to convince a legislator that you and people like you can use a gun responsibly.

The narrow margin of victory for the recent prohibition of semiautomatic firearms was created by irresponsible and hate-filled gun activists. If not for the reservoir of bad feelings built up by years of rudeness and incivility on the part of too many gun-owners, Congress would not have voted for the gun prohibition.

It is your duty to the Second Amendment to avoid such behavior yourself, and it is your duty to tell anyone else engaged in such behavior to stop it immediately. If you are serious about winning, then you have to be serious about improving the conduct of the irresponsible minority of our fellow activists.

What else has been missing from our strategy?

We must communicate more than simply fear of crime or of big government, although both of these should surely be feared. We must communicate a vision of hope and freedom.

We must recognize, as did Father Merrin in The Exorcist,that the evil we face wears many faces, but it is ultimately the same. The urge to dominate others against their will comes in various guises. It is sometimes called gun control. At other times, it is called racism, sexism, homophobia, or speciesim.

Anything which a gun rights supporter does which reflects bigotry or intolerance harms our cause. Any form of bigotry alienates people unnecessarily. And in the long run, anything that raises the overall supply of hatred in our society helps improve the political climate for people who hate gun owners.

In sociological terms, gun owners are the victims of "moral entrepreneurs," people who specialize in fomenting hatred against other people based on their lifestyles. As victims of moral entrepreneurs, gun owners need to recognize what they have in common with gamblers, or drinkers, or sexual minorities. All of them are victims of self-appointed moralists who use the brute force of government to impose their moral beliefs on the rest of the population.

We are never going to win the great gun prohibition war if we have to convince the entire American public that guns are good. But we can win by putting our right to do as we wish in the context of the right of all other Americans to do as they wish even if some of the things that other people in private do are as offensive to us as the private ownership of firearms is offensive to different persons.

As gun rights activists, we have usually exhibited what might sometimes be called male virtues, tenacity and forcefulness and boldness. But to this mix, we need to add the ability to listen, to empathize, and to connect on an emotional plane as well as a logical one. In short, we need not just guns, but roses and guns.

In spreading our message of freedom and tolerance, we must not let ourselves by side-tracked by the tactics of the gun prohibition lobby. Make no mistake, the anti-gun lobby thrives on fomenting hatred of gun rights activists and NRA members. But as Richard Nixon said, after he had learned the lesson the hard way, "Those who hate vou can't harm vou, unless you hate them back, and then you destroy yourself."

As vigorously as we resist the gun prohibition lobby, we must remember that all of its members, just like ourselves, are fallible human beings. The response to the gun-hate lobby, which is ultimately just a local branch of hatred that has plagued humanity since the dawn of time, must not be to match hate with hate.

As Aleksander Solzhenitsyn points out, the line between good and evil passes through every human soul. As Abraham Lincoln noted in his Second Inaugural address, the men and women on both sides of our Great Civil War "read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes his aid against the other."

If we are going to win our war for the Second Amendment, then we must pass what the great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr called "The test of tolerance." "The test of tolerance is twofold and includes both the ability to hold vital convictions which lead to action; and also the capacity to preserve the spirit of forgiveness towards those who offend us by holding to convictions which seem untrue to us."

As one poet wrote,
"He drew a line that drew me out.
So I drew a circle that drew him in."

Draw the rest of America into a circle of freedom and tolerance. By your words, deeds, and thoughts, work to reduce the level of hatred in America, and to increase tolerance.

Can we win? Well, the New Testament says that "love never fails," and if that is true, then in the long run, freedom never fails, because freedom is an essential precondition for true love.

Remember that your cause is the great cause of freedom which is the basis of America. Your cause is the cause of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine and Sergeant York.

Do what is right, and the cause of liberty will triumph.

Thank you.


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