Gun control laws cost lives

“Things in our country run in spite of government, not by aid of it.” — Will Rogers

Down in Concord, the big news last month, i.e. February 12, was the defeat of yet another gun control bill. The NH House killed HB 1589 by the overwhelming vote of 242 – 118. The battle is over, but could always reappear.

How would you have voted? Do you think we should require a background check for every gun buyer except for criminals? Okay, that isn’t exactly what the bill said but that would have been its effect. Common sense tells you that criminals would not have obeyed this new law any more than they obey existing laws.

Some months ago I came upon some people holding signs for “universal background checks”. I asked one of them, “How are you going to get the criminals to submit to a check?” His answer was, “We probably won’t. So what?” His side apparently wants to do background checks on all the law-abiding people who would pass a background check, but not do checks on any of the criminals who would fail a check.

Supporters admit that the bill would have had no affect on criminals, and they admitted at a hearing that it would not have stopped the Newtown tragedy or any of the other terrible shootings. But what if the bill could save just one life? Sadly, all such bills are more likely to cost a life than save a life.

One simple fact that the gun controllers don’t understand is that guns are used in America far more to STOP crime than to cause crime.  A wheel-chair bound grandfather uses his gun to stop an armed robbery in a restaurant. A mother saves herself and her two kids by shooting a home invader. There are hundreds of thousands, even millions, of episodes every year where a law-abiding citizen stops a crime, usually without even firing a shot.

Gun haters often say that guns are designed for one thing – to kill people. But that is nonsense. By most estimates, there are about 300 million guns in America. 299.99 million of those guns never killed anyone. Did they not work as designed? Or could it be that their owners never had any intentions of killing anyone?

No, guns are not designed to kill people. They are designed to DEFEND against people who would kill or rob or rape others. Throughout history there have been thugs who used knives, baseball bats, or simply their fists to victimize the weaker, the aged, the infirm, the women. Very few of us are martial-arts experts able to defend ourselves without a weapon. Firearms make it possible for a little old woman to defend herself against a big strong man.

The fastest-growing group of gun owners is women. They are buying guns to defend themselves and their families. Many are carrying their guns concealed. That gives thugs something to think about. Criminals are lazy; they go where the pickings are easy. If they think a woman might be carrying a gun, they will go looking for easier prey.

There is a photo going ’round the web of a woman shooting an assault rifle. The caption says, “You are not for women’s rights when you want to strip them of their right of self-defense.”

The right of self-defense is the most fundamental of all rights. Every living creature has the right of self-defense – not just defend self, but defend family and community. Just picture a mother bear defending her cubs. A bear has natural built-in weapons but a human mother needs artificial weapons to defend her children.

For self-defense, a firearm is the most useful tool yet invented. Just showing a gun can scare a criminal away. Nothing else can do that, not a Taser, not pepper spray, not a knife, definitely not calling 911. If a criminal continues to threaten, a gun can stop him before he can hurt or kill the victim. Virtually every would-be victim is capable of using a gun. It does not require special strength, agility, or training.

Guns have been called the great equalizer because even the weak, infirm, or untrained can be the equal of the criminal. Without guns the weak are at the mercy of the strong, the ordinary person at the mercy of an attacker who is well trained in fighting or knife work.

In his excellent “Opinion on Gun Control”, Larry Correia reports that “The average number of people shot in a mass shooting event when the shooter is stopped by law enforcement: 14. The average number of people shot in a mass shooting event when the shooter is stopped by civilians: 2.5.” Armed civilians save lives. The other side tries to dispute that fact by defining mass shootings as only those shootings in which 4 or more people are killed. They throw away the shootings that would have killed dozens or even hundreds but an armed citizen stopped the criminal early.

The many gun control laws have no effect on the criminals. But for law-abiding citizens, these laws cost time and money. In effect, they tilt the balance in favor of the criminal. One or two victims won’t have guns. That is why these misguided laws are more likely to COST lives than save lives.

Guilty until proven innocent

“It is better 100 guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer.” — Benjamin Franklin

You and your spouse are eating breakfast in your home of nearly fifty years. Several vans pull up, armed police stream out and tell you that you have 10 minutes to grab your things and leave. Permanently. They are seizing your property. No notice, no warning, no court hearing, no due process of any kind. You might believe that could happen in a dictatorship, but can you believe that it happened in Philadelphia?

A police officer stopped a car and falsely stated that a taillight was out. The officer then claimed that the driver “looked like a drug dealer” and had him searched by a drug dog. The officers asked him if he was carrying drugs, guns, or money. He replied that he had $3,500 in cash. The officer seized the money, claiming that it must be proceeds of drug dealing. The man was never charged with a crime.

