Gunning for the Leadership

Records compared

By Dave Kopel

National Review Online, December 20, 2002 1:10 p.m. More by Kopel on the politics of the gun issue.

If Bill Frist becomes the next Senate Majority Leader, the Second Amendment will be slightly worse off than if an undamaged Trent Lott had been Majority Leader. But given Lott's recent flip-flops on other issues, Frist will probably be more protective of the Second Amendment than the 2003 version of Lott.

As a House Republican whip, Trent Lott was a very helpful leader of pro-gun forces in Congress. This was smart politics for Lott, since Mississippi is one of the most pro-gun of all the states. But Lott did more than merely vote right; he used his leadership position to actively promote Second Amendment goals.

But given Lott's recent endorsement of government-ordered racial discrimination against whites and Asians, there is no reason to believe that he would have continued to support the Second Amendment, if racialist identity groups and their media supporters generated enough pressure on the issue.

Lott and Frist have voted together on gun issues, but when there has been a split, it has been because Frist took the more antigun position. The Gun Owners of America website reports some key congressional votes in firearms rights in recent years.

In reverse chronological order, here are the votes from past Congresses, in which Lott and Frist voted on the same side:

Against a resolution praising the "Million" Mom March, a political organization founded on shrill opposition to civil rights.
In favor of a proposal by Lott calling for better enforcement of existing gun laws, rather than new antigun laws.
Against instructing Senate conferees to bring out Orrin Hatch's juvenile crime bill, which was laden with antigun amendments.
Against a Charles Schumer amendment to prevent gun makers victimized by abusive lawsuits from declaring bankruptcy.
To end Bob Smith's filibuster against the Hatch bill, to which many anti-gun provisions had been added. This was a major antigun vote. That both Frist and Lott voted wrong on this suggests that when an important Republican badly wants to move legislation, they will support him, even if the Second Amendment is infringed.
Against extreme restrictions on gun shows which would allow federal regulators to ban them entirely.
In favor of a 1999 amendment by Orrin Hatch and Herbert Kohl to require that a every handgun be sold with a trigger lock--even if the gun owner already has a gun safe. Lott and Frist had voted against a 1998 Boxer amendment to require that all guns sold by gun dealers come with a lock.
Against an amendment by Charles Schumer to restrict firearms sales over the Internet (which are already subject to the same restrictions as all other gun sales).
In favor of extending federal restrictions on handgun possession by people under 18 to also include "assault weapons."
Against a Lautenberg proposal to impose special restrictions on gun shows.
In favor of accepting a 1998 conference report on an omnibus appropriations bill. The conferees had gutted a provision inserted in the Senate's version by Bob Smith, which would have ended Janet Reno's turning the National Instant Check System into a gun owner registration system. This vote demonstrates that neither Lott nor Frist would let Second Amendment considerations derail major spending legislation.
Against a proposal by Dick Durbin mandating the homeowners lock up their guns, thus rendering them useless against sudden criminal invasions.
In favor of the original Smith Amendment, which they later allowed to be gutted by conferees.
To confirm Margaret Morrow, an antigun activist, to the federal bench.

Frist and Lott split on these issues:

Frist supported, while Lott opposed, an amendment by Jim Jeffords requiring people who retrieve their own gun from a firearms repair shop to undergo a federal background check, under which the gun would be registered by the FBI.
Frist supported, while Lott opposed, a 1999 amendment by Dianne Feinstein to ban the import of magazines manufactured before 1994 which hold more than 10 rounds. Frist switched positions from his vote on the same issue in 1998.

Frist's divergence from Lott occurred a few weeks after the Columbine murders. The votes were all in the context of amendments to Orrin Hatch's terrible bill to federalize juvenile crime, which Lott had showed very poor judgment in bringing to the floor during a period of hysteria.

Compared to Frist, Mitch McConnell would be about equal in Second Amendment support. Don Nickles would be superior.

As a doctor, Frist has a unique opportunity to educate the public about the falsity of the antigun junk science being peddled by gun prohibitionists in some medical organizations. Frist has made a major cause of promoting American health and longevity by encouraging people to exercise more often. He can also promote health and longevity by using his bully pulpit to explain to the American people how guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens lead to wonderful "health outcomes": less murder, mayhem, rape, and injury for good people, and more occupational risks for violent predators.

Dave Kopel is a contributing editor of NRO.

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