by Dave Kopel
America's 1st Freedom, May 2009. More on Obama and gun control.
Another bright star has been added to President Barack Obama’s anti-gun constellation.
Obama’s newly nominated “drug czar” is Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske. And just like a real czar, the drug czar, whose formal title is Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, can destroy rights instantly, and he can set the stage for additional harm.
Before the dark days of the Clinton administration, few federal government officials had done more to damage Second Amendment rights than William Bennett, the so-called “drug czar” under President George H.W. Bush. In March 1989, Bennett set off a national panic by pushing the first Bush administration to ban the import of so-called “assault weapons.”
Bennett claimed that “assault weapons” were the firearms of choice for violent drug dealers. The claim, of course, was nonsense. Police gun seizure data showed that the guns were rarely used in any type of crime. Yet Bennett’s massive publicity stunt prohibited dozens of models of high-quality guns. And it set the stage for state-level bans on so-called “assault weapons,” and, in the long run, for the 1994 Clinton gun ban.
Czar Kerlikowske’s first major opportunity to promote gun bans may be based on Mexico. More than 5,000 people—most of them employees of drug cartels—were killed last year alone in the Mexican drug wars. Partly as a result of the pervasive corruption within the Mexican government, some analysts warn that the government could collapse and Mexico could turn into a narco-state.
The Mexican government and many of its American media allies are busy blaming American gun owners for the carnage and demanding a host of restrictions on American gun rights: “assault weapons” bans, gun registration, gun-owner licensing, special restrictions on gun shows, gun purchase rationing and so on. Supposedly, these restrictions would prevent guns from being smuggled from the United States into Mexico, supplying firearms for the narcotraficantes.
But all the restrictions in the world have not prevented the Mexican cartels from acquiring grenades, machine guns, mortars and other weapons that are already either prohibited or very severely restricted. The Mexican cartels have gross revenue of about $26 billion a year. Gun smuggling for the cartels is currently a $22 million-a-year business—less than 1 percent of the cartel’s revenues. These cartels obviously want weapons, and if a crackdown on law-abiding American gun owners somehow doubled or tripled the cartels’ costs of weapons acquisition, the cartels could easily afford to pay the higher prices.
Instead of demanding restrictions on the rights of Americans, the Mexican government ought to begin respecting the rights of Mexicans. Mexico is the kidnapping center of the world right now; even poor people who have no wealth or connection to the drug trade are being kidnapped and held for ransom. Yet the Mexican government allows only the very wealthy and well connected to obtain permits to carry handguns for lawful protection. As a result, ordinary law-abiding Mexicans are easy prey for kidnappers.
Although there is no reason to believe that infringing the rights of American gun owners will help the good people of Mexico, there is every reason to believe that Czar Kerlikowske will soon begin pushing such infringements.
Besides serving as police chief of Seattle, Kerlikowske is president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. That group, comprised of several dozen big-city chiefs, joined in the Brady Center’s amicus brief in District of Columbia v. Heller. That brief argued that the D.C. handgun ban, and the ban on using any firearm for protection in the home, are both constitutional and are not violations of the Second Amendment. Remember that next time Kerlikowske claims he respects the Second Amendment.
As Seattle chief since 2000, Kerlikowske has been a gun-banner’s delight. He has been a strong ally of Washington Ceasefire, lobbying the state legislature on behalf of their gun-ban agenda on ending gun shows, on making an adult liable if a minor lays hands on a loaded gun and on outlawing so-called “assault weapons.” In March 2006, he was honored in a ceremony by Ceasefire for his role in supporting their agenda.
Like Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who won an award from the leading gun-ban group in Illinois, the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence (see April 2009 cover story, p. 32), Kerlikowske deserved the honor. As police chief, he even used taxpayer money to pay for a Ceasefire anti-gun press conference in Seattle.
After being criticized for spending the public’s money for the special interest anti-gun press conference, Kerlikowske paid his own airfare to participate in another press conference—this one put on in the nation’s capital for the release of a Brady Center report criticizing the Tiahrt Amendment.
The Tiahrt Amendment—which has been added to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) appropriations bills in the last several Congresses—requires BATFE to share firearm trace data with local law enforcement for specific investigations, but forbids BATFE from providing aggregate data to politicians like Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who want to use the data in abusive lawsuits trying to make firearm manufacturers liable for the acts of criminals who misuse guns.
At that press conference that Kerlikowske so proudly attended, the author of the report, Brady lawyer Daniel Vice, announced, “This report reveals the NRA's true colors as the criminal's best friend.” He also claimed, “The NRA’s tireless efforts to undermine enforcement of our gun laws has helped criminals and gun traffickers obtain illegal firearms and fueled the recent surge in gun violence.”
While William Bennett did not discover the “assault weapon” issue until he became a czar, Kerlikowske has a longstanding passion on the issue.
He evidently believes that the 1994 Clinton ban did not go nearly far enough in outlawing firearms. One of his more recent publicity campaigns has been to carry around a picture of an SKS rifle, stating “This is a SKS 7.62 weapon, high-capacity magazine, which is associated with an assault weapon, it has the bayonet holder on the front which is associated with an assault weapon.”
Note that according to Kerlikowske, a carbine is “associated with an assault weapon” because it has “a bayonet holder”—as if gang members were perpetrating drive-by bayonetings. Further, the standard fixed, non-removable, 10-round magazine on the SKS is “high-capacity” to few people other than anti-gun activists.