Terry Dehko and his daughter Sandy run a small grocery store. In January, 2013, the federal government seized all the money from the store bank account on the theory that his cash deposits might have been a cover for illegal money-laundering. No evidence, no due process. The Dehkos had done absolutely nothing wrong, but the government took their money. A year later, he is still trying to get his money back.

Welcome to the world of civil asset forfeiture, where people are guilty until proven innocent. If police have the slightest suspicion that property, including cars, cash, or even homes, was connected to a crime, then they can take the property, and dare the owner to try to get it back.

The theory behind civil forfeiture was to take the ill-gotten gains of major crime figures even if those criminals could not be caught and brought to trial. But now almost all the seizures involve minor criminals and all too often people who have committed no crime at all.

In most cases, the police act as judge, jury, and executioner. They seize money on the excuse that they think it was going to be used to buy drugs, they don’t charge the “suspect” with even a violation, they just send him on his way. There is no due process, no court hearing, the victim is given no information about how to get his money back.

There might not be even the slightest evidence of any crime but the victim has to sue the state, then prove his innocence to get his property returned. The cost of hiring an attorney is usually more than the amount of money seized so most people give up.

The police, and sometimes the DA, keep the money as their own, and spend it however they see fit, with no oversight in the executive branch or by the legislature. A district attorney in Texas spent forfeiture money on an office Margarita machine. Police in a small Florida town spent $23,704 on trips with first-class flights and luxury car rentals. The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s office used civil forfeiture funds to buy nine flat-screen TVs for $8,200, and two Segways for $14,500.

The late Congressman Henry Hyde exclaimed, “Civil asset forfeiture has allowed police to view all of America as some giant national K-Mart, where prices are not just lower, but non-existent — a sort of law enforcement ‘pick-and-don’t-pay.'”

The abuse of power, absence of due process, and harm to innocent people has created opposition across the political spectrum, from the ACLU on the left to the Heritage Foundation on the right. The non-partisan Institute for Justice has fought many forfeiture cases (all pro-bono) in the courts.

A former Justice Department forfeiture official became so dismayed by the injustice of the forfeiture system that he switched from prosecution to defense. David Smith explained, “We are paying assistant U.S. attorneys to carry out the theft of property from often the most defenseless citizens,” given that people sometimes have limited resources to fight a seizure after their assets are taken.

We do not know whether New Hampshire has experienced some of these abuses – the record keeping requirements are so lax that we cannot know. We do know that our laws are so weak as to allow these same kinds of problems to occur here. Many of us think we should reform the statutes to prevent future problems.

A bill, HB 1609, has been offered with bi-partisan support to reform our forfeiture laws.

The bill requires that a person must have his day in court. He must first be convicted of a crime in criminal court before his property can be forfeited. No one will lose his property on the mere suspicion of a police officer.

Any forfeiture proceeds go to the state’s general fund, not to a police department’s slush fund. This is the same as fines for other crimes – they go to the state, where legislators during the budget process decide how to appropriate them. Police departments and prosecutors cannot divvy up the funds for their own benefit.

If property such as a car or house is connected to a crime, but the owner(s) were neither involved nor had any knowledge of the crime, those innocent owners cannot have their property forfeited.

Colorado recall elections bigger than we realized

By now, you have heard the news that two State Senators – one actually the President of the Senate – lost recall elections due to their votes for gun control and against Due Process.

You probably did not know that:

  • These were the only successful recall elections in the 100 years since the recall law was passed.
  • Obama carried both districts by 20% last year.
  • Pro-gun control forces spent much more than the pro gun rights forces – about $3 million to about half a million.
  • Signers of the recall petitions were about 20% Democrat. Together, Independents and Democrats outnumbered Republican signers.
  • In the Giron district, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 47% to 23%.

Gun rights supporters, i.e. supporters of the civil right to bear arms to defend self, family, and community, knew that many Democrats also defend that right. Now the whole country knows it.

Down in Concord

“You cannot adopt politics as a profession and remain honest.” — Ambrose Bierce
“Politics was never meant to be a profession.” — Duane Alan Hahn

Down in Concord, last week and next week seem fairly quiet, with no sessions either week. But it only seems quiet. The House and Senate finished acting on their own bills but now the surviving bills have crossed over – House bills to the Senate, Senate bills to the House – and the process starts all over.

The House started with 604 bills. It killed 248, passed 229, and “retained” 127. Just what is “retained”, you ask. Most bills are short, just a page or two long. And most bills are not brand new laws; they are modifications to existing laws. So most of the text of a bill is the current law with changes marked to show how the law would read if the bill is passed. It usually doesn’t take long to understand what a bill will do.

Some bills are longer and take more time to understand. Sometimes a bill is short and easy to understand but members are uncertain as to whether it is good or bad. Often they want to study what other states do in their laws, or read some analyses. When a committee wants more time to consider a bill it asks the full House to retain the bill. The committee works on the bill in the Spring and Fall, makes a recommendation in late Fall, and the House votes next January.

The Senate started with 202 bills. It killed 36, passed 147, and rereferred 19. “Rereferred” is the Senate’s word for “retained”. What surprised me in these numbers is that the Senate passed a much, much higher percentage of its bills than did the House. In the House the numbers killed and passed were roughly equal, and that was my impression also from the last two years. The Senate passed four times as many as it killed. I have not looked at previous bienniums (biennia?) to see if this is normal for the Senate.

Now the House is dealing with the 147 bills that passed the Senate and the Senate is dealing with the 229 bills that passed the House. The Senate now has more work to do in less time than at the start of the year – and three of those bills are the huge budget bills. The House has many fewer bills than it started the year with, so it will have some time to deal with its retained bills.

So, now that I have bored you with some of the arcane details of how our legislature does its work, what is happening next week? Not much. Down in Concord it’s fairly quiet. What!? Did I just waste four hundred words and precious minutes of your time only to repeat what I said in the beginning?

Okay, it’s not all that quiet. The House has 47 public hearings; the Senate 15. Every bill is interesting to someone, but most of these bills will be interesting to fairly few people. There are three bills that might be interesting to more than a few people – possibly even to a great many people.

The Senate is hearing HB 399, establishing the New Hampshire liberty act. This bill passed the House with an overwhelming bi-partisan vote because many people on both sides of the aisle are outraged by an assault on our rights. The federal National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2012 authorizes the arrest and indefinite detention without trial of American citizens on American soil. HB 399 declares that the NDAA violates many Constitutional rights, prohibits the State of New Hampshire from participating in any such arrests, and urges the Attorney General to file suit challenging the Constitutionality of that law.

The House has a public hearing on SB 126, a special interest bill for car dealers. Auto manufacturers require as part of their contracts with dealers that the dealers periodically do things that the car dealers say are stupid, that cost lots of money, and that don’t help sell cars. The car dealers don’t like these contracts and are asking the legislature to change the law to make parts of their contracts illegal. Gee, I wonder if ordinary people could get a law making parts of our contracts illegal, e.g. an auto purchase agreement is illegal unless it includes lifetime gasoline and free service?

House leaders expect a huge crowd for the hearing on SB 152, authorizing Millennium Gaming of Las Vegas to build one casino in Salem, NH. That is not precisely what the bill states but it might as well be. The wording, said to have been written by Millennium’s lobbyists, is so restrictive and the bill has such tight deadlines that it is impossible for any other potential casino company to compete against Millennium.

Members of both parties are divided on the general question of casino gambling. On specifically this bill, some members are asking, “How come only Salem? How about Manchester or how about the North Country?” Other members oppose the idea of granting a monopoly to one specific company. If gambling is a good thing then allow it anywhere; if it is bad prohibit it everywhere. If this bill is passed, it will be legal to play poker at the casino, but illegal to play poker in your own home.

Self-defense is one of the most fundamental rights

One of the most fundamental of all rights is the right of self-defense. Every living creature has the natural right to defend self, family, and community. This right predates our Constitutions and even mankind itself. All animals and even plants exercise the right to defend themselves; most animals defend their family, many defend their community.

Mankind from its very beginning developed tools for every aspect of life. Humans used rocks, spears, swords, crossbows, and finally firearms for self-defense. Yes, a firearm IS a tool for self-defense. And it is by far the most effective defensive tool ever developed. It is the great equalizer, allowing the weak to defend against the strong, the unskilled against the skilled.

There are bad people who use a gun as an offensive weapon but there are far, far, far more people who use a gun to defend themselves, their families, and their communities against the bad people.

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Bill of Rights Day

On December 15, Cato reminded us that Today is Bill of Rights Day. Sadly, it is less a day to celebrate our rights than to mourn their loss.

  • Free speech is limited in the name of national security or campaign finance reform.
  • The Government makes it difficult to keep a gun at home or to bear a gun for self-defense.
  • It uses eminent domain to take our property and give it to a business.
  • We don’t have the protection of trial by jury when the government issues draconian fines.
  • Federal control intrudes into matters the Constitution reserves for the states or the people.

All in all only a single Amendment is still in fine shape. [Identify for yourself which one.]

Cato concludes:

A free society does not just “happen.” It has to be deliberately created and deliberately maintained. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. To remind our fellow citizens of their responsibility in that regard, the Cato Institute has distributed more than five million copies of our pocket Constitution. At this time of year, it’ll make a great stocking stuffer.