In 2008, a criminal showed up at a house party in Seattle. He had previously been arrested in Montana for the felony of shooting a sculpture with a shotgun and a handgun, and had a record of juvenile delinquency, but he was allowed to plea bargain to a misdemeanor. The criminal murdered six people, later killing himself when police arrived. A note from the killer was subsequently found stating that the murders were based on his hatred of what he called the “hippie” lifestyle and its sexual freedom.
The criminal’s shotgun was a Winchester Model 1300 Defender with a pistol grip. Chief Kerlikowske asserted: “Of course, as everyone knows, a pistol-grip shotgun is designed not for hunting purposes, but for hunting people.”
This is patently untrue, since several companies offer pistol grips on turkey shotguns. More generally, there are plenty of people who add a pistol grip to a rifle or shotgun because the grip can make the gun easier to handle for defending one’s home and family.
Yet Kerlikowske’s remarks suggest that he sees little if any role for defensive gun ownership.
Last October in New York City, the organization Intelligence Squared held a debate on the proposition that “guns reduce crime.” Arguing against the proposition were Brady Campaign head Paul Helmke, Yale professor John Donohue and Kerlikowske.
Kerlikowske praised the British policy under which most police do not have guns. He said the British police liked being unarmed, because if they had guns, “it will only increase assaults on themselves, and that it will be a tit-for-tat or a proliferation of guns in the U.K. which, like rabies, they have very few of.
It would be fair to say that James Madison and the other American founders did not think that guns and rabies were in any way comparable.
When Kerlikowske asserted in the same debate that American police officers “are routinely wounded and assaulted with their own guns,” Professor Gary Kleck corrected him by pointing out that there is only about one case a year in which one of America’s 600,000 officers is killed with his own gun.
But Kerlikowske was firm. As the debate transcript reads: “There are lots of cases in which these guns could protect you, [REPEATING WARNING TONE] there are far more cases in which the gun does not.”
For nearly half a century, Washington has been a “shall-issue” Right-to-Carry state, in which permits to carry a handgun for lawful protection are issued to adults who pass a background check. As a U.S. Senate candidate in 2004, Barack Obama told the Chicago Tribune that he favored a national ban on concealed carry. Chief Kerlikowske did not go that far, but he did tell the New York City audience that he did not like the Washington state law: “I think reasonableness should enter into this, it should be more than just being upright and not being blind to allow you to carry a gun.”
Asked about so-called gun “buy-backs,” he admitted, “A lot of times they’re old guns, they’re guns that are not being used in crimes and they’re being found by people cleaning out garages, etc.” But he liked getting rid of the guns anyway: “Taking those guns off the street is not a bad thing—remember, a 100-year-old firearm can kill someone.”
In his new Obama administration position, Kerlikowske will likely be even more effective as a gun-ban advocate than was William Bennett, whose previous jobs were Secretary of Education and head of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Kerlikowske, before Seattle, was deputy director of the U.S. Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services grant program, the police commissioner of Buffalo and the police chief of Fort Pierce and Port St. Lucie, Fla. He has undergraduate and master’s degrees in criminal justice, and graduated from the FBI’s National Executive Institute.
Kerlikowske has already used that background to make authoritative-sounding pronouncements about gun control. He asserts that so-called “assault weapons” are the “choice for criminals”—even though a mountain of data about police firearm seizures shows that the overwhelming majority of gun criminals choose other guns.
He described the Clinton gun ban—which by its generic definitions applied to more than 200 models of firearms—as “a narrow and specific law to deal with military-style weapons.” Yet not one of the banned guns was actually used by a “military” anywhere in the world. He claimed that the guns are “used to assault police officers,” although FBI data show that such guns are very rarely used to assault police officers.
Although Kerlikowske is a staunch gun control advocate, there is one aspect in which his gun control habits could stand some improvement.
In 2004, Kerlikowske lobbied hard in Washington, D.C., to prevent the sunset of the Clinton ban on so-called “assault weapons.” The day that the ban expired, he appeared on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer and warned: “We also know that when the family gun becomes an assault weapon, then that’s the gun that’s going to be stolen and will get out on our streets.” Likewise he asserted, “We know that people will buy them and that, unfortunately, they will get stolen from their homes and out of their cars.”
Given that warning, one might think that Kerlikowske would be especially diligent about securing his own gun. And, of course, one would expect he’d be diligent about his duty as a police chief to set a good example of gun safety.
Yet just three months later, on December 26, 2004, the chief and his wife used his government-owned Crown Victoria to go shopping in downtown Seattle. Kerlikowske left his Glock Model 26 pistol in the car. Someone broke into the car and stole the handgun, which has never been recovered. It is fair to say that Kerlikowske’s stolen gun is now much more likely to be used in a crime than is any so-called “assault weapon” belonging to a law-abiding citizen.
As for Kerlikowske’s record in Seattle, not everyone applauds his performance. In March 2002, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild voted “no confidence” in the chief. In June 2007, a civilian review board reported that Kerlikowske had interfered with an internal investigation of two officers, and had so seriously damaged the police department’s credibility that there was a need for greater outside oversight.
In 1989, when the Senate confirmed William Bennett as drug czar, his decision to spend his first day in office promoting a gun ban was a surprise to nearly everyone.
If Kerlikowske turns the Office of National Drug Control Policy into the Office of National Gun Control, no one should be surprised.
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